Sunday, May 24, 2015

Southern lit's grande dame Elizabeth Spencer wins Mississippi fiction award for ‘Starting Over’

Chapel Hill’s own Elizabeth Spencer has won the Fiction Prize awarded by the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters for her collection of short stories, Starting Over. She will be honored at a banquet in Hattiesburg on June 6.

At ninety-two, Ms. Spencer is truly the grande dame of Southern writers with work spanning seven decades. Fire in the Morning, her first novel, was published in 1948. The majority of the stories in her new collection were written in the last three years.

Ann Beattie, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle about Starting Over, said:

Spencer [is] an elegant and subtle writer… Like Chekhov, the moments of most acute misery – those achingly
common things that nearly kill us all – are offstage… There are nine stories here, all wonderful, subtle and complex – which makes the cumulative effect all the more alarming.

Elizabeth Spencer is the author of seven other short story collections: Ship Island and Other Stories; The Stories of Elizabeth Spencer; Marilee; Jack of Diamonds and Other Stories; On the Gulf; The Light in the Piazza and Other Italian Tales; The Southern Woman: New and Selected Fiction. In addition to Fire in the Morning, her novels include The Voice at the Back of the Door, This Crooked Way, Knights and Dragons, No Place for an Angel, The Snare, The Salt Line, and The Night Travelers.

The Light in the Piazza was made into a movie in 1962, starring Olivia de Havilland, Yvette Mimieux and George Hamilton. In 2005, it was made into a play and opened on Broadway in 2005 winning six Tony Awards. Spencer also wrote the play For Lease or Sale.

Landscapes of the Heart, a memoir in which she wrote about her work, her life and her long friendship with Eudora Welty, became the basis of a documentary film entitled Landscapes of the Heart: The Elizabeth Spencer Story. photo
Ms. Spencer’s stories have appeared five times in the O. Henry Prize Stories. She has received numerous awards, including the PEN/Malamud Award for the Short Story in 2007, the Recognition Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1952; a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1953; the Kenyon Review Fiction Fellowship (1956-57), the First Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1957; the Bellaman Award (1968); the Award of Merit Medal for the Short Story from the American Academy in 1983; National Endowments for the Arts Fellowship (1983); the National Endowment for the Arts Senior Fellowship in Literature Grant (1988); the John Dos Passos Award for Literature (1992); the North Carolina Governor's Award for Literature (1992); The William Faulkner Medal for Literary Excellence, awarded by the Faulkner House Society, New Orleans (2002), the Rea Award for the Short Story (2013), and the 2014 Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature.

She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1985 and inducted into the North Carolina Hall of Fame for Literature in 2002.

Truly a treasure for Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and American literature.

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