MACON – Mercer University’s Spencer B. King Jr. Center for Southern Studies will award the 2018 Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature to poet Natasha Trethewey. The prize honors significant career contributions to southern writing in drama, fiction or poetry.
The prize presentation and reading, supported by the Thomas McRae Hamilton Robinson Endowment, will take place on April 21 at 1 p.m. in the Presidents Dining Room of the University Center on the Macon campus.
“Natasha Trethewey asks beautiful, painful questions about the South’s past,” said Dr. David A. Davis, chair of the Lanier Prize Committee. “Her poems examine the South’s complicated racial history, and they often give voice to the people who have been historically silenced. She has fundamentally changed the way that we imagine the South.”
Trethewey is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet born in Gulfport, Mississippi, who served two terms as the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States from 2012 to 2014.
Her most recent collection of poems, Thrall, released in 2012, explores her own interracial and complicated roots and draws inspiration from everything from colonial paintings of mulattos and mestizos to the stories of people forgotten by history.
In 2007, her collection Native Guard garnered her a Pulitzer Prize. Her other poetry collections are Bellocq’s Ophelia, named a Notable Book in 2003 by the American Library Association, and Domestic Work, chosen by Rita Dove as the winner of the inaugural Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book published by an African-American poet. She also won the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize and the Lillian Smith Award for Poetry, both in 2001. She the author of a prose book, titled Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
In addition to United States Poet Laureate, Trethewey served as State Poet Laureate of Mississippi from 2012 to 2016. During her second term as the U.S. Poet Laureate, she traveled throughout the country to explore issues such as Alzheimer’s disease, domestic abuse, the Civil Rights Movement and incarcerated teenagers.
Trethewey studied English at the University of Georgia, earned a Master of Arts in English and creative writing from Hollins University and received a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She has received numerous fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Study Center, National Endowment for the Arts, among others.
“As a native southerner,” Trethewey said, “receiving a prize for southern literature is like being recognized by the people in the place that matters most – home. I am deeply honored.”
The Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature, first awarded in 2012, is named for the 19th-century Southern poet born in Macon. Lanier wrote “The Song of the Chattahoochee” and “The Marshes of Glynn.” Using his name recognizes Middle Georgia’s literary heritage and long, often complicated, tradition of writing about the South. The prize is awarded to writers who have engaged and extended that tradition. Past winners include Ernest Gaines (2012), Lee Smith (2013), Elizabeth Spencer (2014), Yusef Komunyakaa (2015), Wendell Berry (2016) and Ellen Gilchrist (2017).
The selection committee for the Lanier Prize includes Mercer professors, eminent scholars of Southern literature and members of the Macon community. In addition to Dr. Davis, the committee includes Bob Brinkmeyer, Emily Brown Jefferies Professor of English at the University of South Carolina; Sharon Colley, associate professor of English at Middle Georgia State College; Sarah Gardner, Distinguished University Professor of history at Mercer University; Minrose Gwin, Kenan Professor of English at the University of North Carolina; Trudier Harris, Distinguished Research Professor of English at the University of Alabama; Gordon Johnston, professor of creative writing at Mercer University; Michael Kreyling, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English at Vanderbilt University; Matt Martin, Knox Professor of Humanities at Wesleyan College; Judson Mitcham, Georgia Poet Laureate; and Pam Thomasson, past president of Historic Macon Foundation.
Dr. Joe Sam Robinson Jr., a widely respected neurosurgeon, and his wife, Betsy, of Macon, made a gift to assist Mercer in meeting a National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant during the 2016-17 reporting year. Their financial commitment created a new endowment, the Thomas McRae Hamilton Robinson Endowment, within the Center for Southern Studies that will support a public reading by the Sidney Lanier Prize winner at the annual presentation of the prize. The endowment honors the memory of their wonderful son Tommy Robinson and significantly enhances literary programming in Middle Georgia by underwriting the event.
Mercer will also award Sidney Lanier Creative Writing Scholarships on April 21. High school juniors with high aptitude for writing may compete for the scholarships, and winners will receive up to $2,000 per year toward the cost of tuition at Mercer. 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. For more information, contact the Office of Admissions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Spencer B. King Jr. Center for Southern Studies
The Spencer B. King Jr. Center for Southern Studies fosters critical discussions about the many meanings of the South. As the only center for southern studies in the United States dedicated to the education and enrichment of undergraduate students, the Center’s primary purpose is to examine the region’s complex history and culture through courses, conversations and events that are open, honest and accessible. In addition to private gifts from donors, the Center is supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant.