Emory Report
May 4, 2009
Volume 61, Number 30


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May 4
, 2009
Resident writer busts myths about South

By Cathy Wooten

A poet reads aloud from her work as the audience listens and snacks on biscuits spread with butter and kudzu jelly. This isn’t open mic night or an experimental food tasting. This is an English class; the poet is a noted Georgia author; and the setting is Oxford College.

The first Oxford College Southern Writer-in-Residence program inaugurated this spring. Oxford has long had such a program in its sights as a way of further enriching its liberal-arts-intensive curriculum. A 2008 grant from the Watson-Brown Foundation made the program’s founding possible.

Mary Hood, the 2009 writer-in-residence, is a lifelong Georgian. An award-winning poet and fiction-writer, her short stories have been widely selected for inclusion in literary anthologies and short-story collections.

In a reference to a well-known Southern fast-food chain, Hood has titled her Oxford College course “Writing the South: Scattered, Smothered, Covered — Having It Our Way, Keeping It Real.” Some of the 17 students who participated in the seminar are from the South, but many are not.

“The seminar,” said Hood, “aims to interrogate received ideas and bust ghosts of the Old South and myths and romance of the Lost Cause, to confront iconic media images of the South in film and literature — from Caldwell’s sharecroppers to Faulkner’s bear and Dickey’s suburbanites and banjo-picker — and find ways to honor them as well as test for truth.”

The students studied images of the South as depicted in poetry, fiction and film, and explored the region through music and food. In a series of writing assignments, they were challenged to develop their own memoir of contemporary life in the South.

Lucas Carpenter, Charles Howard Candler Professor of English, oversees Oxford’s writer-in-residence program. “Mary’s presence on campus this semester has been invaluable in providing freshmen and sophomores with the opportunity to interact with a prize-winning author,” Carpenter said. “She’s been a wonderful resource.”

A search is under way for the second Oxford College Southern Writer-in-Residence. An announcement of the selection is expected in the fall.