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Released May 27, 2003


HATTIESBURG - Five graduates of The University of Southern Mississippi's nationally renowned Center for Writers are adding another layer of prestige to the program's history of literary excellence.

In 2003, major New York book houses will publish works by these writers, all former students in the prestigious program directed since 1977 by acclaimed author Frederick Barthelme.

"Almost everyone we've graduated has done very well in one way or another," said Barthelme, who for the last 26 years has helped to make the Center for Writers one of the most productive and renowned programs at Southern Miss. "They all teach, or write, or edit, or produce television as careers. We're very proud of all the Southern Miss graduates we've shepherded into the working world."

James Whorton Jr. will see the publication of his first novel, Approximately Heaven, be released in July by The Free Press, a division of Simon and Schuster. A graduate of Southern Miss's Honors College as well as of the doctoral program in creative writing, Whorton teaches at Northeast State in Tennessee.

Publisher's Weekly called Whorton's first book "a neo-picaresque road novel" that relies on the charms of its main character's "befuddled, countrified voice."

Of the Center for Writers, Whorton said: "Seems like everyone in the country knows about the creative writing program there. It's ranked in the top 10 percent nationally, but for some reason it doesn't get a lot of attention locally."

Steven Carter graduated from the Center for Writers almost 10 years ago and has since taught literature and writing at Georgetown College in Kentucky. His debut novel, I was Howard Hughes, will be released in August by Bloomsbury USA.

Bloomsbury's press kit describes Carter's writing as possessing "a deft comic touch and an outstanding command of narrative style."

Carter said that during his time at the Center for Writers, he "looked forward to the weekly fiction workshop the way most people look forward to going to the movies or the Saturday football game.

"Each class, Rick Barthelme led a discussion that took the core of what was good in our stories and used it to tell a more remarkable, or stunning, or beautiful story. Going through that week after week, you learn to do that yourself," Carter said.

Michael Knight, who earned a master's in 1994 from the Center for Writers and currently teaches at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, had his third book, Goodnight, Nobody, published in February by the Atlantic Monthly Press. Described by Esquire as "a writer of the first rank," Knight has also published short fiction in the New Yorker, GQ and other fine literary magazines. Publisher's Weekly said, "Delicately wrought characters and quiet, satisfying observations mark Knight's impressive second collection of short fiction."

Ben Neihart's new book, Rough Amusements, was released in April by Bloomsbury USA. In a review of the novel, Booklist said: "Fascinating, engaging and exhilarating, this 'urban historical' by novelist Neihart is an 'entertainment,' a mix of footnoted references, real-life figures and imaginary characters that purports to tell the 'true story' of A'Lelia Walker, daughter of millionaire Madam C.J. Walker, who pioneered personal-care products for African-American women."

Neihart received his master's at the Center for Writers and later took a second master's from the Johns Hopkins University, alma mater of three of the faculty members at the Center for Writers. These include Frederick Barthelme (M.A. '77), whose 15th book will be published this fall by Counterpoint Press; Mary Robison (M.A. '77), winner of last year's Los Angeles Times Book of the Year Award; and Steven Barthelme (M.A. '84), who teaches fiction writing and nonfiction prose writing.

Victoria Lancelotta, whose debut collection of stories, Here in the World, was released to critical fanfare in 2000, is back this fall with FAR, to be published by Counterpoint Press. Her new novel is a story about a woman reluctant to adopt traditional female roles of marriage and motherhood, which results in alienation from her Italian-American family and community.

Students from all over the country come to study with the Center's distinguished faculty. This year the center had applicants from Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University, Harvard, New York University, the University of California, the University of Texas, Columbia, Millsaps and a dozen others.

"Southern Miss stands with many of the finest universities in the country in creative writing, which is why we attract students from these schools," Steven Barthelme said. "At the same time, many of our best writers, like Michael Knight and James Whorton, are home grown."

Frederick Barthelme is hoping to bring his successful graduates back as participants in the Center's Reading Series, which has before included Pulitzer Prize winners, Nobel Prize winners, National Book Award winners, a Poet Laureate and hundreds of gifted writers from all over the nation. Michael Knight is scheduled to visit in the fall to give a reading and lead a fiction workshop. Others are being scheduled as permitted.

"Nothing gives us greater pleasure than our students' succeeding," Frederick Barthelme said. "That's what a university is all about, and that's what our faculty in English is all about. We're in the classrooms with the students day in and day out, working with them, trying to help them realize their potential."


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM