Southern Writers, Southern Writing Conference starts Thursday

By Lanie Anderson, Oxford Citizen

Summer days on the University of Mississippi’s campus might seem sleepy, but the 20th annual Southern Writers, Southern Writing Conference Thursday through Saturday will host graduates from as near as the university itself and as far away as the United Kingdom.

The three-day conference is put together with the graduate student in mind. Organized by graduate students themselves, the conference grapples with the question of what makes the South “the South.” Graduate students from an array of disciplines including English, creative writing, history and Southern studies are invited to attend and to submit their work for presentation.

Thomas Bullington, chair of the SWSW conference and a fourth-year doctoral student at Ole Miss, said that, through these academic disciplines, the conference will attempt to explain “why it is that we think of the South the way we do.”

“Our conference features both creative works—usually poetry and fiction—and scholarship,” Bullington said. “It’s an opportunity for advanced students in these various disciplines to share their work and to talk about the intellectual ideas behind (the South).”

The conference’s agenda touts a wide variety of subject matter about the region, including but not limited to religion, myth, “Southernness,” the body, memory and “wanderlust.”

It was this emphasis on the South that drew Victoria Bryan, a fifth year doctoral student at Ole Miss, to the conference—first, as a presenter in 2008 from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and then as its chair in 2012.

“The SWSW conference was a focused, theme-based conference on Southern literature,” Bryan said, “but it still has broad appeal, I think, because it’s not limited to one literary moment. It stands a lot of time periods.”

The 2008 conference ultimately drew Bryan to Ole Miss for her doctoral degree, and
Bullington said that promoting the university is a benefit of the conference.

“It’s a crucial recruiting tool for the university,” Bullington said. “Many prospective graduate students who later attend the graduate programs at the University of Mississippi got a taste of the university first through this conference.”

It is also a great opportunity for students to network and to develop professionalism while learning about various disciplines and their relation to the South.

“I hope that people who come to this conference gain a greater stent of what people are saying about the South and about the academy of the South,” Bullington said. “It’s an exchange of ideas, and it’s important for professionalization and for networking between scholars and aspiring writers.”

Sara Roahen, author of “Gumbo Tales,” is the keynote speaker for the conference. She serves on the Southern Foodways Alliance board of trustees, and her specific interests include the convergence of oral history and food culture, particularly in New Orleans, La.

All faculty, staff, undergraduate students and graduate students of the university are invited to attend the conference, held primarily at Bryant Hall and Barnard Observatory. Visit the Facebook page, “Southern Writers, Southern Writing Graduate Conference,” for more information and a tentative schedule.

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