University of Mississippi

UM’s very own Beth Ann Fennelly chosen as new poet laureate for Mississippi

Photo by Gabriel Austin, Mississippi Today

Photo by Gabriel Austin, Mississippi Today

Three volumes of poems, two books of essays, and a book co-authored with her husband has led to Beth Ann Fennelly being named Mississippi’s Poet Laureate.

Fennelly’s selection was announced Wednesday by Malcolm White, executive director of the Mississippi Arts Commission, at the Rotunda of the Capitol Building.  She was chosen from among three finalists submitted to Gov. Phil Bryant by the state poet laureate selection committee.

Although Fennelly submitted an application to be considered for the post, she says her only reaction was to giggle when she found out she had been chosen.

“I’m really tickled, I’m so happy. Even though I knew I was nominated and knew that my application had been progressing through the system, somehow I just didn’t imagine it would happen,” said Fennelly.

A Chicago native, Fennelly, a University of Mississippi associate professor directing the master of fine arts program in the English Department, says it’s an honor to be recognized by a place she loves:

“To leave the place where you are from, and to find a new place, and to think this is my spiritual home. I want to die here, this is where I want to raise my kids, this is where I want to educate my children, this is where I want to live and make my friends. And for that place to claim me as I have claimed it has been a profound experience.”

Being in the South, she says is a great place to be a writer, especially in Mississippi. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and her master of fine arts degree from the University of Arkansas.

“I feel like Oxford specifically, and in Mississippi in general, reading still matters. It’s still a place where the stories we tell about each others lives influence our lives,” Fennelly said.

Fennelly says she thought she began to think about being a poetess in college, but that turned out not to be the case. At a reading, a person in the audience asked her when she knew she wanted to be a poet.

“I told them the story about being in a great college creative writing class,” Fennely recalled, “and my mom was in the audience, and she raised her hand. And she said, ‘that’s not true Beth Ann, I have a letter you wrote when you were seven saying you wanted to be a poet, p-o-i-t.’”

Now that Fennelly is Mississippi’s poet laureate for the next four years, she hopes to spread the enjoyment she gets from poetry to other people in the state.

“That’s always been my lifelong mission,” said Fennelly.

She thinks Mississippi is a perfect place to do so with its storied traditions in oral history, literature and music.

“I want to remind Mississippi that poetry can be there in such a rich way, and if I can help spread that message I’ll be very content,” said Fennelly.

She really wants to focus on exposing children to poetry

“I feel like poetry is pleasurable, and children understand because they nonsense rhymes, and they clap, and they like Dr. Suess,” said Fennelly.

She believes that a disconnect for students comes through the way poetry is taught in schools.

“I hate to say it,” said Fennelly.

Some students, she says, are taught that poetry must have a rigid structure.

“You can’t approach poetry with the heart or the ear; you have to approach it purely with intellect and knowledge. I think you start with the heart; I think you start with the ear,” said Fennelly.

She notes that people who don’t live in Mississippi like to harp on the state’s negatives while ignoring its rich literary history.

“I want to say, you know what? Most Pulitzer Prize winning authors, best book store in the South, how about we talk about that?” asked Fennelly.

Fennelly was named in 2011 as Outstanding Teacher of the Year at Ole Miss. Among her publications are three full-length poetry books — Open House, Tender Hooks andUnmentionables — and a book of nonfiction (Great with Child). With her husband, Tom Franklin, she co-authored the 2013 novel The Tilted World.

See Professor Fennelly’s interview here.

Matthew Brown, Associate Professor of English and the University of Iowa Center for the Book, will be giving the keynote for the “Early American Materialities” symposium on Thursday, May 5 in Bondurant Auditorium

The symposium, sponsored by the Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in Critical Bibliography at Rare Book School and the Department of English, culminates the hard work of my graduate students this semester. They will be giving conference length versions of their final projects (critical and creative) from noon to 4:30 in the Hannah-Ford Room of Bondurant Hall.  While anyone is welcome to attend their papers, the keynote, Brown’s talk, will begin at 5 pm in the Bondurant auditorium. Below is poster for Brown’s talk, “A Phenomenology of the Reading Room: Data, Post-Criticism, and the British American Printshop.”


English Education major, Heather Williams, elected Associated Student Representative for the southern region of Sigma Tau Delta

HWilliamsThis March Heather Williams, a senior English Education major at the University of Mississippi, attended the  national conference of the English Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta, where she was elected  Associated Student Representative for the Southern Region.  Heather currently serves as the Vice President of her chapter, Eta Nu, and will become President in May 2016. She is a transfer student from Bevill State Community College in Jasper, AL, where she was involved in Sigma Kappa Delta (SKD), The English Honor Society Two-Year Colleges. She also is published in SKD’s 2014 literary journal, The Hedera helix. Besides Sigma Tau Delta, Heather also is involved in other leadership roles including the Transfer Leadership Organization and 1+1 Transfer Student Program, both of which help make the transition into university life easier for transfer students. When not reading or writing, Heather enjoys playing the guitar and loves putting music to her poetry. Her favorite literature genre is Southern literature, and her favorite book is The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Winners of 2016 Creative Writing Awards Announced!

Evans Harrington Scholarship:  Victoria Collins
Ella Somerville Award for Poetry:  Devin Kerr Pitts
Ella Somerville Award for Fiction:  Charles McCrory
Bondurant Prize for Poetry:  Shertock Lama
Bondurant Prize for Fiction:  David Tran
Congratulations to our winners!

The Forty-Fourth James Edwin Savage Lecture in the Renaissance: “Demonic Possession and the Theater in Early Modern England” by Brian Levack. April 12th at 6p.m. Bondurant Auditorium

Levack photoBrian Levack grew up in a family of teachers in the New York metropolitan area. From his father, a professor of French history, he acquired a love for studying the past, and he knew from an early age that he too would become a historian. He received his B.A. from Fordham University in 1965 and his Ph.D. from Yale in 1970. In graduate school he became fascinated by the history of the law and the interaction between law and politics, interests that he has maintained throughout his career. In 1969 he joined the History Department of the University of Texas at Austin, where he is now the John E. Green Regents Professor in History. The winner of several teaching awards, Levack offers a wide variety of courses on early modern British and European history, legal history, and the history of witchcraft. For eight years he served as the chair of his department. His books include The Civil Lawyers in England, 1603-1641:A Political Study (1973), The Formation of the British State: England, Scotland and the Union, 1603-1707 (1987); The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe (4th edition, 2016), which has been translated into eight languages; Witch-Hunting in Scotland: Law, Politics, and Religion  (2008); and The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West (2013). He has also edited twenty books, including The Jacobean Union: Six Tracts of 1604 (1985); The Witchcraft Sourcebook (2004; 2nd edition 2015); and The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America (2013).

The lecture will take place on April 12 at 6:00 p.m. in the Bondurant Auditorium.

First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare. April 11, 2016 Ford Center for the Performing Arts 6:30 p.m. Opening Remarks 7:00 p.m. The History of Shakespeare’s Text

15-FSL-0117_logo_preferred-150x150For more information, click HERE.

Workers Discover Smokestack and Railwork Where William Faulkner Composed *As I Lay Dying*

On Tuesday, March 22, workers at the University of Mississippi excavated the brick foundation for the smokestack structure originally located just to the west of the 1908 power plant building where William Faulkner composed As I Lay Dying in the fall of 1929.  The brickwork was discovered upon removal of a concrete pad that had in recent years supported a large HVAC unit serving the building.  Other excavation work linked to the demolition of the power plant building has uncovered fifteen feet of the iron railwork originally laid for the railroad cars that once transported coal to the plant’s steam-powered electrical generator.

Check out Derrick Harriell’s article “Chicago State State of Mind” in Los Angeles Review of Books.


Derrick Harriell was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He’s worked as assistant poetry editor for Third World Press and The Cream City Review and has taught community writing workshops for individuals of all ages, including senior citizens. A two-time Pushcart Nominee, Harriell’s poems have appeared in various literary journals and anthologies. Cotton (Aquarius Press-Willow Books 2010) is his first collection of poems.  He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Chicago State University.

Click HERE for the article.

English Alumnus, Taylor Sledge, Finds Success in Finance

TaylorHeadshotPoundPhotographyRed3Click HERE for the story.

MFA Candidates Maggie Woodward and Gothatoane Moeng Chosen for the 2016 Seaside Writers Conference

973085Click HERE for more.