News

  • Alabama Writers Symposium celebrates 20th anniversary
    Brad Watson, Kirk Curnutt and Michael Knight take home awards in 2017

    Every spring since 1998, all literary roads in Alabama have led to Monroeville, where each year the Alabama Writers Symposium brings together some of the state’s most distinguished writers and scholars for readings, lectures, and workshops in the town that Harper Lee put on the map.
    Over the years, countless readers, budding authors and lifelong learners have made that journey to the “literary capital of Alabama.” And this April, many of the town’s frequent visitors made the pilgrimage again to celebrate the event’s 20th anniversary—and to attend the annual awards dinner.

    “Both awards—the Harper Lee and Eugene Current-Garcia awards—are 20 years old this time,” said Jeanie Thompson, executive director of the Alabama Writers’ Forum, at the Gala Dinner on April 20 at the Monroeville Community House. “John Johnson and George Landegger worked together to make sure that these two awards would be funded. And they have been funded for 20 years, and that does include the clock tower. So that’s a pretty amazing thing.”
    In addition to the Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer and the Eugene Current-Garcia Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Literary Scholar, this year’s event also included the second annual presentation of the Truman Capote Prize for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of Non-Fiction or the Short Story.

    Brad Watson wins 2017 Harper Lee Award
    With its theme of “Coming Home” and recognition as a state literary destination and tradition for two decades, this year’s AWS had special significance for Watson, who traveled from Wyoming to receive the Harper Lee Award, and for Thompson, who was his classmate in creative writing at the University of Alabama.

    “It is really meaningful to me that the 20th award is going to this year’s recipient,” Thompson said during her introduction of Watson. “Brad came to the M.F.A. program in Alabama at about the time that I was leaving. He was identified and tapped as a writer that we were really going to want to watch. In 1996, when ‘Last Days of the Dog-men’ was published, there was so much happiness for Brad that things were coming to the fruition that we had known they would.”

    That first book, a collection of short stories, won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His next work and first novel, “The Heaven of Mercury,” was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2002 and won the Southern Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction. His second short-story collection, “Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives,” was a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award in Fiction. His most recent novel, “Miss Jane,” was longlisted for the National Book Award last year.

    “‘To Kill a Mockingbird is an iconic American novel,” Watson said when receiving the Harper Lee Award. “I don’t think anyone has read that book without being changed by it. To be given this award named after her is a really gratifying honor.”

    The recipient of numerous honors and distinctions, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and appointment as lecturer in fiction at Harvard University, Watson was born in Mississippi, received his M.F.A. in creative writing from UA, and has worked as a reporter and editor for state and local newspapers in Alabama, including The Montgomery Advertiser. He is currently an associate professor in the creative writing program at the University of Wyoming.

    Presented annually by the Coastal Alabama Community College, the Harper Lee Award recognizes the lifetime achievement of a writer who was born in Alabama or whose literary career developed in the state. The award, which includes a $5,000 cash prize and The Clock Tower Bronze statue by Frank Fleming, is made possible through a grant from George F. Landegger, chairman, Parsons & Whittemore.

    The Alabama Writers’ Forum, a statewide literary arts organization and partnership program of the Alabama State Council on the Arts, coordinates the process to select the award recipient annually from nominations from the field. Recent recipients have included E.O. Wilson, Mark Childress, Fannie Flagg, Gay Talese, Winston Groom and Rick Bragg.

    Kirk Curnutt wins 2017 Eugene Current-Garcia Award
    The recipient of this year’s Eugene Current-Garcia Award was Kirk Curnutt, professor and chair of the English department at Troy University. Author of fourteen books, including three novels, most of his scholarly work has focused on F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein.

    Curnutt was introduced by Steve Hubbard of Lurleen B. Wallace Community College’s English Department, who represented the Association of College English Teachers of Alabama, which is responsible for selection of the award’s recipient each year.

    “Kirk has a natural voice when discussing the most complex of ideas, which I believe is the hallmark of excellence in academic writing,” stated Suzanne del Gizzo, editor of The Hemingway Review and who Hubbard quoted during his introduction. “Most of all, he is a true man of letters, writer, scholar, and teacher. And it’s Alabama’s good fortune that he has chosen to do his work there.”

    The Eugene Current-Garcia award recognizes Alabamians, or those whose academic careers have developed in the state, who have distinguished themselves for scholarly reflection and writing on literary topics. It is also funded by Landegger and includes a $5,000 prize and a clock tower bronze statue.

    After thanking his mother, who was in the audience, and remembering his late father, Curnutt described his work ethic and the reason for it.

    “I came from a stock of farmers, and when 5 a.m. came, you were up and you were working,” he said. “I’m very honored that my parents instilled those values in me.”

    The award is named after Eugene Current-Garcia, who had a long and distinguished teaching career at Auburn University, where he founded and co-edited the Southern Humanities Review.

    Michael Knight wins 2017 Truman Capote Prize
    This year’s Truman Capote prize was awarded to Michael Knight, whom Don Noble in his introduction called “the Anton Chekov of Mobile Bay.”

    The author of two novels, three collections and a book of novellas, Knight lives in Knoxville, where he teaches creative writing at the University of Tennessee.

    “I’ve always appreciated those writers who could work with equal grace in more than one genre,” Knight said. “That’s certainly obviously true of Truman Capote. He could strike so many different emotional notes and get under our skin as readers in so many different ways. I’m filled with envy every time I read his words on the page. It is such a genuine honor to be associated in even a minor way with such a fantastic writer.”

    The Capote Prize recognizes distinguished work in the short story or creative nonfiction by a writer with a strong Alabama connection. And it has been a long time in the making, said Noble, a retired English professor at UA and host of the literary interview show “Bookmark” on Alabama Public Television.

    “As far back as the planning meeting for this conference in 1997, chaired by then-president of [CACC], Dr. John Johnson, I have believed that there should be a parallel prize to honor the splendid work of Monroeville’s writer Truman Capote,” he said.

    After an anonymous donor came forward to sponsor the prize several years ago, Noble said he contacted the Capote estate.

    “Throughout the process, the legal representation of the Capote estate was intrigued by the proposal, and they were cooperative, friendly, and a little surprised this had not been done before.” There was no charge for the use of Capote’s name—“just good wishes”—Noble said.
    The recipient of the award is selected by an anonymous committee of writers and scholars and presented annually by Noble, according to AWS materials.

    AWS honors Yaa Gyazi, winner of 2017 PEN/ Hemingway Award
    The 2017 AWS included lectures, panels and workshops by nearly two dozen writers and scholars. And the April 21 luncheon featured Yaa Gyazi, whose novel, “Homecoming,” received the 2017 PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction, among other awards. Born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Gyazi holds a B.A. in English from Stanford and an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

    “When you put your pen to paper, magic is created,” said CACC Regional President Gary L. Branch, of authors such as Watson, Curnutt, Knight and Gyazi, at this year’s awards dinner. “So I stand in awe as we recognize these writers tonight.”

    The 21st Annual Alabama Writers Symposium will take place on April 19-20, 2018. For more information, visit faulknerstate.edu/about/alabama_writers_symposium, or call 800-381-3722.

  • Montgomery, AL -- The life and writing of Mobile-native, writer, music critic, and inaugural Alabama Writers Hall of Fame Inductee (2015) Albert Murray will be celebrated Thursday, May 4, at 6:30 p.m. in Bernheim Hall at the Ben May Main Library, 701 Government Street, Mobile.

    An outreach program of the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame, with funding from the Alabama Humanities Foundation, a state agency of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the program is free and open to the public. The program is also a featured stop on the Southern Literary Trail’s “Trailfest!”

    Featured speaker will be Murray scholar and long-time friend of the writer Paul Devlin of New York, NY. Devlin has written about Murray and recently edited two collections of his works.  Devlin accepted the Alabama Writers’ Hall of Fame medal for Murray, who died in 2013.

    Devlin is co-editor (with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) of the Library of America's definitive edition of Albert Murray's work. Volume one, non-fiction and memoirs, was published in October 2016. Volume two, fiction and poetry, will be published in 2018.

    Devlin also recently edited a collection of Murray's previously uncollected and unpublished interviews and music writings, Murray Talks Music: Albert Murray on Blues and Jazz (University of Minnesota Press, 2016).

    “Alabamians often don’t know about Albert Murray, one of Alabama’s most innovative and energetic writers, because he lived his adult life far from his home state,” Jeanie Thompson, Executive Director of the Alabama Writers’ Forum, said.  “His books have impacted sociology, fiction, and musical biography in profound ways. His musical, artistic, and literary friendships are legendary. Paul Devlin will be able to paint the picture for us of the Murray apartment in Harlem that was a meeting place for writers, scholars, and musicians for decades.”

    Thompson will moderate a public discussion following Devlin’s presentation. In 1997 Murray received the inaugural Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of the Year at the Alabama Writers Symposium in Monroeville.

    Murray Talks Music brings together many of Albert Murray’s finest interviews and essays on music—most never before published—as well as rare liner notes and prefaces. A celebrated educator and raconteur, and co-founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Murray engages with a variety of scholars and journalists while making insightful connections among music, literature, and other art forms—all with ample humor and from unforeseen angles.

    Devlin also edited Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones as told to Albert Murray (Minnesota, 2011), a finalist for the Jazz Journalists Association's book award. Devlin’s writing has appeared in many publications, including newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals. He teaches at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York.

    The program is a collaboration among the Mobile Public Library, the Alabama Writers’ Hall of Fame, and the Southern Literary Trail, and is funded by Alabama Humanities Foundation, a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mobile Public Library, and the Alabama Writers’ Forum.

    Following the program, people are invited to gather in the Armbrecht/Biskman Meeting Room for cake and punch in celebration of Mr. Murray’s 101th birthday coming up May 12. For more information, please call 251 208-7097 or email jeaniethompson@bellsouth.net

  • News Release
    Contact: Jeanie Thompson, Executive Director, Alabama Writers’ Forum
    334-221-5013, jeaniethompson@bellsouth.net

    University of Alabama alumnus Brad Watson wins Harper Lee Award

    MONTGOMERY, Ala.— Award-winning writer and University of Alabama alumnus Brad Watson has been selected to receive the Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of the Year for 2017. The award is made to a living, nationally recognized Alabama writer who has made a significant lifelong contribution to Alabama letters. Watson will receive the honor during the Gala Dinner at the Alabama Writers Symposium in Monroeville, Alabama, on April 20, 2017.

    “The honor of receiving the Harper Lee Award includes not only following the many great writers who've already received it, joining their ranks in that regard, but of course the association with Harper Lee, herself, and her great novels,” Watson said. “Thank you for this most distinguished recognition and award.”

    The recipient of numerous honors and distinctions, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and appointment as lecturer in fiction at Harvard University, Watson received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Alabama and has worked as a reporter and editor for state newspapers, including The Montgomery Advertiser. He is currently an associate professor in the creative writing program at the University of Wyoming.

    Watson’s first novel, “The Heaven of Mercury,” was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2002 and won the Southern Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction. His most recent novel, “Miss Jane,” was longlisted for the National Book Award last year. His first book, the “Last Days of the Dog-men,” won the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and his second short-story collection, “Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives,” was a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award in Fiction.

    “Brad Watson is most deserving of the Harper Lee Award,” said Don Noble, host of “Bookmark,” Alabama Public Television’s literary interview show. “He is the best Southern fiction writer of his generation.”

    The Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of the Year, presented annually by Coastal Alabama Community College at the Alabama Writers Symposium in Monroeville, is made possible through a generous grant from George F. Landegger, chairman, Parsons & Whittemore.

    The Alabama Writers’ Forum, a statewide literary arts organization and partnership program of the Alabama State Council on the Arts, coordinates the process to select the Harper Lee Award recipient annually from nominations from the field.

    To register, contact Alisha Linam at 251-575-8271 or alinam@ascc.edu. For more info, visit the website for the Alabama Writers Symposium 2017.

    Photo by Nell Hanley

A Pulitzer Prizes Centennial Campfires Initiative, “Carried Home” is produced by the Alabama Humanities Foundation, the Alabama Writers’ Forum, and Troy Public Radio (WTSU, 89.9 FM in Montgomery and Troy; WRWA 88.7 in Dothan and the Wiregrass; WTJB 91.7 in Columbus and Phenix City) in five short radio documentaries.