Tom Franklin, Grisham writer-in-residence at Ole Miss, ends year with new novel
June 17, 2002
OXFORD, Miss. You could say novelist Tom Franklin raised Hell during his year as Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi.
His forthcoming novel is Hell at the Breech, a fictionalized history of brutal events that took place 12 miles from his Alabama home. Franklin leaves the prestigious UM post savoring the opportunity to work in American novelist William Faulkners backyard.
I could wander downstairs from my marvelous office and be on Faulkners land in five minutes, said Franklin, who came to Oxford after a stint as a visiting writer-in-residence at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. Walking the place has helped me tremendously; its much better than Illinois to a guy writing about a Southern landscape.
Franklin soon assumes a similar position at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. Upon leaving UM, he joins an impressive group of other former Grisham writers, including T.R. Pearson, Mary Hood, Darcey Steinke, Steve Yarbrough and Claude Willkinson.
I enjoyed the students here (at UM). Theyre very smart, and the best of them are the best Ive seen anywhere, said Franklin, who last year was one of 183 Guggenheim fellows in the U.S. and Canada.
Having to say farewell to extremely talented people is the only downside to the Grisham program, said Joseph Urgo, chair of the UM Department of English. Tom Franklin has been a tremendous asset to us this year; in a short time he attracted a strong and loyal following among our students, Urgo said. We'll look forward to following his post-Grisham career.
During the year, Franklin taught undergraduate and graduate students in a two-semester fiction writing class. You write for the joy of it; publication is a bonus, he told a group of aspiring writers at the 2001 Oxford Conference for the Book, sponsored in part by UM. He praised the Grisham program for its tangible provisions: writing time and financial support.
The intangibles, also of tremendous benefit, include living in this very literary town just a block from Faulkners estate and knowing that writers I admire have shown such confidence in my future that they wanted me to spend a year writing, he said.
A native of Dickinson, Ala., Franklin remains connected indirectly to the University of Mississippi, with his wife, Beth Ann Fennelly, joining the UM English faculty this fall as a visiting professor in poetry and literary studies. Open House, her first book of poems, won the 2001 Kenyon Review Prize in Poetry for a First Book, one of the nations most prestigious awards for new authors.
Shay Youngblood, an award-winning Georgia-born novelist, poet and playwright, the author of Black Girl in Paris and Soul Kiss, is UMs Grisham Writer-in-Residence for 2002-03.
The annual appointment, which includes housing and a stipend, was funded in 1993 by best-selling author John Grisham and his wife, Renee. It requires writers to teach writing workshops and participate in department activities.
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