Graduates of the Center for Writers in the English Department at the University of Southern Mississippi have had marked success recently, publishing books and winning major awards.
Center director Steven Barthelme reports that more than 20 books of fiction, poetry and literary criticism by former students in the center have been issued by publishers across the country and internationally over the past two years.
Alumnus Andrew Plattner, who completed his Ph.D. at Southern Miss in 2010, published his second collection of short stories, titled A Marriage of Convenience, with BkMk Press in June. He is a former winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award from the University of Georgia Press, which published his first collection, Winter Money. A gifted writer who grew up around horses and horse racing, Plattner has also has written a non-fiction book about racing and the Kentucky Derby, A History of the Run for the Roses.
Last fall saw a new book by a Ph.D. graduate from 1995, James Whorton, Jr., when The Free Press/Simon & Schuster issued his third novel, Angela Sloan, to excellent reviews. Whorton, who also did his undergraduate work in the university’s Honors College, is now associate professor and associate chair of English at the State University of New York, Brockport.
Michael Knight, one of the program’s most successful alumni, had a new novel titled The Typist published by the Atlantic Monthly Press in 2010 and chosen by the Huffington Post as one of the Ten Best Books of 2010. Knight is Professor of English at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He graduated with an M.A. in English from the Center for Writers in 1993.
Mississippi native Michael F. Smith, another earlier graduate, published a novella titled The Hands of Strangers with Mint Hill Books of Charlotte, N.C. early in 2011. The trade journal Publisher’s Weekly called the book a “gem…making more of an impact that most novels three times its size.” Smith teaches as assistant professor at the Mississippi University for Women and last year won a literary fellowship from the Mississippi Commission for the Arts. He’s at work on a second novel.
Selected for the Barnes & Noble Discovery Award, Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky was issued in 2010 by Harper Perennial. Dermansky took her M.A. in 1998. Bad Marie is Dermansky’s second book, following her debut novel, Twins, published in 2005.
A Virginia native, Judy Wilson took two degrees at the Center for Writers (M.A., 1997, and Ph.D. 2000) and now teaches at Southwest Minnesota. Her short stories have appeared in the Texas Review, the German journal Der Brennende Busch, and the Atlantic Monthly’s Atlantic Unbound, as well as winning her the Henfield Award for Fiction and a Truman Capote Fellowship. Her collection, Trespass and Other Stories, was issued earlier this year by On the Brink Publishing.
Another former award winner from Southern Miss, Kim Chinquee, had her second book published last year. Pretty, from White Pine Press, collects more than fifty of Chinquee’s trademark “flash” fictions. These short short stories, a form in which she has established herself as a recognized master, have appeared in journals, online and in anthologies including the Pushcart Prizes. Chinquee, who took her M.A. at U.S.M. in 2002, is now Associate Professor at Buffalo State College of the State University of New York in Buffalo.
Gulfport native Anthony Neil Smith, another 2002 graduate, has had an earlier novel, Yellow Medicine (2008), reissued as an e-book along with his newest work, Choke on Your Lies. Smith is now Director of Creative Writing at Southwest Minnesota State University.
Another former student from Gulfport, Robin Bridges, has just published her first novel with Random House/Delacorte. The Gathering Storm is a Young Adult book set in 19th century Russia. Bridges studied creative writing in undergraduate courses at Southern Miss.
John Minichillo’s novel, The Snow Whale, was out earlier this year from Atticus Books, which also will publish a new novel by Jurgen Fauth, titled Kino, next year. Both Minichillo and Fauth earned doctorates from Southern Miss in 1999. Fauth came to study at Southern Miss from his home in Wiesbaden, Germany, and now lives in New York.
Several other graduates have books forthcoming. Evan Harrison, who earned his M.A. just last spring, has won the 2011 Omnidawn Chapbook Prize, a national poetry competition, and his prizewinning entry, Sham City, will be published this fall. Richard Boada (Ph.D., 2009) also has a poetry chapbook forthcoming, Archipelago Sinking, from Finishing Line Press, as does Tiff Holland whose collection of poems, Betty Superman, won the Rose Metal Press Chapbook competition.
Earlier graduates in poetry with recent books include Cynthia Hardy and Jian Zheng. Hardy’s Beneath a Portrait of a Horse was issued in 2010 by the Irish publisher Salmon Poetry. She is a 1994 Ph.D. graduate. Jian Zheng has two volumes of literary criticism out this year. The Other World of Richard Wright has just been issued by the University Press of Mississippi, and Essays on African American Literature will be published by the Central China Normal University Press. Zheng graduated from Southern Miss in 1996. He was a Fulbright Scholar in 2009-2010, and a past winner of the Mississippi Humanities Teacher Award.
Another poet, William Wright, a recent Ph.D. (2009), also has two books out this year. A selection of his poetry, Bledsoe, has been published by the Texas Review Press, and another collection, titled Night Field Anecdote, will appear from Louisiana Literature Press later this fall. Wright is a distinguished editor as well as a poet. He served as co-editor of The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume II: Mississippi, published in 2010.
Recent graduate Sam Ruddick (Ph.D., 2008) has won a PEN/O.Henry Award for a short story he published in the Threepenny Review; the story will appear in the prestigious annual prize anthology next May. Current students are also active. Annette Boehm, who has come to study at Southern Miss from Germany, has a chapbook titled The Five Parts of Love forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press, and Claudia Smith has a collection of short stories forthcoming in spring.
For more information about the Center for Writers and the Southern Miss Department of English, online visit www.usm.edu/eng