Center for Southern Studies to Award Sidney Lanier Prize to Ellen Gilchrist


MACON – Mercer University's Spencer B. King Jr. Center for Southern Studies will award the 2017 Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature to novelist, short story writer and poet Ellen Gilchrist on April 22. The prize honors significant career contributions to Southern writing in drama, fiction or poetry.

“Ellen Gilchrist has been writing since she was 4 years old. Over a career more than seven decades long, she has written candidly about her own life, about the lives of Southern women and about the changing South. Her work is a vital chronicle of Southerners and the South,” said Dr. David A. Davis, chair of the prize committee and professor of English at Mercer.

Gilchrist was born near Vicksburg, Mississippi, on Feb. 20, 1935. She has authored 23 books, which include a variety of short stories, poetry and fiction, and has received numerous awards as well as a National Endowment for the Arts Grant in Fiction.

She attended Vanderbilt University, where she earned a B.A. in philosophy, and Millsaps College, where she earned a second bachelor's degree while studying under famed Mississippi writer Eudora Welty. After postgraduate study in creative writing at the University of Arkansas, she undertook various writing and journalism jobs and served as a contributing editor for New Orleans's Vieux Carre Courier from 1976 until 1979, when her first book of poetry, The Land Surveyor's Daughter, was published.

Her first collection of short stories, The Land of Dreamy Dreams (1981), sold more than 10,000 copies in its first 10 months and attracted tremendous critical acclaim. Her first novel, The Annunciation (1983), was followed by National Book Award-winning story collection Victory Over Japan (1984). This early success led to a one-year stint as a commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Her commentaries were later published as Falling Through Space: The Journals of Ellen Gilchrist (1987).

Among Gilchrist's other well-known works are The Anna Papers (1988), Net of Jewels (1992), The Age of Miracles (1995), and I, Rhoda Manning, Go Hunting with My Daddy, and other Stories (2002).

She has taught creative writing at the University of Arkansas since 2000. She later wrote her first memoir, The Writing Life (2005), in which she discusses overcoming alcoholism, the challenges of teaching students the art of writing and balancing artistic pursuits with family life. Her most recent works include the novel A Dangerous Age (2008), story collection Acts of God (2014) and autobiographical essay collection Things Like the Truth: Out of My Later Years (2016).

Gilchrist lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and continues to serve on the faculty of the University of Arkansas.

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) and Wendell Berry (2016).

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, professor of history and director of Southern studies at Mercer University; Trudier Harris, professor of English and African-American studies at the University of Alabama; Gordon Johnston, professor of creative writing at Mercer University; Michael Kreyling, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English, Emeritus, at Vanderbilt University; Barbara Ladd, professor of English at Emory University; Matt Martin, Knox Professor of Humanities at Wesleyan College; and Pam Thomasson, past president of Historic Macon Foundation.

Mercer will also award Sidney Lanier Creative Writing Scholarships on April 22. High school juniors with high aptitude for writing may compete for the scholarships, and winners will receive up to $3,000 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