2023 Oxford Conference for the Book Authors
To see the times speakers will present, please visit the schedule page.
Bestselling and award-winning author Megan Abbott is revered for her suspense writing that explores the dark underbellies and competitive atmospheres of intimate, powerful, and vulnerable spaces traditionally reserved for women.Her most recent book, The Turnout, is a revelatory and mesmerizing new novel set against the hothouse of a family-run ballet studio during an intense and fraught season of the ballet company prepping for The Nutcracker. The story reveals the callouses, bruises, violence, and yearning lurking just beneath the lovely surfaces of the pink and the tutus. With uncanny insight and hypnotic writing, The Turnout is a sharp and strange dissection of family ties and sexuality, femininity and power, and a tale that is both alarming and irresistible solidifying Megan Abbott at the height of her career.
Abbott has been working in the TV world for nearly a decade as was a staff writer for HBO’s hit show, The Deuce and co-creator and co-showrunner of her own show, Dare Me, which completed its first season on the USA Network and is now on Netflix internationally. With Dare Me, she strived to make it a women-led, women-centered show in all departments. Abbot is currently adapting The Turnout as a limited TV series for eOne.
Gabriela Alemán was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She received a PhD at Tulane University and holds a master’s degree in Latin American literature from Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar. She currently resides in Quito, Ecuador. Her literary honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2006; membership in the Bogotá 39, a 2007 selection of the most important up-and-coming writers in Latin America in the post-Boom generation; one of five finalists for the 2015 Premio Hispanoamericano de Cuento Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia) for her short story collection La muerte silba un blues; and winner of several prizes for critical essays on literature and film. Her novel Poso Wells was published in English translation by City Lights in 2018.
Her latest book is Family Album: Stories, translated from the Spanish by Dick Cluster and Mary Ellen Fieweger and published by City Lights in 2022. In this collection of eight stories, she teases tropes of hardboiled detective fiction, satire, and adventure narratives to recast the discussion of national identity. From a pair of deep-sea divers looking for sunken treasure in the Galapagos Archipelago, to a night with the husband of Ecuador’s most infamous expat, Lorena Bobbit, this series of cracked “family portraits” provides a cast of picaresque heroes and antiheroes in stories that sneak up on a reader before they know what’s happened: they’ve learned a great deal about a country whose intriguing story is ripe for the telling.
Ace Atkins is the award-winning, New York Times-bestselling author of almost thirty novels. Atkins, a former SEC football player, started his career as a crime beat reporter in Florida before becoming a full-time novelist. Since then he’s written eleven books in the Quinn Colson series and several true crime novels based on infamous crooks and killers. He was also chosen by Robert B. Parker’s family to continue the Spenser series in 2010, adding ten novels to that iconic franchise. He lives and works in Oxford, Mississippi.
Destiny O. Birdsong is the winner of this year’s Willie Morris Award for Southern Writing for fiction for her debut book,Nobody’s Magic. Her writing has appeared in the Paris Review Daily, African American Review, and Catapult, among other publications. She has received the Academy of American Poets Prize and the Richard G. Peterson Poetry Prize. Hercritically acclaimed debut collection of poems, Negotiations, was longlisted for the 2021 PEN/Voelcker Award and was published by Tin House Books.
In the mid-1990s, when Nic Brown was fresh out of high school, he was living his childhood dream as a rock and roll drummer. Signing a major label record deal, playing big shows, hitting the charts, giving interviews in Rolling Stone, appearing on The Tonight Show—what could be better for a young artist? But contrary to expectations, getting a shot at his artistic dream early in life was a destabilizing shock. The more he achieved, the more accolades that came his way, the less sure Brown became about his path.
Only a few years into a promising musical career, he discovered the crux of his discontent: he was never meant to remain behind the drums. In fact, his true artistic path lay in a radically different direction entirely: he decided to become a writer, embarking on a journey that led him to attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, publish novels and short stories, and teach literature to college students across the country. Bang Bang Crash tells the story of Nic Brown’s unusual journey to gain new strength, presence of mind, and sense of perspective, enabling him to discover an even greater life of artistic fulfillment.
Nic Brown is the author of the novels In Every Way, Doubles, and Floodmarkers. He is the fiction editor of the South Carolina Review, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Harvard Review, and many other publications. As a drummer, he has worked with Athenaeum, Ben Lee, Longwave, Skeleton Key, and Eszter Balint. A graduate of Columbia University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has served as the John and Renée Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi and is now an associate professor of creative writing at Clemson University.
Mahogany L. Browne
Writer, organizer, vocalist, performance poet, and educator Mahogany L. Browne is an author of poetry and fiction. Her YA poetry book Black Girl Magic celebrates a Black girlhood that is “free, unforgettable, and luminous,” while her children’s book, Woke Baby, is for all the littlest progressives who grow up to change the world. Her most recent books include the YA titles Vinyl Moon and Chlorine Sky. Her poetry collections are Chrome Valley, I Remember Death by Its Proximity to What I Love, Kissing Caskets, and the NAACP-nominated chapbook Redbone.
Browne has co-edited the anthology The Breakbeat Poets, Vol. 3: Black Girl Magic, which Dazed magazine declared “one of the most important volumes of poetry in recent years.” She is also the author of the YA anthology WOKE: A Young Poets Guide to Justice, co-edited with Elizabeth Acevedo and Olivia Gatwood.
Born in Oakland, California, Browne dropped out of high school after being told not to write poetry during an English honors class. Using her personal experiences with addiction, racism, sexism, and oppression to inspire her own brand of shameless authentic work, Browne’s spoken word performances create a platform for women and girls to feel empowered and heard.
She has an MFA in writing and activism from Pratt Institute, where she founded the Women Writers of Color Reading Room and became the director of the Black Lives Matter program. Browne is a founder of the socially active literary collective #BlackPoetsSpeakOut, created out of urgency and as a response to the non-indictment of Mike Brown’s murderer.
Mahogany L. Browne is the current poetry coordinator at St. Francis College’s MFA Program. She is the founder of Woke Baby Book Fair, a traveling diverse reading campaign, and is the first-ever poet-in-residence at the Lincoln Center. Browne lives in Brooklyn, NY.
S. A. Cosby
S. A. Cosby’s new novel, Razorblade Tears follows the phenomenal reception to Blacktop Wasteland, a novel that reinvents and reclaims the southern noir narrative. While Cosby’s earlier novel started with the high-octane roar of a street race, Razorblade Tears begins with a policeman’s knock. Ike and Buddy Lee have their sons’ deaths in common—and the child their sons left behind—and as far as Ike is concerned, nothing else. Ike is a successful Black business owner still married to his son’s mother. Buddy Lee, a lost White man, drinks too much, is a bit of a jokester, and more easily mixes with rough motorcycle renegades than the high-end society type his ex-wife married. Standing in the graveyard where their sons are being laid to rest, they also unknowingly share more. They are both ex-cons, and they each bear a gut-wrenching shame: they lost their boys years ago when they rejected them for loving each other. And now they can think of only one way to make amends. The risks are high: prison, death, and an unleashing of the hard, violent men each had vowed not to be again.
Cosby’s understanding of the lives of his characters runs as deep to the bone as it did in Blacktop Wasteland. With the pairing of these two men, Cosby explores the human terrain of his South, its sorrowful legacy and its inexorable pull on those, Black and White, who call it home.
From southeastern Virginia, Cosby now resides in Gloucester, Virginia. His short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines. His short story “The Grass beneath My Feet” won the Anthony Award for best short story in 2019. He is also the author of My Darkest Prayer and Brotherhood of the Blade. His writing is influenced by his experience as a bouncer, construction worker, retail manager, and—for six hours—a mascot for a major fast-food chain inside the world’s hottest costume. When he isn’t crafting tales of murder and mayhem, he assists the dedicated staff at J. K. Redmond Funeral home as a mortician’s assistant. He is an avid hiker and is also known as one hell of a chess player.
Eli Cranor lives and writes from the banks of Lake Dardanelle, a reservoir of the Arkansas River nestled in the heart of True Grit country. His work has won the Greensboro Review’s Robert Watson Literary Prize and been featured in Missouri Review, Oxford American, Ellery Queen, the Strand, and others. Cranor also pens a weekly column “Where I’m Writing From” for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and his craft column, “Shop Talk,” appears monthly at CrimeReads. His critically acclaimed debut novel, Don’t Know Tough, won the Peter Lovesey First Crime Novel Contest.
In Cranor’s latest novel Ozark Dogs, Vietnam War veteran Jeremiah Fitzjurls takes over the care of his granddaughter, Joanna, after his son is convicted of capital murder. Raising her with as much warmth as can be found in an Ozark junkyard outfitted to be an armory, Jeremiah teaches her how to shoot and fight, but there is not enough training in the world to protect her when the dreaded Ledfords—notorious meth dealers and fanatical White supremacists—come to collect Joanna as payment for a long-overdue blood debt.
Headed by rancorous patriarch Bunn and smooth-talking, erudite Evail, the Ledfords have never forgotten what the Fitzjurls family did to them, and they will not be satisfied until they have taken an eye for an eye. As they seek revenge, and as Jeremiah desperately searches for his granddaughter, their narratives collide in this immersive story about family and how far some will go to honor, defend, or in some cases, destroy it.
David Crews is the clerk of court for the US District Court in the Northern District of Mississippi. He has produced and directed several documentary films, including The Toughest Job, which won a Southeast Emmy Award for best historical documentary, and Unrivaled, currently airing on PBS stations. Crews is the author of The Mississippi Book of Quotations.
Ruth Dickey is the executive director of the National Book Foundation and has spent more than twenty-five years working at the intersection of community building, writing, and art. Prior to the Foundation, she served as executive director of Seattle Arts & Lectures. A builder and believer in big dreams, Dickey has had the pleasure of leading organizations in Washington, DC, New Orleans, Cincinnati, and Seattle to dramatically expand their community impact. Dickey holds an MFA in poetry from UNC-Greensboro, a BS in foreign service, and an MA in Latin American studies from Georgetown University. She was a 2017 fellow with the National Arts Strategies Chief Executive Program and served as a judge in fiction for the 2019 National Book Awards.
Anjali Enjeti is a former attorney, organizer, and award-winning journalist based near Atlanta. She is the author of Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change, and The Parted Earth. Her writing about social justice has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, Harper’s Bazaar, the Oxford American, and elsewhere. A former board member of the National Book Critics Circle, she is the recipient of the 2022 Georgia Author of the Year Award for First Novel, a gold medal for Best Regional Nonfiction from the Independent Publisher Book Awards, and is a finalist for the 2023 Townsend Prize for Fiction.
Anjali teaches in the MFA programs at Antioch University Los Angeles and at Reinhardt University. She cofounded the Georgia chapter of They See Blue, an organization for South Asian Democrats, and served on the 2020 Georgia AAPI Leadership Council for the Biden-Harris campaign.
Jonathan Escoffery’s debut novel, If I Survive You, was longlisted for the National Book Award for fiction in 2022. He is the recipient of the 2020 Plimpton Prize for Fiction, a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, and the 2020 ASME Award for Fiction. His fiction has appeared in the Paris Review, American Short Fiction, Prairie Schooner, AGNI, Passages North, ZYZZYVA, and Electric Literature, and has been anthologized in Best American Magazine Writing. He received his MFA from the University of Minnesota, is a PhD candidate at the University of Southern California, and a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. If I Survive You is his debut book.
In If I Survive You, Topper and Sanya flee to Miami as political violence consumes their native Kingston. But America in the 1970s, as the couple and their two children learn, is far from the promised land. Excluded from society as Black immigrants, the family pushes through Hurricane Andrew and later the 2008 recession, living in a house so cursed that the pet fish launches itself out of its own tank rather than stay. But even as things fall apart, the family remains motivated, often to its own detriment, by what their younger son, Trelawny, calls “the exquisite, racking compulsion to survive.”
Masterfully constructed with heart and humor, the linked stories in Jonathan Escoffery’s If I Survive You center on Trelawny as he struggles to carve out a place for himself amid financial disaster, racism, and flat-out bad luck. After a fight with Topper, reckoning with his failures as a parent and his longing for Jamaica, Trelawny claws his way out of homelessness through a series of odd, often hilarious jobs. Meanwhile, his brother, Delano, attempts a disastrous cash grab to get his kids back, and his cousin, Cukie, looks for a father who doesn’t want to be found. As each character searches for a foothold, they never forget the profound danger of climbing without a safety net.
Pulsing with vibrant lyricism and inimitable style, sly commentary and contagious laughter, Escoffery’s debut unravels what it means to be in between homes and cultures in a world at the mercy of capitalism and Whiteness. With If I Survive You, Escoffery announces himself as a prodigious storyteller in a class of his own, a chronicler of American life at its most gruesome and hopeful.
W. Ralph Eubanks is the author of A Place Like Mississippi, which takes readers on a complete tour of the real and imagined landscapes that have inspired generations of authors. This is a book that honors and explores the landscape of Mississippi—and the Magnolia State’s history—and reveals the many ways this landscape has informed the work of some of America’s most treasured authors. Eubanks is the Black Power at Ole Miss Faculty Fellow at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture.
Tarfia Faizullah grew up in West Texas and graduated with an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. She traveled to Bangladesh on a Fulbright Fellowship to interview the birangona: a Bangladeshi name for the women subjected to crimes against humanity in the 1971 Liberation War. The interviews gave rise to Faizullah’s first collection, Seam, winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry’s First Book Award.
The surviving birangona recounted their sexual and spiritual violation by Pakistani soldiers, from which Faizullah crafted haunting and complex portraits. While she acknowledges the failure of language to fully encapsulate human suffering, she was able to use her voice to reveal the complex emotional resonances of one of the most widescale atrocities committed against women in world history. Poems about the birangona mingle with others that describe the speaker’s emotional life and journey through Bangladesh.
Faizullah’s second book is Registers of Eliminated Villages, which extends and transforms her powerful accounts of violence, war, and loss into poems of many forms and voices—elegies, outcries, self-portraits, and larger-scale confrontations with discrimination, family, and memory.
Along with co-founding and directing the Organic Weapon Arts chapbook press and video series with Jamaal May, Faizullah is the Nicolas Delbanco Visiting Professor of Poetry in the Helen Zeil Writer’s Program at the University of Michigan and a contributing editor for The Offing. Faizullah’s honors include the Dorothy Sergeant Rosenberg Prize, the VIDA award in poetry, and the Ploughshares Cohen Award. She has also been the recipient of fellowships from Kundiman, the Kenyon Review, and Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference.
Beth Ann Fennelly
Beth Ann Fennelly, a 2020 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow, was the poet laureate of Mississippi from 2016 to 2021 and teaches in the MFA Program at the University of Mississippi. She’s won grants and awards from the NEA, the United States Artists, a Pushcart, and a Fulbright to Brazil. Fennelly has published three books of poetry and three of prose, most recently, Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs, which was a Goodreads Favorite and an Atlanta Journal-Constitution Best Book. She lives with her husband, Tom Franklin, and their three children in Oxford, Mississippi.
Cathy Fussell and Fred Fussell
Cathy Fussell has been a practicing fiber artist for more than fifty years. She has been sewing and working with textiles since her early childhood in Buena Vista, Georgia, her hometown. Today, she maintains a studio in Columbus, Georgia, where she specializes in making art quilts and related works in fabric. Cathy retired from Columbus State University (CSU) in 2011 following a long career as an English teacher—first in the Muscogee County School District and later at CSU, where she also directed CSU’s Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians.
Cathy’s art is held in a number of public collections. Included among them are two major works in the Fulton County (Ga.) Public Arts Collection; six large pieces in the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Koch Collection in New York, New York; and two pieces in the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery. Additional examples of her artwork have been exhibited in numerous juried and curated art exhibitions around the South and beyond, and her work is held in dozens of private collections around the nation and abroad.
In 2016 Cathy was commissioned by the prestigious Congressional Club in Washington, D.C., to make a special quilt for First Lady Michelle Obama. The result was “Apollo Splashdown Revisited—Homage to Alma Woodsey Thomas.” That piece was presented to Mrs. Obama by the Congressional Club at their Annual First Lady’s Luncheon during the final year of the Obama presidency. That work will be included in the collection of the Barack Obama Presidential Library in Chicago.
Fred C. Fussell is an artist, writer, and documentary photographer whose work focuses on the American South. His books include Blue Ridge Music Trails: Finding a Place in the Circle; Pot Liquor: Tales and Recollections Told by the People of Stewart County, Georgia; A Chattahoochee Album: Images of Traditional People and Folksy Places around the Lower Chattahoochee River Valley; and Memory Paintings of an Alabama Farm: The Paintings of Jessie DuBose Rhoads, Folk Artist. He also wrote two major essays for The New Georgia Guide and has written numerous other print and online articles for local, regional, and national publications.
As a museum professional, Fred has served as assistant director of Westville, chief curator of the Columbus Museum, director of the Chattahoochee Folklife Project, and curator of the Gertrude “Ma” Rainey House and Blues Museum. In 2004, his book Blue Ridge Music Trails was awarded the Presidential Award for Heritage Tourism by President George W. Bush. Fred was a 1991 recipient of the Georgia Governor’s Award in the Humanities. He currently works as an independent artist, sharing a studio at Swift Mills Lofts in Columbus with his wife, Cathy.
Hey, Boo, by Cathy and Fred Fussell
Pulitzer Prize–nominated author Wayne Flynt is professor emeritus in the History Department at Auburn University. He is the author of fourteen books, and his numerous awards include the Rembert Patrick Award for Florida History, the Lillian Smith Prize for Nonfiction from the Southerngional Council, the Alabama Library Association Award for nonfiction, the C. Vann Woodward/John Hope Franklin Prize by the Fellowship of Southern Writers, the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum Award for Excellence in Writing, and the Alabama Governor’s Award for the Arts.
Part memoir, part biography, Afternoons with Harper Lee is a moving account of over a dozen years spent visiting with the enigmatic doyenne of twentieth-century American letters. From Alabama history and folklore to American literature to everything in between, Afternoons with Harper Lee offers a fascinating, personal glimpse into the mind that crafted one of our most iconic novels.
“Afternoons with Harper Lee is a celebration of friendship, literature, and how place and history shape us all,” claimed Daniel Wallace, author of Big Fish. “It’s full of wisdom, love, and loss—heartbreaking and heart-healing in equal measure.”
Derrick Harriell is the director of African American studies program at the University of Mississippi and the Otillie Schillig Associate Professor of English, African American Studies, and Creative Writing at the University of Mississippi. He holds a PhD in English from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and an MFA in creative writing from Chicago State University. A two-time Pushcart Prize Nominee, he is the author of four collections of poetry and was the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters 2014 poetry award winner for his collection Ropes. His latest poetry collection, Come Kingdom, was published in 2022.
Adam Haver is the winner of this year’s Willie Morris Award for Southern Writing for poetry for his poem “There Are Words That Conjure.” He previously served as literary editor for the Salt Lake Community College magazine, FOLIO, has been published in numerous journals, and enjoys translating poetry. He resides in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his family. You can connect with him on Twitter: @ac_haver.
Julián Herbert was born in Acapulco in 1971. He is a writer, musician, and teacher, and is the author of The House of the Pain of Others and Tomb Song, as well as several volumes of poetry and two collections of stories. He lives in Saltillo, Mexico.
In Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino, a madcap, insatiably inventive, bravura story collection, Julián Herbert brings to vivid life people who struggle to retain a measure of sanity in an insane world. Here we become acquainted with a vengeful “personal memories coach” who tries to get even with his delinquent clients; a former journalist with a cocaine habit who travels through northern Mexico impersonating a famous author of Westerns; the ghost of Juan Rulfo; a man who discovers music in his teeth; and, in the deliriously pulpy title story, a drug lord who looks just like Quentin Tarantino and who kidnaps a mopey film critic to discuss Tarantino’s films while he sends his goons to find and kill the doppelgänger that has colonized his consciousness. Herbert’s astute observations about human nature in extremis feel like the reader’s own revelations.
The antic and often dire stories in Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino, which was longlisted for the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, depict the violence and corruption that plague Mexico today, but they are also deeply ruminative and layered explorations of the narrative impulse and the ethics of art making. Herbert asks: Where are the lines between fiction, memory, and reality? What is the relationship between power, corruption, and survival? How much violence can a person (and a country) take? The stories in this explosive collection showcase the fevered imagination of a significant contemporary writer.
Born in Actopan, Mexico, in 1970, Yuri Herrera studied politics in Mexico, creative writing in El Paso, and took his PhD in literature at Berkeley. His first novel to appear in English, Signs Preceding the End of the World, was published to great critical acclaim in 2015 and included in many Best-of-Year lists, including The Guardian’s Best Fiction and NBC News’s Ten Great Latino Books. The book went on to win the 2016 Best Translated Book Award. Also, in 2016 he received the Anna Seghers Prize at the Academy of Arts of Berlin for the body of his work.
His latest books in English are A Silent Fury: The El Bordo Mine Fire and Ten Planets, also published by And Other Stories. He currently teaches at Tulane University, in New Orleans.
James Hoch is the author of Miscreants and A Parade of Hands. His poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Kenyon Review, Poetry Daily, Tin House, and many other publications. Originally from New Jersey, he resides in the Hudson Valley and is professor of creative writing at Ramapo College and guest faculty at Sarah Lawrence College.
With his latest collection, Last Pawn Shop in New Jersey, Hoch gives readers a heart-lugged romp and a work of resistance, conversing with the interstices of public and personal histories and identities in the context of ecological deterioration. Drawing on emotional experiences prompted by his brother’s going to war in Afghanistan, the death of his mother from ovarian cancer, and the raising of his sons, Hoch investigates the difficulty of loving and of making beauty in times of crisis when faced with knowledge of its limitations and necessity. Lyrical and meditative, intense and intimate, his poems evoke landscapes with views of the New York water supply system, industrialization along the Hudson River, and the geology of the Palouse in the Pacific Northwest. A bare-knuckled argument for the sublime in the context of war and environmental degradation, Last Pawn Shop in New Jersey asserts the redemptive power of art as survival.
Chantal James lives in Washington, D.C., and has been published across genres—as a poet, fiction writer, essayist, and book reviewer—in such venues as Catapult, Paste Magazine, Harvard’s Transition Magazine, The Bitter Southerner, and more. Her honors include a Fulbright fellowship in creative writing to Morocco and a finalist position for the Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction prize from the North Carolina Literary Review for 2019.
Lyrical, riveting, and haunting from its opening lines, her new novel, None but the Righteous, is an extraordinary debut that signals the arrival of an unforgettable new voice in contemporary fiction.
In seventeenth-century Peru, St. Martin de Porres was torn from his body after death. His bones were pillaged as relics, and his spirit was said to inhabit those bones. Four centuries later, nineteen-year-old Ham is set adrift from his hometown of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Hidden beneath his clothes, he wears his only valued possession: a pendant handed down from his foster mother, Miss Pearl. There’s something about the pendant that has always gripped him, and the curiosity of it has grown into a kind of comfort.
When Ham finally embarks on a fraught journey back home, he seeks the answer to a question he cannot face: is Miss Pearl still alive? Ham travels from Atlanta to rural Alabama, and from one young woman to another, as he evades the devastation of what awaits him in New Orleans. Catching sight of a freedom he’s never known, he must reclaim his body and mind from the spirit who watches over him, guides him, and seizes possession of him.
Tyler Keith was born and raised in the Florida panhandle. He moved to Mississippi at eighteen and received a degree in English literature at the University of Mississippi, where he studied writing under Barry Hannah. He spent the next twenty years writing songs and playing in the bands the Neckbones, Tyler Keith and the Preacher’s Kids, Tyler Keith and the Apostles, and Teardrop City, making fourteen albums and touring in the US and Europe. He later returned to the University of Mississippi and earned a master’s degree in Southern Studies and an MFA in documentary expression. The Mark of Cain is his first novel.
Beverly Lowry is the winner of this year’s Willie Morris Award for Southern Writing for nonfiction for her book Deer Creek Drive: A Reckoning of Memory and Murder in the Mississippi Delta. She is the author of six novels and four previous works of nonfiction. Her writing has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Mississippi Review, Granta, and many other publications. She has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. She lives in Austin, Texas.
Pat Zietlow Miller
Pat Zietlow Miller has published eighteen picture books. Her first book, Sophie’s Squash, won the Golden Kite Award and an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor. Be Kind was on the New York Times bestseller list for ten weeks. Miller lives in Wisconsin.
In In Our Garden, Millie has recently moved to a new city, from a place more than an ocean away. More than anything she misses the garden where her family used to grow food. Then one day she has an idea—the school has a fine flat roof, perfect for a garden. Soon her teacher and classmates are on board, but it takes more than ideas to build a garden. It takes supplies and hard work, it takes a lot of learning, and it takes a whole school—a whole community—coming together to help. And of course, it also takes a lot of waiting. But as Millie’s teacher Miss Mirales says, “Be patient. Good things take time.”
From building the beds and planting the seeds to the first glorious harvest, here’s the story of a garden—and a girl—in bloom, and what it takes for a new place to finally feel like home.
Stephen Monroe is chair and assistant professor in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Mississippi. He is an affiliated faculty member in the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and a steering committee member at the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies. Monroe serves as director of the Willie Morris Awards for Southern Writing and is the author of Heritage and Hate: Old South Words and Symbols at Southern Universities.
David Rae Morris
David Rae Morris’s Love, Daddy: Letters from My Father examines the complexities of father-and-son relationships through letters and photographs. Mississippi writer Willie Morris wrote scores of letters to his only son, David Rae Morris, from the mid-1970s until Willie’s death in 1999. From David Rae’s perspective, his father was often emotionally disconnected and lived a peculiar lifestyle, often staying out carousing well into the night. But Willie was an eloquent and accomplished writer and began to write his son long, loving, and supportive letters when David Rae was still in high school. An aspiring photographer, David Rae was confused and befuddled by his father’s warring personalities and began photographing Willie using the camera as a buffer to protect him and his emotions.
The letters cover topics ranging from writing, the weather, Willie’s return to Mississippi in 1980, the Ole Miss football season, and local town gossip to the fleas on the dog to just life and how it’s lived. Likewise, the photographs are portraits, documentary images of daily life, dinners, outings, and private moments. Together they narrate and illuminate the complexities of one family relationship, and how, for better or worse, that love endures the passage of time.
David Rae Morris’s photographs have appeared in numerous publications, including Time, Newsweek, USA Today, the New York Times, and National Geographic, as well as in Missing New Orleans, Before (During) After: Ten Photographers’ Visual Reactions to Hurricane Katrina, Katrina Exposed: A Photographic Reckoning, and My Mississippi, published by University Press of Mississippi in 2000. He has made several documentary films, including Yazoo Revisited: Integration and Segregation in a Deep Southern Town, which won the “Most Transformative Film” award at the 2015 Crossroads Film Festival in Jackson. He was born in Oxford, England, and grew up in New York City. He and his longtime partner, Susanne Dietzel, live in New Orleans.
Celia Naylor is a professor in the Departments of Africana Studies and History at Barnard College, Columbia University. Her latest book is Unsilencing Slavery: Telling Truths about Rose Hall Plantation, Jamaica. A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Naylor currently lives in New York City.
More than one hundred thousand people visit Rose Hall Great House in Jamaica every year, many hoping to catch a glimpse of Annie Palmer’s ghost, the “White Witch of Rose Hall.” After experiencing this plantation tour with her daughter in 2013 and leaving Jamaica haunted by the silences of the tour, Celia E. Naylor resolved to write about those people who actually had a right to haunt this place of terror and trauma—the enslaved. In Unsilencing Slavery: Telling Truths about Rose Hall Plantation, Jamaica, Naylor deftly guides us through the silences of the archives and unearths the names and experiences of the enslaved at Rose Hall in the decades immediately before the abolition of slavery in Jamaica. She then offers a careful reading of Herbert G. de Lisser’s 1929 novel, The White Witch of Rosehall, which gave rise to the myth of the “White Witch,” and a critical analysis of the current tours at Rose Hall Great House.
Naylor’s interdisciplinary examination engages different modes of history making, history telling, and truth telling to excavate the lives of enslaved people, highlighting enslaved women as they navigated the violences of the Jamaican slavocracy and plantationscape. Moving beyond the legend, she examines iterations of the afterlives of slavery in the ongoing construction of slavery museums, memorializations, and movements for Black lives and the enduring case for Black humanity. Alongside her book, she has created a website as another way for readers to explore the truths of Rose Hall: rosehallproject.columbia.edu.
Unsilencing Slavery: Telling Truths about Rose Hall Plantation, Jamaica is a co-publication of Center for the Study of Southern Culture and the University of Georgia Press.
Charlie Parr is an American country blues musician. Born in Austin, Minnesota, he spent part of his childhood in Hollandale, Minnesota, before starting his music career in Duluth. His influences include Charlie Patton, Bukka White, Reverend Gary Davis, Dave Van Ronk, and Mississippi John Hurt.
In his fiction debut, Last of the Better Days Ahead, readers are treated to a deep dive into the architecture of a group of Charlie’s songs. Like old, well-hewn gospel songs, there is both darkness and light. There are tales of childhood, families, cantankerous uncles and aunts, and slightly lost individuals. Through keyholes opening into rays of light, the reader watches the lives of everyday humans unrolling in unheroic yet poetic and unvarnished ways that those that love Parr’s songs will cherish. As Abraham Smith writes in the book’s introduction, “It’s a great plenty and promises plenty more. I know I feel a delicious undertow on the final page; can’t wait to start again at word one; and then to find a good walking stick for Charlie’s next river road of prose.”
Charlie Parr’s newest album, Last of the Better Days Ahead, is a collection of powerful new songs about how one looks back on a life lived, as well as forward on what’s still to come. Its spare production foregrounds Parr’s poetic lyricism, his expressive, gritty voice ringing clear over deft acoustic guitar playing that references folk and blues motifs in Parr’s own exploratory, idiosyncratic style.
When it comes to what it all means, Parr says it best: “Last of the Better Days Ahead is a way for me to refer to the times I’m living in. I’m getting on in years, experiencing a shift in perspective that was once described by my mom as ‘a time when we turn from gazing into the future to gazing back at the past, as if we’re adrift in the current, slowly turning around.’ Some songs came from meditations on the fact that the portion of our brain devoted to memory is also the portion responsible for imagination, and what that entails for the collected experiences that we refer to as our lives. Other songs are cultivated primarily from the imagination, but also contain memories of what may be a real landscape, or at least one inspired by vivid dreaming. The album represents one full rotation of the boat in which we are adrift—looking ahead for a last look at the better days to come, then being turned around to see the leading edge of the past as it fades into the foggy dreamscape of our real and imagined histories.”
Deesha Philyaw is the author of the debut short story collection The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, which was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies won the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the 2020/2021 Story Prize, and a 2020 LA Times Book Prize: The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction; the collection of stories explores the raw and tender places where Black women and girls dare to follow their desires and pursue a momentary reprieve from being good.
Nine stories featuring four generations of characters who grapple with who they want to be in the world, the collection was praised as “luminous stories populated by deeply moving and multifaceted characters,” by Kirkus Reviewsand “addictive while also laying bare the depth and vulnerability of Black women,” by Observer. Author Tara Campbell notes, “The love in Philyaw’s stories runs the gamut from sweet to bitter, sexy to sisterly, temporary to time tested, often with hidden aspects. The word secret in the title is earned, and some of the secrets are downright juicy.” The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is being developed for television by Tessa Thompson for HBO Max.
Philyaw’s writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Brevity, dead housekeeping, Apogee Journal, Catapult, Harvard Review, ESPN’s “The Undefeated,” The Baltimore Review, TueNight, Ebony and Bitch magazines, and various anthologies.
Philyaw is the 2022–23 John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. She is a past Pushcart Prize nominee for essay writing in Full Grown People. Philyaw lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Khalisa Rae is a multi-hyphenate poet, educator, and journalist based in Durham, North Carolina. She is best known for her community activism and nonprofit management as the co-founder of Poet.she (Greensboro), the Invisibility Project, and Athenian Press-QPOC writer’s collective, resource center, and bookstore in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Rae is the author of Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throat, her 2021 debut book of poetry. The collection is a heart-wrenching reconciliation and confrontation of the living, breathing ghosts that awaken Black women each day. This debut poetry collection summons multiple hauntings—ghosts of matriarchs that came before, those that were slain, and those that continue to speak to us, but also those horrors women of color strive to put to rest. Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throatexamines the haunting feeling of facing past demons while grappling with sexism, racism, and bigotry. They are all present: ancestral ghosts, societal ghosts, and spiritual, internal hauntings. This book calls out for women to speak their truth in hopes of settling the ghosts or at least being at peace with them.
As a champion for Black queer narratives, Khalisa’s articles appear in Fodor’s, Autostraddle, Vogue, Catapult,LitHub, Bitch Media, Black Femme Collective, Body.com, NBC-BLK, and others. Her work also appears in Electric Lit,Southern Humanities Review, Pinch, Tishman Review, Frontier Poetry, Rust & Moth, PANK, HOBART, among countless others.
Bobby Rea is the deputy editor and web editor for Southwest Review.
Jodi Skipper is associate professor of anthropology and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi. She is coeditor of Navigating Souths: Transdisciplinary Explorations of a US Region and, most recently, author of Behind the Big House: Reconciling Slavery, Race, and Heritage in the US South.
In Behind the Big House, Skipper asks the question, “When residents and tourists visit sites of slavery, whose stories are told?” All too often the lives of slaveowners are centered, obscuring the lives of enslaved people. Behind the Big House gives readers a candid, behind-the-scenes look at what it really takes to interpret the difficult history of slavery in the US South. The book explores Skipper’s eight-year collaboration with the Behind the Big House program, a community-based model used at local historic sites to address slavery in the collective narrative of US history and culture.
In laying out her experiences through an autoethnographic approach, Skipper seeks to help other activist scholars of color negotiate the nuances of place, the academic public sphere, and its ambiguous systems of reward, recognition, and evaluation.
In 2016, Danté Stewart was a rising leader at the predominantly White evangelical church he and his family attended in Augusta, Georgia. Like many young church leaders, Stewart was thrilled at the prospect of growing his voice and influence within the community, and he was excited to break barriers as the church’s first Black preacher. But when Donald Trump began his campaign, so began the unearthing. Stewart started overhearing talk in the pews—comments ranging from microaggressions to outright hostility toward Black Americans. As this violence began to reveal itself en masse, Stewart quickly found himself isolated amid a people unraveled; this community of faith became the place where he and his family now found themselves most alone. This set Stewart on a journey—first out of the White church and then into a liberating pursuit of faith—by looking to the wisdom of the saints that have come before, including James H. Cone, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, and by heeding the paradoxical humility of Jesus himself.
In Shoutin’ in the Fire, Stewart gives breathtaking language to his reckoning with the legacy of White supremacy—both the kind that hangs over our country and the kind that is internalized on a molecular level. Stewart uses his personal experiences as a vehicle to reclaim and reimagine spiritual virtues, like rage, resilience, and remembrance, and explores how these virtues might function as a work of love against an unjust, unloving world.
This sharply observed journey is an intimate meditation on coming of age in a time of terror. Stewart reveals the profound faith he discovered even after experiencing the violence of the American church: a faith that loves Blackness; speaks truth to pain and trauma; and pursues a truer, realer kind of love than the kind we’re taught, a love that sets us free.
Sheila Sundar is a visiting assistant professor of English at the University of Mississippi and author of the forthcoming novel Habitations. Her writing has appeared in the Threepenny Review, Crazyhorse, Guernica, the Rumpus, the New York Times, the Bookends Review, and elsewhere.
James G. Thomas, Jr.
James G. Thomas, Jr. is the associate director for publications at the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture and, since 2015, director of the Oxford Conference for the Book.
Thomas holds a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy, a master’s degree in Southern Studies, and a master’s of fine arts in documentary expression, each from the University of Mississippi. In 2003, he began work at the Center as managing editor of the twenty-four-volume New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. He is editor of Conversations with Barry Hannah; co-editor with Jay Watson of the Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha series; and an editor of the Mississippi Encyclopedia. His work has appeared in Ethnic Heritage in Mississippi: The Twentieth Century, Southern Cultures, Southern Quarterly, and Living Blues.
Thomas also teaches research writing for the University of Mississippi’s Department of Writing and Rhetoric, is on the Board of Directors for the University Press of Mississippi, and is past president of the Board of Governors for the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters.
Sheila Turnage grew up on a family farm in North Carolina near Tupelo Landing, where the Mo & Dale Mysteries are set, and a couple hours from Hatteras Island, where Island of Spies takes place. She decided to become a writer in first grade, when she wrote her first story. She attended East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina and earned a degree in anthropology.
Turnage has written books for adults, poetry, magazine articles, but she says “writing for kids is the best. Characters like Mo and Dale, and Stick, Neb and Rain are fun to write. They’re smart, funny and brave.”
She still lives on the farm she grew up on, along with her husband, Rodney, their dog Callie, a flock of chickens, a bossy goose, and a couple of sweet-faced goats.
Alejandro Varela is a writer based in New York. His work has appeared in The Point Magazine, Boston Review, Harper’s Magazine, The Rumpus, Joyland Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, The Offing, Blunderbuss Magazine, Pariahs (an anthology, SFA Press, 2016), the Southampton Review, The New Republic, and has received honorable mention from Glimmer Train Press.
Varela is a 2019 Jerome Fellow in Literature. He was a resident in the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s 2017–18 Workspace program, a 2017 NYSCA/NYFAArtist Fellow in Nonfiction, and an associate editor at Apogee. His graduate studies were in public health. His debut novel, The Town of Babylon, was published by Astra House in 2022 and was a finalist for the seventy-third National Book Awards. His second book, The People Who Report More Stress, will be out this year.
Varela believes strongly in reparations, land back, a national health service, and a thirty-dollar minimum wage pegged to inflation as interventions essential for the collective liberation of our society. Access his work at alejandrovarela.work. You can also find him on Twitter and IG: @drovarela.
Michael X. Wang
Michael X. Wang was born in Fenyang, a small coal-mining city in China’s mountainous Shanxi Province. He immigrated to the United States when he was six and has lived in ten states. He holds a PhD in literature from Florida State University and an MFA in fiction from Purdue. His story collection, Further News of Defeat, won the 2021 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize and the 2022 Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Award. It was also a finalist for the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses Firecracker Award. His debut novel, Lost in the Long March, was published in November.
Jerid P. Woods
Jerid P. Woods, also known as Akili Nzuri, is a writer, educator, PhD candidate, and literary influencer. He was born and raised in Natchez, Mississippi, and survives on an unwavering commitment to ignite a passion for reading in youth. He also exists as a living testimony to the power of shared stories and knowing one’s self. He is the owner and creator of the website A Black Man Reading, www.ablackmanreading.com, and the Instagram blog: @ablackmanreading. He is also one half of the dynamic podcast duo @booksarepopculture, available for streaming on all services.
Monica Lee Weatherly
Monica Lee Weatherly was the winner of the 2021 Willie Morris Award for Southern Writing in poetry for her poem “If I Had My Grandmama’s Praise” and is the author of the chapbook It Felt Like Mississippi: Poems. She is a poet, writer, and professor of English at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College in Decatur. Her work has appeared in a variety of literary journals, including Tulane Review, Plainsongs, and Auburn Avenue, a biannual publication showcasing the intellectual and creative voices of people of color.