Arts Alive - November 2019
- by Steve Barney
On November 22-23, the first-ever Homegrown Literary and Arts Exchange takes over Kiln, Mississippi. The inaugural event features a wide range of workshops and presentations for writers, artists and literary lovers of all ages. The “homegrown” theme reflects the hyperlocal focus on the literature and visual arts of Hancock County – and the unique environs and social fabric of Southern Mississippi.
The idea for the Exchange was borne from a generous grant from the Library Foundation of Hancock County to book a free, open-to-the-public appearance by DeLisle native and two-time National Book Award winner, Jesmyn Ward.
The Hancock County Library System recognized this as something bigger than a lecture by a literary superstar.
Nel Ducomb, branch manager of the Kiln Library and homegrown coordinator, states, “When we booked Jesmyn, we realized it was a great opportunity to highlight and showcase the greatest literary and artistic talent we have on the coast.”
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The event is not targeted only to seasoned professionals; aspiring writers and artists are especially encouraged to attend. Promoting engagement and participation, the Exchange will provide a friendly environment to ask questions and get advice from experts working in the trenches, get creative and have some fun.
Ducomb added, “The goal is to create an open exchange between those with a desire to create and those who can mentor and coach them in the process.”
The library reached out to an interdisciplinary team of community stakeholders, including The Arts, Hancock County, the Hancock Performing Arts Center, the Shoofly Magazine and the Hancock County School District to develop and produce the ambitious program. Additional support for marketing the event came from Visit Mississippi and the Hancock Tourism Bureau.
Earlier this year, Ocean Springs author Johnnie Bernhard presented in Bay St. Louis as part of the libraries’ ongoing speaker series. Bernhard is a traditionally published author and winner of multiple prestigious awards for her fiction. Bernhard’s work has appeared in newspapers and magazines, both nationally and internationally.
Ducomb shared with Bernhard the vision of a unique gathering of writers and artists from across the Mississippi Coast. Bernhard had actually been trying to get a literary event going on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for some time. She enthusiastically joined the planning team, recruiting other well-known authors and adding panel discussions. Publisher pitch sessions were added as well, giving unpublished authors the invaluable opportunity to receive critical feedback from editors and prospective publishers.
Bernhard explains, “I always thought when I was an unpublished writer, if the dream came true for me and people actually read my work, that I would find a way to pay it forward by sharing what I learned in my journey to become a traditionally published author.”
Going beyond author presentations, the Exchange includes a variety of workshops in a number of disciplines encompassing writing and the visual arts. On Friday afternoon (November 22), Lazy Magnolia Brewery will become an art studio with hands-on workshops focused on book illustration at the intersection of literature and visual art.
From 1:00-2:00 pm, Melissa Carrigee will share her experiences and facilitate a workshop on illustrating children’s books. Her first book, “I Dream of Dragons,” was written while attending college during an illustration class. Not being much of an illustrator she decided to trace pictures. The story took on a life of its own, and soon it became apparent that writing for children would become a passion. It was written for her young son, Logan, to show him that he could become anything he wanted to be if he dared to dream.
The afternoon continues with a workshop from 2:00-5:00 pm featuring self-published author Albert Ghergich, who has written several books under the moniker John Albert. Ghergich’s stories of the Deep South cross genres of science fiction, horror, comedy and non-fiction.
Ghergich will team up with noted Bay St. Louis portrait artist and illustrator Michelle Arnold. In the session Arnold will work with participants to create illustrations using a variety of techniques and styles for Ghergich’s Mother’s Eye, which features an ancient, mystical Rougarou creature, the last of its kind, driven by a vengeance-fueled rage, who is unwittingly drawn into a supernatural journey where past and present collide.
Back at the Hancock Performing Arts Center, from 3:00-5:00 pm, aspiring writers can review their manuscripts in literary pitch sessions with representatives from Texas Review Press and Dogwood Press, offering a unique opportunity to get direct feedback from experts in the publishing industry.
The first day culminates at 7:00 pm with a free performance featuring an eclectic mix of literature and visual arts. Held at the Hancock Performing Arts Center, this performance is open to the public. In the lobby, well known mural artists from across the coast will be live painting their interpretation of classic scenes from Mississippi literature.
The artists include: Michelle Arnold, Scharonne Herrington, Lucinda Perniciario D’Enfant, Greg Noll and Andrew Switzer. Illustrations created earlier in the day will be displayed as Ghergich reads excerpts from his book, “Mother’s Eye.”
On stage, the Hancock High School Theatre under the direction of Scott Gladfelter will perform a dramatic interpretation of Eudora Welty’s classic “Where Is The Voice Coming From?”
Building on the “homegrown” theme, the evening will also preview videos produced by local school groups comprising a 360-degree videographic “quilt” of the communities in Hancock County. The work is the result of a grant from the Mississippi Museum of Arts’ Center for Art and Public Exchange (CAPE), enabling a residency for Jackson State professor Mark Geil.
“The metaphor of a community quilt,” Geil states, “is to explore the varied narratives and histories of Hancock County. The project will explore what is special, vital and challenging about living in Hancock County, while capturing the amazing vibrancy of our communities.”
On Saturday, November 23, the program is focused on the nuts and bolts of storytelling, writing and editing from some of the region’s best fiction and non-fiction authors.
Johnnie Bernhard will lead an in-depth seminar entitled, “Fiction and the Editing Process.” Margaret McMullen will discuss the process of memoir writing and will read from her new memoir, “Where The Angels Lived: One Family’s Story of Loss, Exile, and Return.”
A recipient of a 2010 NEA Fellowship in literature, a 2010 Fulbright at the University of Pécs in Pécs, Hungary, and the National Author Winner of the 2011 Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award, McMullan is the author of nine award-winning books.
The afternoon continues with a panel discussion entitled “Writing About What You Know” led by award-winning area author and publisher Ellis Anderson of Ellis Anderson Media (The Shoofly Magazine and French Quarter Journal), Anderson’s book, Under Surge, Under Siege, chronicles life in Bay St. Louis in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Anderson will be joined on the panel with Pass Christian author Rheta Grimsley Johnson. A former syndicated columnist for King Features Syndicate of New York, she has won numerous journalism awards. The author of eight books including Poor Man's Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana and Hank Hung the Moon and Warmed Our Cold, Cold Hearts, she wrote the only authorized biography of "Peanuts" cartoonist Charles Schulz. Currently she writes for French Quarter Journal and serves as the publication’s editor.
The panel also includes Louisiana author and Texas Review Press editor Dr. J Bruce Fuller. Fuller is a Louisiana native whose books include “The Dissenter's Ground,” “Lancelot” and Flood, and his poems have appeared at The Southern Review, Crab Orchard Review, McNeese Review, Birmingham Poetry Review and Louisiana Literature, among others.
The Homegrown Literary and Arts Exchange builds up to Saturday night’s keynote presentation by Jesmyn Ward, with a lecture, book reading, Q&A and book signing. This lecture is free and open to the public.
Ward has been called “the new Toni Morrison.” She is the first woman and first person of color to win the National Book Award twice, joining the ranks of William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Philip Roth and John Updike. Her writing, which encompasses fiction, nonfiction and memoir, is “raw, beautiful and dangerous.”
Ward’s novels, primarily set on Mississippi’s gulf coast, are deeply informed by the trauma of Hurricane Katrina. Ward edited the critically acclaimed anthology The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, a New York Times bestseller. Her newest novel, the critically acclaimed Sing, Unburied, Sing, won the 2017 National Book Award. Sing has been called “a searing, urgent read for anyone who thinks the shadows of slavery and Jim Crow have passed” (Celeste Ng).
Sing was named one of the best books of 2017 by The New York Times, Time, The Washington Post and Publisher's Weekly. Sing was also nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Aspen Words Literary Prize.
An associate professor of creative writing at Tulane University, Ward received the 2016 Strauss Living Award and a 2017 MacArthur Genius Grant, and was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people of 2018. She is the winner of the 2019 American Voice in Literature Award.
For more information and to purchase tickets for the workshops, visit the Homegrown Literary and Arts Exchange website at https://hancocklibraries.info/homegrown.
The evening sessions, which are free and open to the public, will take place at the Hancock Performing Arts Center, 7140 Stennis Airport Road, Kiln, Miss. 39556.
Fri., November 22, 7pm: Literary and Visual Arts Performance
Sat., November 23, 7pm: Jesmyn Ward lecture, book reading, Q&A; book signing
The article’s author, Steve Barney, is the president of The Arts, Hancock County.