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Home:  >News & Events   >News Archives   >2003

Grisham writer-in-residence ends year with new works

June 3, 2003

Shay Youngblood

By Deidra Jackson
University of Mississippi News Services

OXFORD, Miss. — During her just-completed year as Grisham writer-in-residence at the University of Mississippi, playwright Shay Youngblood offered experience to fledgling writers and came to know her colleagues in the Department of English.

The prestigious UM teaching post also afforded some rare and cherished time to the Columbus, Ga., native.

“My year in Oxford has been one of the most creative and productive times of my life,” said Youngblood, an award-winning novelist and poet. “The gift of time has been important to the development of my new writing experiments.”

The annual appointment is funded by best-selling author John Grisham and his wife, Renee. During her stint, Youngblood finished drafts of two novels and a collection of short stories. And, to her surprise, she completed more than 100 paintings and drawings.

She said she also prospered while teaching the writing craft to undergraduate and graduate students: “One of my most rewarding experiences has been working with a number of talented writing students, seeing them grow and learn to trust their own voices.”

Youngblood, whose haunting debut novel, Soul Kiss (1997), was nominated for the Quality Paperback Book New Voices Award, leaves the Oxford campus savoring the opportunity “to come home” and enjoy “the poetry in a turn of a Southern phrase” and the “thick smell of pine trees and a heavy rain coming.” She returns to New York University’s graduate creative writing program, where she will teach through an online mentoring program sponsored by the University of Minnesota. She also plans to finish a contemporary novel for publication.

Joseph Urgo, chair of the UM Department of English, said Youngblood has fulfilled the vision of John and Renee Grisham when they set up the writer-in-residence program a decade ago.

“It’s been a great pleasure hosting Shay Youngblood this year and watching her make a graceful, sensitive and quietly inspiring contribution to the community,” Urgo said. “Each Grisham writer enriches us, but Shay’s presence and the creative eye she has brought to northern Mississippi will linger long after she has gone.”

Youngblood’s time in Lafayette County motivated her to produce new work for the stage: “Oxford also inspired a new play project called the ‘Friendship Garden,’ based on some of the friendships I’ve made here and the gardens I’ve watched bloom in all seasons.”

Her short story, “Born With Religion,” won a Pushcart Prize. Last year, Youngblood, the author of The Big Mama Stories (1992), delivered a riveting reading from her book Black Girl in Paris (2000), at the Oxford Conference for the Book. Her play Talking Bones received the Kennedy Center’s Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award in 1993, and Shakin’ The Mess Outta Misery received best playwright, producer, director and supporting actor awards from the Hollywood NAACP Theater Awards in 1991.

UM’s 2003-04 Grisham writer-in-residence is Janisse Ray, whose first book, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (1999), won the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, the Southeastern Booksellers Award for Nonfiction, the Southern Environmental Law Center Award and an American Book Award.

The appointment includes housing and a stipend. Recipients are required to teach writing workshops and participate in department activities.

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