I was found out that I am one of two co-recipients of the Lillian E. Smith Foundation’s first Writer-in-Service Residency. (The other co-recipient is Kyes Stevens, the director of the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project.) The residency “provides two weeks of peaceful solitude to focus a new or ongoing writing project. This award provides an opportunity for those writers who like Lillian E. Smith recognize ‘the power of the arts to transform the lives of all human beings.'”
I am honored to be associated with the name of Lillian Smith, who was easily one of the most courageous Southern writers who openly advocated for equal rights for all people. Her novel, Strange Fruit, about an interracial relationship between a white man and an African-American woman; her nonfiction work, Killers of the Dream, which detailed her insights into the deep-seated hypocrisy of old Southern racism and sexual repression; and the book award that bears her name all humble me when I think of my name being tied to hers in any way. Lillian Smith was far braver than I have to be in modern Southern culture, and the foundation’s decision to award this residency to me is by far one of the greatest honors of my life.
I am also honored to be chosen alongside Kyes Stevens, who is a friend of mine, a very good poet, a wonderful and caring teacher, and fine human being. Kyes’ work with underserved populations – prison inmates in Alabama – takes her all over the state, driving hundreds of miles a week, to see to it that the men and women who are incarcerated in one of poorest states in the union have access to reading materials and classes in the arts and humanities.
The Writer-in-Service Residency will provide a two-week stay in northern Georgia for me to work on my own writing. The mission of this program of the Lillian E. Smith Foundation is to provide a little breathing room for writers whose work, in fields like teaching or arts administration, puts heavy demands on their time. I once heard or read that writers who become teachers become teachers who used to be writers. Although I haven’t always done a great job of making time for my own writing, I have tried to stay conscious of remaining an active writer while also doing the daily work of a teacher. This residency will provide a much needed block of time to (hopefully) finish my book on modern Alabama.