Judson Authors Symposium to celebrate alumnae authors Oct. 23 | Judson College
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Judson Authors Symposium to celebrate alumnae authors Oct. 23

What do a Hemingway Award-winning author and a recurring New York Times bestselling author have in common with a memoirist, a celebrated 19th century composer and a world-renowned botanist? These women are all featured writers to be celebrated by the Judson College Authors Symposium, set for October 23 at Judson College in Marion, Ala.

The symposium highlights the contributions of Judson College alumnae to Alabama’s literary legacy, both in the state and beyond. While celebrating more than one hundred published authors who were enrolled at Judson College since its founding in 1838, the symposium will closely examine the work of five Judson authors: Gwen Bristow, Mary Ward Brown, Zitella Cocke, Caroline Dormon, and Viola Goode Liddell.

The event, held in Ramsay-McCrummen Chapel, is free and open to the public. The only exception is the symposium luncheon featuring music by Judson composers and a reading by Artist-in-Residence Billie Jean Young in Archibald Hall. Luncheon reservations are required. Tickets are $35 and may be purchased by contacting Beth Poole, Alumnae Director at Judson College at bpoole1@judson.edu or 334-683-5167 by October 10, 2019.

The symposium is sponsored by Judson College and the Judson College Alumnae Association (JCAA). The event is endorsed and partially funded by a grant from the Alabama Bicentennial Commission.

Carol May, chair of the Judson Authors Symposium Committee, said that the symposium was first conceived by members of the JCAA as a way to highlight the literary achievements of Judson alumnae and to participate in the state’s bicentennial celebration. May praised the “high level of enthusiasm” with which the committee and the College’s staff began identifying and researching Judson authors. Jay Lamar, executive director of the Alabama Bicentennial Commission, said the Commission is “truly delighted that Judson has taken the opportunity of the bicentennial to bring attention to Alabama’s writers. They are at the heart of so much of our history and sometimes are better known outside the state than in. As a result of its impressive symposium, Judson is making sure that is not the case this year. Thanks to it, many will have the chance to learn about and appreciate Alabama writers and literature.”

The symposium’s morning sessions will begin at 9:30 a.m. Mary Amelia Taylor, Judson Associate VP for Marketing & Communications, will give a presentation on the life and work of Gwen Bristow, Judson Class of 1924. Bristow, author and journalist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, established herself as a versatile and prolific writer, co-publishing four murder mysteries with her husband, Bruce Manning, and launching a successful career on her own as an author of historical fiction. Her meticulously-researched novels covered events from the 18th-century settlement of Louisiana and the 1890s Gold Rush in California to the intricacies of Californian independence from Mexico in the mid-19th century and Louisianan life during the Civil War. Her stories contributed to the canon of “Wild West” literature and plantation romances, as well as literature of the second World War. Between 1937 and 1975, seven of Bristow’s novels went through multiple printings and foreign translations, and, over the course of her career, several were featured on best-seller lists, including those of the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and Publisher’s Weekly.

Wayne Flynt, Professor Emeritus in the Department of History at Auburn University, will speak on Mary Ward Brown (Class of 1938) at 10:40 a.m. Flynt, who himself is an acclaimed author and one of the most recognized and honored scholars of Southern history, politics, and religion, has said Brown is “probably the most famous Alabamian you never heard of”. Brown resumed her writing career at age 63 after putting it aside to run her family farm in Perry County and to raise a son. She produced award-winning short stories set in the Deep South and a memoir of her life in rural Alabama. Her first book of short stories, Tongues of Flame, won numerous awards: the Lillian Smith Book Award for fiction given by the Southern Regional Council; the top fiction prize awarded by the Alabama Library Association; and the Ernest Hemingway Foundation/PEN prize for best first book of fiction by an American author. Brown’s spare, carefully word-smithed, and “unflinchingly honest” style has garnered praise from reviewers, who have compared her writing to that of renowned Southern novelists Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, and William Faulkner–and to that of Brown’s  favorite author, Russian short story writer Anton Chekhov.

The symposium luncheon will follow Flynt’s presentation and will feature 19th- and 20th-century musical selections composed by Judson women. Author and playwright Billie Jean Young (Class of 1974), will also give a reading from her book Fear Not the Fall during the luncheon.  Young is Associate Professor of Fine & Performing Arts and Artist-in-Residence at Judson College. Her plays JimmyLee and Fannie Lou Hamer: This Little Light, have contributed thoughtfully and poignantly to her audiences’ understanding of seminal events and leaders in the American Civil Rights Movement, and her books Now How You Do? A Memoir and Fear Not the Fall have, through poetry, drama, and memoir, reflected powerfully on life and family in the Alabama Black Belt. A 1984 recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellows Award, Young also received the Congressional Black Caucus’ On the Road to Freedom Award when she led a pilgrimage from Alabama to Boston to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Fannie Lou Hamer’s historic 1964 speech before the Democratic National Convention. She received the Mississippi Governor’s Award for Artistic Achievement in 1994.

Afternoon sessions resume at 1:30 p.m. with a talk by Tennant McWilliams, retired dean of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, on the work of Viola Goode Liddell (Class of 1922). Liddell wrote three memoirs, a collection of poetry, and several short stories. Her memoirs provide enduring value in chronicling life in the Alabama Black Belt, particularly in Wilcox County, during the Great Depression and the Civil Rights movement. McWilliams is currently completing a book-length manuscript on the life of Renwick Carlisle Kennedy, a Wilcox County preacher who lived next door to Viola Liddell for over fifty years.

At 2:20 p.m., Louisiana playwright Carolyn Woosley will perform Caroline, a one-woman play based on the life of Caroline Dormon (Class of 1907), Louisiana botanist, horticulturist, conservationist, and author. Dormon led numerous conservation and education efforts in the state of Louisiana and was the first female employee of the United States Forestry Service. She was also the first female member of the Society of American Foresters and was instrumental in this role during the campaign to save and designate the Kisatchie National Forest. Directed by Joy Pace, artistic and executive director of Itinerant Theatre, Caroline is one of thirteen plays that comprise Woosley’s play cycle, Louisiana Women.

Jennifer Beck, Library Associate II for the University of Alabama at Birmingham Archives, will give a presentation on Zitella Cocke (Class of 1856), poet and musician, at 3:15 p.m. Cocke produced more than 300 poems, several essays and short stories, and eleven musical compositions, one of which will be featured during the symposium luncheon. Cocke accepted a position in Judson’s music department during the Civil War to provide her family with income during the absence of two of her brothers, who were serving in the Confederate army. In the 1870s, she left Marion and spent the next decade teaching music in such cities as Nashville, Chicago, and Baltimore. In the early 1890s, Cocke moved to Boston and turned her love of writing into a successful career, publishing three volumes of poetry and contributing pieces to magazines such as The New England Magazine, Lippincott’s Magazine, The Youth’s Companion, and Harper’s Bazaar.

At 3:40 p.m., Brenda Lowry, Louisiana vocalist, songwriter, and musician, will close the symposium with a performance of The Ballad of Briarwood, a piece inspired by the life and home of Caroline Dormon. Briarwood, Dormon’s birthplace in Natchitoches Parish, is now a nature preserve dedicated to continuing her work in conservation and preservation.

Judson College’s Interim Academic Dean, Stacey G. Parham, said that the symposium promises to be a highlight of the academic year for Judson students. “Our desire is that our students will be encouraged to add their voices to this canon of Alabama literature alongside these acclaimed Judson authors,” said Parham.  All Judson students are invited to a movie night on Oct. 22 in the Mary Katherine Archibald Blount Student Center (“The J”), showing Tomorrow is Forever, adapted from the 1943 Gwen Bristow novel of the same name. Tomorrow is Forever stars Orson Welles,  Claudette Colbert, and a young Natalie Wood and is one of three films adapted from Bristow’s works.

For a full symposium schedule and more information, visit https://www.judson.edu/event/judson-college-authors-symposium/ or the symposium’s Facebook event. Guests may register for the luncheon by contacting alumnae director Beth Poole at bpoole1@judson.edu or 334-683-5167. High School groups attending the event must email Beth Poole their completed and signed registration form for school participation by October 10, 2019.