July 30, 2014  

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Southern Miss Medallion Winner Avoids Regret, Follows His Passion

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Children’s book author T.A. Barron accepts the Southern Miss Medallion from Southern Miss President Martha Saunders Thursday at the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival (University Communications photo by Steve Rouse)

T.A. Barron left his job as president of a venture capital company more than 20 years ago, spurred by an inextinguishable desire to pour himself into writing and a deep fear of painful regret.

“It’s frightening to change jobs or locations, but not nearly as frightening as growing old and realizing you had a dream you never pursued. And (writing) has always called to me,” Barron said.

Thursday, he was awarded the Southern Miss Medallionat The University of Southern Mississippi’s 44th annual Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival. It was yet another accolade vindicating his decision in what has been a successful career as a children’s literature and nature book writer.

“This is among the most wonderful things that have happened to me as a writer,” Barron said. “It’s right at the top.”

Barron is the author of The Lost Years of Merlin, which is being made into a film; The Great Tree of Avalon, a New York Times bestseller; The Ancient One; and The Hero’s Trail. He is recipient of the Nautilus Award for books inspiring a better world and multiple honors from the American Library Association and International Reading Association.

“He’s (Barron) redefined Merlin and the Arthurian legend for a whole new generation of teenagers and kids,” said Angie Manfredi, a 2007 alumna of the Southern MissLibrary and Information Science program and a librarian with the Los Alamos, N.M County Library System. Manfredi was on campus for the festival and attended an autograph session with Barron and other authors at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore.

A native of Colorado, Barron’s love of the natural world led him to found an award in memory of his mother for youth who serve their communities and improve the environment, the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes.

His book High as a Hawk (with illustrator Ted Lewin) is about Harriet Peters, who in 1905 became the youngest climber to scale Long’s Peak in Colorado, which is more than 14,000 feet. Carol Rieben, a library media specialist at Bay Minette (Ala.) Elementary School and her husband climbed Long’s Peak together in 1974, giving her a special connection to the book.

“I read it to our students,” Reiben said after Barron signed her copy of the book. “It has a lot of important elements – history, problem solving, overcoming fear – it’s a great book to share.”

After he embraced writing as a full-time venture, friends and family could see the positive impact it had on him. “I was only using a small part of my soul before that, and I knew it would wither up and die if I didn’t pursue it (writing),” he said. “Now I’m a lucky man who gets to do something I really love, and I feel blessed every day.”

Despite his success, Barron’s work keeps him grounded. “The writing experience is permanently humbling, because there is always something more to learn and new ways to grow,” he said.

He praised the university’s book festival, calling it an excellent opportunity to meet with fellow writers and devotees of children’s literature, including librarians and teachers. ‘What distinguishes this festival is that it’s about both a passion for literature and a deep knowledge about those stories that connect all people,” he said.

The festival’s namesake, Mississippi native Fay B. Kaigler, is a retired elementary school teacher and longtime supporter of the event. It is presented by the university’s School of Library and Information Scienceand the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection. Every year the book festival draws visitors from across the country and around the world. For more information, online visit www.usm.edu/bookfest