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Home:  >News & Events   >News Archives   >2002
Oxford Book Conference Celebrates Tennessee Williams, Grisham Writers-in-Residence

March 26, 2002

By Deidra Jackson
University of Mississippi News Services

OXFORD, Miss. — Acclaimed American playwright Tennessee Williams, who is credited with transforming the contemporary image of Southern literature, is paid tribute in the Ninth Oxford Conference for the Book April 11-14 at The University of Mississippi.

This year’s comprehensive four-day seminar of panel discussions, readings, signings and social events also honors UM’s John and Renee Grisham Southern Writer-in-Residence Tom Franklin and the 2002-03 Grisham Writer appointee Shay Youngblood, as well as six past holders of the prestigious post.

All conference sessions are in Johnson Commons on the UM-Oxford campus unless otherwise noted.

“Year after year, the Oxford Conference for the Book draws a fine assemblage of writers, literary critics, publishers and Southern literature lovers to the Southern literary mecca that is Oxford,” said Dr. Ann Abadie, associate director of the UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture. “This year is no different. We have a spectacular lineup planned.”

Williams was born in 1911 in Columbus, Miss., where his first home is now the town’s Welcome Center. He is most noted for his plays The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

“There is little doubt that as a playwright, fiction writer, poet and essayist, Williams helped transform the contemporary idea of the Southern literature,” writes UM English doctoral student and writer Eric W. Cash. “However, as a Southerner he not only helped to pave the way for other writers, but also helped the South find a strong voice in those auspices, where before it had only been heard as a whisper.”

Drama critic Mel Gusso and literary scholar W. Kenneth Holditch talk about Williams’ life and career in panel discussions. Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Paula Vogel comments on Williams’ work and his impact on her own writing.

Sponsored by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, UM departments of English and history, Square Books, and other UM departments and town organizations, the Conference for the Book examines book culture from the seeds of a writer’s inspiration to the marketing of a completed work. The event attracts book lovers from throughout the world to discuss issues that affect readers, writers, booksellers, librarians, scholars and others in the publishing industry.

In addition to selected readings from Williams’ plays, a presentation of his one-act play The Gnadiges Fraulein is set April 14 at 11 a.m. It is directed by Michele Cuomo, assistant professor of theatre arts, with Dr. Colby Kullman, professor of English, providing its commentary.

The conference also celebrates American Poetry Month, with readings by poets Beth Ann Fennelly, Natasha Trethewey and William Trowbridge. The Young Authors Fair, sponsored in collaboration with the Junior Auxiliary of Oxford, brings outstanding children’s author Gloria Jean Pinkney (Back Home, The Sunday Outing) to local schools and to the conference.

The conference begins Thursday, April 11, at 5:30 p.m., with a segment on the Thacker Mountain Radio Show, broadcast on 95.5 FM from Off Square Books in Oxford. Fennelly and novelist Richard Flanagan (The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Death of a River Guide) are guests.

That evening at 8, a special free screening of the film version of novelist Larry Brown’s short story collection Big Bad Love is set at Fulton Chapel on the UM-Oxford campus.

Panel discussions begin Friday, April 12, at 9 a.m., with a welcome by Oxford Mayor Richard Howorth, owner of Square Books, and a writers workshop, “Submitting Manuscripts/Working One’s Way Into Print.” Barry Hannah, UM’s longtime writer-in-residence and author of Yonder Stands Your Orphan, moderates that discussion. Panelists include Franklin; Amy Hundley, a senior editor (and Hannah’s editor) at Grove/Atlantic, Inc.; Sheri Joseph (Bear Me Safely Over); Carol Houck Smith, an editor at W.W. Norton; Nat Sobel, founder of Sobel Weber Associates; and Brady Udall (Letting Loose in the Hounds, The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint).

Hannah also moderates a second writer’s workshop April 12 at 10:30 a.m., “Finding a Voice/Reaching an Audience.” Expected on the panel are Steve Almond (My Life in Heavy Metal); Fiona McCrae, director of Graywolf Press; Rick Moody (Purple America, The Ice Storm); Aishah Rahman (Chiaroscuro: A Light — and Dark — Comedy, Chewed Water); and poet Natasha Trethewey (Domestic Work, Bellocq’s Ophelia).

In addition to various readings by noted poets and writers Saturday and Sunday, April 13-14, other workshops include “The Endangered Species: Readers Today and Tomorrow,” April 13 at 9 a.m.; “The Book Business,” April 13 at 10:30 a.m.; “Covering Trouble,” April 13 at 1:30 p.m.; and “Poetry: Readings and Remarks,” April 13 at 3 p.m.

For more information, call the UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture at 662-915-5993 or see for a schedule. Those requiring special assistance because of a disability also should contact the sponsor.

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