Kiese Laymon returns as the keynote author for the 31st annual Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium, Oct. 10-12. Laymon will read from his latest book, “Heavy: An American Memoir,” which has been awarded the Carnegie Medal for Nonfiction and the Los Angeles Times Isherwood Prize for Autobiographical Prose.
In a New York Times review, Saeed Jones describes “Heavy” as “a thoughtful and hard-wrought examination of how a black man came into his own in a country determined to prevent that from happening.” Laymon recounts his experiences growing up in Jackson as the son of a single mother who is a prominent African American scholar and activist and confronts difficult issues of race, gender, sexual assault, domestic violence, interactions with the police and addiction. The memoir, framed as an intimate letter addressed to his mother, questions the conditions he endured as a child and young man, even as it honors the traditions and pride his mother and grandmother instilled. It serves as a fitting introduction to this year’s symposium theme, “‘But Here I am, and Here I’ll Stay’: Claiming Our Place in the South,” which is inspired by Eudora Welty’s story “Why I Live at the P.O.”
Laymon will read and discuss his memoir Thursday, Oct. 10, at 7:30 p.m. in Poindexter Hall at Mississippi University for Women. A reception and book signing with all symposium authors will follow. All symposium sessions are free and open to the public thanks to the generous support of the Robert M. Hearin Foundation. The symposium will continue at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 11 and 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 12.
Other featured writers include national Book Award finalist Brandon Hobson, who will read from “Where the Dead Sit Talking,” in which Sequoyah, a Cherokee teenager growing up in foster care in Oklahoma, is forced to come to terms with a new foster family and the death of his Kiowa foster sister, Rosemary. Kirkus Reviews calls the novel “A masterly tale of life and death, hopes and fears, secrets and lies.”
Kendra Allen will present her debut essay collection “When You Learn the Alphabet,” which won the Iowa Prize in Literary Nonfiction. In awarding the prize, Kiese Laymon noted that Allen “brilliantly animates the formal and informal education processes of becoming grown in America.” Allen, a Dallas native, is completing her MFA at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Local novelists include The W’s own Mary Miller, who will read from her second novel, “Biloxi,” the story of recently retired and divorced Louis McDonald Jr. who must rebuild his life with the help of Layla, a dog he impulsively adopts. The New York Times has dubbed it “a novel that’s insightful, sad, touching and also deeply uncomfortable.”
Starkville Area Arts Council executive director John W. Bateman will read from “Who Killed Buster Sparkle?” his debut Southern Gothic mystery featuring a drag queen named Peaches and the ghost named Buster who suffers partial amnesia.
Former Wall Street Journal reporter and columnist Ken Wells returns to the symposium with his book about growing up in rural Louisiana, combining memoir with mouthwatering recipes and lore in “Gumbo Life: Tales from the Roux Bayou.”
A symposium favorite, Memphis novelist and short story writer Cary Holladay returns for her fourth time with the story collection “Brides in the Sky,” which Kirkus Reviews describes as historical fiction focusing on “women trying to find their places in a world that often treats them as insignificant.”
Eudora Welty Prize scholar Christin Marie Taylor will discuss her book “Labor Pains: New Deal Fictions of Race, Work, and Sex in the South” in which she examines the portrayal of Black workers in the writings of George Wylie Henderson, William Attaway, Eudora Welty and Sarah Elizabeth Wright.
African American poets in the symposium include Ashley M. Jones of Birmingham, Alabama, with her second collection “Dark // Thing” and T. J. Anderson III with his collection “Devonte Travels the Sorry Route” that follows the character Devonte across time to interrogate the history of the African diaspora.
Ecopoets Ann Fisher-Wirth of the University of Mississippi and Tina Barr of the Ashville, North Carolina area, round out the symposium with their collections “The Bones of Winter Birds” and “Green Target.”
In addition to published authors, five high school Ephemera Prize winners will also join the program on Friday afternoon, reading from their winning entries, judged by Cary Holladay and T. J. Anderson III.
Other Welty Series events include the MUW art gallery exhibits “In Medias Res” featuring Rebeca Calderon Pittman and “Convergence: A Surreal Journey” with work by Joe A. MacGown, as well as the annual Welty Gala fundraiser Oct. 11 featuring John Feinstein, author of 35 books, including the two bestselling sports books of all time: “A Season on The Brink” and “A Good Walk Spoiled.”
For more information about authors and the Ephemera Prize, see the Welty Series website muw.edu/welty.
WELTY SYMPOSIUM SCHEDULE
Thursday, Oct. 10
7:30 p.m. – Kiese Laymon, “Heavy”
Friday, Oct. 11
Tina Barr, “Green Target”
Kendra Allen, “When You Learn the Alphabet”
Ashley M. Jones, “Dark // Thing”
Brandon Hobson, “Where the Dead Sit Talking”
T. J. Anderson III, “Devonte Travels the Sorry Route”
Cary Holladay, “Brides in the Sky”
Ken Wells, “Gumbo Life: Tales from the Roux Bayou”
Ephemera Prize Winners
Saturday, Oct. 12
Ann Fisher-Wirth, “The Bones of Winter Birds”
Christin Marie Taylor, “Labor Pains” (Welty Prize)
Mary Miller, “Biloxi”
John Bateman, “Who Killed Buster Sparkle?”