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April 22, 2002

McDermott reads, presents writing awards

By Michael Terrazas


Alice McDermott, author of 1998’s Charming Billy, paid a visit to Emory last week—and it was one that a handful of writing students will not soon forget.

The Long Island native played the role of Star Presenter in the English and creative writing departments’ Awards Night, held April 15 in Cannon Chapel. McDermott announced the names of and handed certificates to the winners of 10 awards, from Best Undergraduate Essay to Johnston Fellowships for Travel and Research. And the National Book Award winner showed that she can write a little, too.

“In an academic year that began as this one did, with an event that changed everything, we celebrate not just the product but the process of writing,” said Lynna Williams, associate professor and director of creative writing. Acknowledging the work of and the future that lies ahead of Emory’s young writers, Williams recalled William Faulkner, who upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949, dedicated to the award “to all the writers who would come after” him.

In Cannon Chapel, McDermott read from a novel in progress she said will published later this year. The book, she said, is an exercise for herself. “Wouldn’t it be fun to write a novel that is not excerptible?” she said. “That’s really bad for readings.” The audience begged to differ, as McDermott spent a half-hour reading from the novel’s beginning.

The next afternoon in the Woodruff Library’s Jones Room, McDermott led a colloquium on writing, answering questions about the craft in general and her own career in particular. “I always think I know what I’m doing when I start, otherwise I wouldn’t have the courage to start,” she said in response to whether she prepares an outline before beginning to write a book. “Almost every time, though, the story changes. I like to make discoveries myself. If you hold too tightly to your original story, you can miss those moments [of discovery].”

Speaking at McDermott’s reading in Cannon Chapel, Joseph Skibell, assistant professor of creative writing, said McDermott proves that “there is a certain deviousness to good writing.”

“Not only does she trick us into asking questions about her characters,” Skibell said, “but she tricks us into asking questions about ourselves.”

The winners of this year’s English and creative writing awards are:

Best English Essay by an Undergraduate: Michael Peyton Doughtery.

Best English Essay by a Graduate Student: Allison Hobgood.

Academy of American Poets Prize for Best Poetry: Neil Garvin. (Honorable mention to Kristi McKim)

Artistine Mann Award in Poetry: Tien Tran. (Honorable mention to Neil Garvin)

• Artistine Mann Award in Fiction: Carolyn Finch. (Honorable mention to Katherine Duclos)

• Artistine Mann Award in Drama: Lauren Gunderson. (Honorable mention to Joseph Hicks)

• Artistine Mann Award in Creative Nonfiction: Anton Disclafani. (Honorable mention to Margarite Nathe)

• Johnson Fellowships for Travel and Research: Anton Disclafani and Amelia Sitter.

• Betty and Michael Wolf Prize in American Literature: Amelia Sitter.

• Grace Abernethy Scholarship in Creative Writing: Neil Garvin.