Sidney Lanier Prize
Mercer University’s Spencer B. King Jr. Center for Southern Studies will award the 2019 Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature to poet and novelist Fred Chappell.
The prize honors significant career contributions to Southern writing in drama, fiction or poetry. The prize presentation and reading, supported by the Thomas McRae Hamilton Robinson Endowment, will take place April 27 at 1 p.m. in the Presidents Dining Room of the University Center on the Macon campus.
Chappell was born in North Carolina and earned his undergraduate degree from Duke University. He went on to author more than a dozen books of poetry, several novels and critical prose books, and a collection of short stories, drawing inspiration from his childhood and his surroundings.
He has received numerous awards for his work, including the T.S. Eliot Prize, Bollingen Award, Aiken Taylor Award, an award from the National Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Best Foreign Book Prize from the Academie française. He served as the state of North Carolina’s poet laureate from 1997-2002.
Chappell also taught at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for more than 40 years, where he helped to build and establish the Master of Fine Arts in writing program and received its O. Max Gardner Award for teaching. He mentored several of North Carolina’s most accomplished poets, including Sarah Lindsay, Pulitzer-prize winner Claudia Emerson and Kathryn Stripling Byer, who succeeded him as the state’s poet laureate.
The Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature, first awarded in 2012, is named for the 19th-century Southern poet born in Macon. Lanier wrote “The Song of the Chattahoochee” and “The Marshes of Glynn.” Using his name recognizes Middle Georgia’s literary heritage and long, often complicated, tradition of writing about the South. The prize is awarded to writers who have engaged and extended that tradition. Past winners include Ernest Gaines (2012), Lee Smith (2013), Elizabeth Spencer (2014), Yusef Komunyakaa (2015), Wendell Berry (2016), Ellen Gilchrist (2017) and Natasha Trethewey (2018).
The selection committee for the Lanier Prize includes Mercer professors, eminent scholars of Southern literature and members of the Macon community. In addition to Dr. Davis, the committee includes Bob Brinkmeyer, Emily Brown Jefferies Professor of English at the University of South Carolina; Sharon Colley, professor of English at Middle Georgia State College; Sarah Gardner, Distinguished University Professor of history at Mercer University; Trudier Harris, Distinguished Research Professor of English at the University of Alabama; Gordon Johnston, professor of creative writing at Mercer University; Michael Kreyling, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English at Vanderbilt University; Barbara Ladd, professor of English at Emory University; Matt Martin, Knox Professor of Humanities at Wesleyan College; Judson Mitcham, Georgia Poet Laureate; and Pam Thomasson, past president of Historic Macon Foundation.
Dr. Joe Sam Robinson Jr., a widely respected neurosurgeon, and his wife, Betsy, of Macon, made a gift to assist Mercer in meeting a National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant during the 2016-17 reporting year. Their financial commitment created a new endowment, the Thomas McRae Hamilton Robinson Endowment, within the Center for Southern Studies that will support a public reading by the Sidney Lanier Prize winner at the annual presentation of the prize. The endowment honors the memory of their wonderful son Tommy Robinson and significantly enhances literary programming in Middle Georgia by underwriting the event.
Mercer will also award Sidney Lanier Creative Writing Scholarships on April 27. High school juniors with high aptitude for writing may compete for the scholarships, and winners will receive up to $2,000 per year toward the cost of tuition at Mercer. To be eligible, students must complete an application and submit either a work of short fiction of no more than 700 words or two poems totaling no more than 700 words. For more information, contact the Office of Admissions at email@example.com.
Video of Ernest Gaines receiving the prize in 2012: