By Terri Tabor

Daily Journal

If you want to have yourself read or heard, the annual Gum Tree Festival is the place to do it.

Applications are currently being accepted for the 7th Annual Gum Tree Songwriters Festival May 11 and 12 and The Gum Tree Celebration of Writing Poetry and Short Story Contest. The deadline for both contests is April 16.

Founded by Barbara Morgan and Bob Ray of Tupelo, the Songwriters Festival was added to the Gum Tree Festival Weekend to showcase area talent as well as provide festivalgoers and artists with entertainment.

“Since Gum Tree is an art festival, we felt like it was the perfect venue for them to play,” Morgan said. “It’s a good network for [the songwriters]. And who knows where that can lead.”

In the past festival winners like Tupelo’s own Paul Thorn, have gone on to sign recording contracts. “We’ve been real fortunate in the past to have some fine talent,” Morgan said.

Last year’s winners were Wayne Hereford, Karen Akin of Tupelo and Randy and Bonnie Hurt and Marlin Grisham of Ripley.

The contest is judged by a reputable music industry professional. Past judges have included E Street Band veteran Gary Tallant, Tom Kimmel, Walter Hyatt and Keith Sykes and Jimmy Stewart. The judge for this year’s contest is to be announced soon.

Entrants are asked to submit a cassette tape of two original and previously unpublished and unrecorded songs. Preliminary winners will be notified by mail or by telephone on or before April 30. Those winners will perform their songs on Saturday, May 11, at the Gum Tree Festival. Sound equipment will be provided for the performers. From those performances three grand prize winners will be chosen and each will be awarded $150. The grand prize winner will each perform a 20-minute program of their best songs on Sunday, May 12, at the festival. Songs must be performed by the songwriter, a duo or a trio which includes the songwriter. Writers will retain all the rights to their songs.

Putting it on paper

In it eighth year with the Gum Tree Festival, the Gum Tree Celebration of Writing and Poetry and Short Story Contest was started by Tupelo author Peggy Webb and Betty Montgomery, a teacher at Itawamba Community College.

Nancy McGill, chairwoman of the event, said the contest gives people who want to write an opportunity to express themselves.

“It gives them a goal to actually put something on paper,” she said.

Since 1992 McGill said the festival has grown from about 30 entries to more than 300 entries. “We have some excellent works,” she said adding that people from neighboring states even enter. “It’s not strictly Mississippi at all.”

Last year’s winners were Dale Manning of Nashville in the unpublished category of the short story contest and Jenny Butts of Laurel in the published category; and Ann Ivy King of Bruce in the unpublished category of the poetry contest and Kata Gysendorfer of Potts Camp in the published category.

This year, McGill says, marks the first year the festival will be judged by professionals in the publishing and writing business. Frasier Russell and Lisa Kaufman, both instructors at the Writers Studio in Manhattan, N.Y., along with other writing professionals in New York will judge the contest.

This year’s contest has three divisions: published, unpublished and collegiate. Collegiate writers must be a graduate or undergraduate student enrolled in a college, junior college, university or community college for the Spring 1996 semester or quarter and taking at least 15 hours. Published writers must have been published in a journal, magazine or newspaper with circulation of more than 5,000 and have been paid for their writing. Published writers can also have had a book published including self-published printings. Journalists, technical writers and copy writers are considered published. Three awards will be given (first place and two honorable mentions) in each category of the contest. The prize purse is $2,400. The winners will be announced at 1:30 p.m. May 12 at the Tupelo Artist Guild Gallery where poet and playwright Billie Jean Young will be the speaker. Also all entrants will receive a manuscript evaluation on their works.

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