“It never crossed my mind when I began writing fiction that I could write about anything except life in the South. It never crossed my mind that I knew about anything else; knew, that is, well enough to write about. Nothing else ever nagged you enough to stir the imagination.”–Robert Penn Warren
On March 27, the Poetry and Literature Center will host a celebration of writers and writing from the American South. The event will feature authors from the Fellowship of Southern Writers reading from their work and exploring the rich cultural tradition of a distinctly Southern literature.
The following interview was conducted by e-mail with Susan Robinson, Executive Director of the Fellowship of Southern Writers to showcase the ways the Fellowship continues to preserve and to recognize that legacy.
CR: How would you define the “Southern writer”? Is it simply a geographic classification or is there something deeper in the content, the style, or even the context of a writer’s work that makes them uniquely “Southern”?
SR: The Fellowship of Southern Writers (FSW) defines a “Southern writer” as either a native-born Southerner or resident of the geographical South for a life-period sufficient to have earned “citizenship” in the region.
The organization’s goal is the same today as it was when the FSW was established in 1987: To encourage and stimulate the very best writing in the South without being confined to any particular emphasis, allegiance, bias, school or approach.
CR: The Fellowship of Southern Writers recently celebrated its 25th Anniversary. In those 25 years, the Fellowship has nearly doubled in size, growing from a group of 22 charter members to include 50 active fellows. Do you think that the Fellows active today represent the same ideas and ideals as those original members?
SR: In October of 1987 Cleanth Brooks, Fred Chappell, George Core, Shelby Foote, George Garrett, Blyden Jackson, Andrew Lytle, Lewis P. Simpson, Elizabeth Spencer, Walter Sullivan, C. Vann Woodward, and Louis D. Rubin, Jr. met to discuss forming the FSW. Their goal was to recognize and to encourage writing of the highest quality. Moreover, they wanted membership in the organization to include not only novelists, poets, dramatists, and critics of literature, but also writers of history and other genres as well whose work displayed literary excellence.
Today the FSW’s fifty diverse and active members still hold this purpose at its center—to recognize and to encourage writing of the highest literary quality.
CR: On Wednesday, March 27, the Library will feature fellows Madison Smartt Bell, Edward P. Jones, Jill McCorkle, Ron Rash, and Charles Wright. This is a diverse group—what connections do you see in their work?
SR: This delightful group of Southern writers provides a wonderful cross section of the Fellowship’s membership. Together, they represent the essence of the FSW: Authors producing literary works of the highest quality.
CR: What do you see as the future of the Fellowship of Southern Writers—both the organization and the growing group of writers it represents? How might this represent changes in Southern culture?
SR: The Fellowship and its membership continue to evolve with the changing Southern landscape. The organization is dedicated to recognizing up-and-coming Southern writers through prizes, awards and fellowships, and recognizing new genres that represent literary excellence such as performance and the spoken word. It will continue to expand its membership to include Southern authors of prominence whose works display literary excellence.