Mercer Awards Inaugural Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature to Ernest Gaines


MACON — Mercer University’s Southern Studies Program has named author Ernest J. Gaines as the inaugural winner of its Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature. The Sidney Lanier Prize honors significant career contributions to Southern writing in drama, fiction or poetry. Gaines will give a public reading in the Presidents Dining Room of the University Center on April 14 at 3 p.m. The reading is free and open to the public.

Gaines has published several novels and short stories, including: The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, A Gathering of Old Men and A Lesson Before Dying. His work is set primarily in his native Louisiana and tells stories of Southerners living with dignity in the face of adversity. Gaines has received a MacArthur Foundation grant and the National Humanities Medal of the United States in addition to other honors. The Ernest J. Gaines Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette fosters scholarship on his work.

“Ernest Gaines challenges his readers to recognize their own humanity, because his characters embody the nobility and the fragility that we all share,” said Dr. David A. Davis, chair of the selection committee and an assistant professor of English at Mercer. “He has extended the tradition of Southern writing, and we are proud to honor him with this award.”

The Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature is named for Sidney Lanier, the 19th Century Southern poet born in Macon. Lanier wrote “The Song of the Chattahoochee” and “The Marshes of the Glynn.”
The selection committee for the Lanier Prize includes Mercer professors, eminent scholars of Southern literature and members of the Macon community. The committee members are James Bodell, president of Macon Arts Alliance; Davis; Sarah Gardner, professor of history at Mercer; Minrose Gwin, Kenan Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Trudier Harris, professor of English at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa; Gordon Johnston, professor of English at Mercer; Michael Kreyling, professor of English at Vanderbilt University; Matthew Martin, Knox Professor of Humanities at Wesleyan College; and Pam Thomasson, president of Historic Macon.

Gaines will also speak at a luncheon for finalists of Mercer’s inaugural Sidney Lanier creative writing scholarship competition. The competition is open only to high school juniors with high aptitude for writing. Winners will receive up to $5,000 per year toward the cost of tuition at Mercer. The scholarship competition application deadline is Feb. 29. To be eligible, students must complete an application and submit either a work of short fiction of no more than 700 words or two poems totaling no more than 700 words. To apply, go to

About Mercer University
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University enrolls more than 8,300 students in 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies – on major campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah and at four regional academic centers across the state. Mercer is affiliated with four teaching hospitals — Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, and The Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus — and has educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. The University operates an academic press and a performing arts center in Macon and an engineering research center in Warner Robins. Mercer is the only private university in Georgia to field an NCAA Division I athletic program.
— 30 —