Claudia Emerson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and English professor at the University of Mary Washington, will be inducted into the prestigious Fellowship of Southern Writers during its biennial meeting to be held during the Conference on Southern Literature in April.
Emerson will be welcomed into the fellowship alongside 11 other distinguished writers including Harper Lee, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller “To Kill a Mockingbird.” As part of Emerson’s induction, she will participate in a panel discussion of revision as an element of the writing process during the April 14-16 conference in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Emerson won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for “Late Wife." She has written five books of poetry, with a sixth forthcoming. A former Virginia poet laureate who joined the UMW faculty in 1998, she holds the Arrington distinguished chair of poetry at Mary Washington. Emerson received the Donald Justice Award for poetry from the fellowship in 2009.
A highly selective organization that seeks to recognize and encourage literature in the South, the fellowship was founded in 1987 by a group of predominantly male writers that included James Dickey, John Hope Franklin, Walker Percy, Elizabeth Spencer, Robert Penn Warren and Eudora Welty.
New fellows are nominated by current members and elected by majority vote. Fellows are writers of fiction, poetry, drama, criticism and history. Most members have been fiction writers because of the powerhouse world of Southern fiction writing. However, Emerson said that is slowly changing. "As a female poet, it was harder to get in,” she said.
Members aren’t separated by their style of writing, so new ones are judged against all other Southern writers and editors, regardless of genre, Emerson said. “I’m very excited to see fellow writers and colleagues who are already in it and who are being inducted into it now,” Emerson said. “They don’t limit to creative writers necessarily.”
To be considered for membership, a writer must have been born and raised or have resided for a significant part of his or her life in the South, or have written works that in character and spirit embody aspects of the Southern experience.
Emerson said members also include historians, editors, biographers and critics, which is a unique trait for the fellowship. “It’s sort of a broader consideration of what it is to be a ‘writer’,” she said. “I’m excited and honored and always interested in being a part of something that’s trying to promote good writing.”
Emerson also is excited about attending the conference, where she will interact with many writers whom she admires. “I imagine there will be a couple of good parties where you can put on your party dress and meet people you’ve admired forever,” she said.
The fellowship holds its biennial meetings during the Chattanooga Arts & Education Council Conference on Southern Literature in Chattanooga, where the fellowship’s archives are held at the University of Tennessee Lupton Library. At their meeting, the fellows elect new members, bestow awards on established and emerging writers, and deliver readings and lectures.