Writers' Festival features readings, discussions by versatile writers

Because of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Emory's 1996 Summer Writers' Festival will take place in June instead of July as in past years. Hosting this year's festival events June 18-20 is poet Judson Mitcham, chair of the psychology department at Fort Valley State College. Joining him will be regional writers Fred Chappell, Jim Grimsley, Xuefei Jin (Ha Jin) and Shay Youngblood. Mitcham also will direct the Summer Writers' Institute, a for-credit fiction workshop at Emory.

Mitcham serves as adjunct professor of creative writing at Emory and at the University of Georgia. His first book of poems, Somewhere in Ecclesiastes, won the Devins Award from the University of Missouri Press, and his novel, The Sweet Everlasting, has recently been published by the University of Georgia Press. Other honors include a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Ars and a Pushcart Prize.

"This year we have a strong group of writers who may not have received the attention they deserve," said Mitcham. "They are each talented in more than one genre, and for that reason, they will have a lot to offer other writers and students of writing. The panel discussion should be helpful to any would-be writers and will help define the place of writing in the lives of these four writers."

Poet Fred Chappell is one of the most distinctive and powerful voices in American literature. The author of seven works of fiction and 11 books of poetry, he has won numerous awards, including the Bollingen Prize, the Best Foreign Novel Prize from the French Academy, and the Ingersoll Foundation's T.S. Eliot Prize. A founding member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, Chappell is a widely respected teacher of writing and literature. He has served on the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro since 1964.

Playwright Jim Grimsley's first novel, Winter Birds, won the coveted Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The honor was added to an already impressive collection of laurels bestowed upon him by the theater community, including Newsday's George Oppenheimer Award as the Best New American Playwright of 1988 and the Bryan Prize for Drama awarded by the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Grimsley's second novel, Dream Boy, was published in 1995 to widespread acclaim, and a third, My Drowning, will be released in January. In the May/June issue of American Theatre magazine, Grimsley's new play, The Decline and Fall of the Rest, is featured in an article exploring his unique playwriting style.

Ha Jin was born in Liaoning, China, in 1956. A former soldier in the People's Army, Jin came to the United States to study at Brandeis University and planned to return to China, but decided against it after the crackdown following the 1989 uprising at Tiananmen Square. He began writing in English in 1987 and has published two volumes of poetry, Between Silences (1990) and Facing Shadows (1996), as well as Ocean of Words, a book of short stories, also published in 1996. He recently received the Kenyon Review's Award for Literary Excellence in Fiction. Jin teaches creative writing at Emory. A review of his two most recent books appears on page 7.

Playwright and story writer Shay Youngblood is a Georgia-born writer, author of The Big Mama Stories. Her plays Shakin' the Mess Out of Misery and Talking Bones have been widely produced. Other plays include Black Power Barbie, Communism Killed My Dog, Square Blues and Amazing Grace. Her play Square Blues was the Edward Albee Honoree for the 1995 21st Century Playwrights Festival and was selected by Anna Deavere Smith to receive the 1995 Playwriting Award from the Paul Green Foundation. Youngblood is Cole Visiting Professor at Wheaton College, where she teaches creative writing and black women's literature. Her novel The Sweet Taste of Water will be published in 1997.

Dates and times for festival events are as follows, all in 206 White Hall:

* 8 p.m., Tuesday, June 18 - reading by Chappell
* 4 p.m., Wednesday, June 19 - panel discussion, "Becoming a Writer" with Chappell, Grimsley, Jin and Youngblood
* 8 p.m., Wednesday, June 19 - reading by Jin and Mitcham
* 8 p.m., Thursday,June 20 - reading by Grimsley and Youngblood

For information on the festival, call 727-4683. All events are free and open to the public.

-- Joyce Bell

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