Athens, Ga. – Three writers whose works examine the conflicts that have shaped the South in its recent past and a beloved songwriter who wrote the soundtrack to post-World War II America will be honored at the 2011 Georgia Writers Hall of Fame ceremony sponsored by the University of Georgia Libraries.
Melissa Faye Greene and Natasha Trethewey, along with posthumous honorees James Kilgo and Johnny Mercer, will be inducted in a ceremony to be held next spring. The four were selected March 24 by the GWHF board of judges.
“The 2011 class of inductees into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame is exemplary,” said P. Toby Graham, director of the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library and deputy university librarian. “These Georgians have enriched our lives and serve as a source of pride for our state. The Georgia Writers Hall of Fame is honored to celebrate their literary and creative contributions.”
The UGA Libraries established the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2000 to recognize Georgia writers, past and present, whose work reflects the character of the state—its land and its people. It is housed in the Hargrett Library.
Greene’s award-winning books Praying for Sheetrock and The Temple Bombing chronicle dramatic episodes in the civil rights movement in Georgia. Focusing on individuals who played important roles in these events, Greene vividly illuminates issues and conflicts that shaped the state in the latter half of the 20th century.
Greene is one of a growing number of authors who write literary nonfiction. She uses the basic elements of fiction—themes, eloquent prose, characterization, plot development—to tell the story of important episodes in the state’s and the nation’s recent history.
Trethewey, an English professor at Emory University, won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 2007 for her collection Native Guard (2006). She earned her bachelor’s degree at UGA in 1989, and in 1991 she earned a master’s degree in English and creative writing at Hollins College (later Hollins University) in Roanoke, Va. By the time she earned her M.F.A. degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1995, Trethewey was starting to publish, and her work has since appeared in the country’s most prestigious literary journals and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry in both 2000 and 2003.
Kilgo joined the UGA faculty in 1967, where he received five Outstanding Honors Professor awards and the Honoratus Award for Excellence in Teaching. He directed the creative writing program from 1994 to 1996 and retired from teaching in 1999. Kilgo, who battled cancer for more than 10 years, died in 2002 at the age of 61.
Essays on hunting, nature, family and personal introspection won Kilgo national attention, and his novel, Daughter of My People, earned him the Townsend Prize for Fiction in 1998. Based on a story from his own family history, the novel explores the deep paradoxes and ironies of the heritage of race in the South and of the U.S.
Born into the fourth generation of Mercers living in Savannah, John Herndon Mercer was one of America’s most popular and successful songwriters of the 20th century. Between 1929 and 1976 he penned lyrics to more than 1,000 songs, received 19 Academy Award nominations, wrote music for a number of Broadway shows, and cofounded Capitol Records. Perhaps best known for the 1961 Academy Award–winning song “Moon River,” Mercer also took Oscars for “Days of Wine and Roses,” “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” and “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe.” These movie hits reflected Mercer’s ties to the Hollywood studios, but the lyricist also wrote songs that became popular because of their commercial appeal, including “Jeepers Creepers,” “Accentuate the Positive,” “Glow-Worm,” “Goody Goody” and “Hooray for Hollywood.” Time and again Mercer drew upon his Georgia heritage for song ideas.
Biographical information for this article comes from the New Georgia Encyclopedia (www.georgiaencyclopedia.org), which is housed at the UGA Libraries.