Eudora Welty Symposium honors 6 MSMS students


Courtesy of Taylor Lewis

(Left to right) Shelby Tisdale, Violet Jira, Ryley Fallon, Lily Blangstaff, Abby Strain, Felicity Browning, and Creative Writing Instructor Emma Richardson

Gina Nguyen, Editor-in-Chief

Following in the footsteps of renowned novelist Eudora Welty, a dozen southern writers and scholars gathered on Mississippi University for Women’s campus and presented their work in honor of the late MUW alumna. The annual Eudora Welty Symposium, held every October, recognized six MSMS students for their creative writing by awarding them with the Ephemera Prize: Felicity Browning, Abby Strain, Shelby Tisdale, Lily Langstaff, Ryley Fallon and Violet Jira (Honorable Mention).

Students across the state were invited to submit fiction writing, poetry or essays, and winners received a $200 cash prize. Inspired by childhood memories, family members and everyday life, all of the writing fell under the symposium’s theme “‘But Here I Am, and Here I’ll Stay’: Claiming Our Place in the South.”

For several students, being recognized for their work inspired them to keep writing and expressing themselves.

“I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, and being acknowledged as talented is very refreshing and encouraging,” Strain said.

“The recognition I received for this piece was a bit shocking because it’s the first time somebody really enjoyed my writing without being expected to,” Langstaff said. “Winning this prize and hearing successful writers compliment my essay also gave me hope for my writing potential.”

Others simply appreciated the time and effort the judges put in to read and understand their works.

“It’s cool to know that people not only read my writing but read it and saw something significant enough in it to recognize it,” Jira said. “I feel like sometimes when I write I don’t do a good job of getting my point across to anyone but myself. It’s nice to know that I jumped over that hurdle with this piece.”

They were invited to have lunch with judges Cary Holladay and T. J. Anderson III and the event’s guest speakers. This was a chance get to know them on a more personal level before hearing them read their works on stage.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever felt so many chills in a single weekend. The works read this weekend were very powerful,” Tisdale said. “The writers’ uses of language, speech and relatable stories were absolutely captivating.”

“It’s an entirely different world to be around people whose lives focus on literature,” Strain said. “I felt like everyone had old and arcane knowledge that they could share with me.”

Many of the students, when they took the stage, reported feeling tense, but found ways to calm their nerves as they read their works.

Browning wrote her essay about her grandmother who has been her biggest inspiration in life. Her grandmother attended the symposium to see her.

“Seeing how proud she was of me washed away all of my nervous energy and I was able to read through my essay fairly easily,” Browning said.

Langstaff’s essay described what it was like for her to grow up loving bugs. She often struggled to be proud of it, and she was glad she could share this part of her with the audience.

“I was honestly terrified to read my essay, but it was refreshing to be listened to and understood, not just heard,” she said. My anxiety eased the longer I was on stage, but it was nerve-wracking. I am proud of myself for tackling it head-on and spreading what I love.”

More opportunities will be offered to students to showcase their talent in creative writing. The “Southern Voices” art and literature magazine is accepting submissions until Wednesday, Nov. 6, and submissions for the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards will open soon.