Co-Author Spouses Read for the Arts and Lecture Series Kickoff

by Zachary Oren Smith

The Millsaps Arts & Lecture Series’ 47th season kicked off last Tuesday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m. with a reading by Beth Ann Fennelly and Tom Franklin followed by a Q&A period.

Carol Andersen, president of the Arts & Lecture series, delivered the welcome to the audience. Of the around 850 students on campus, only a handful (literally, five of us) made it out for the lecture. That said, alumni and community members filled the AC Recital Hall toting Fennelly and Franklin’s books.

Beth Ann Fennelly’s reading consisted of three poems: “First Warm Day in a College Town,” “Because My Daughter Will Wonder What These Poems Were About,” and an unnamed love poem. Fennelly, an associate professor of English and director of the MFA program at the University of Mississippi, has authored three full-length volumes of poetry and a book of nonfiction, Great with Child. Fennelly earned her bachelor’s degree at Notre Dame and her MFA from the University of Arkansas. She was a Diane Middlebrook Fellow at the University of Wisconsin and a Fulbright Scholar in Brazil. Fennelly’s poetry covered a range of experiences that included the sexualization of male runners on a spring morning by their professor to the wish of a lover to travel back in time and be with her loved one.

Fennelly’s spouse, Tom Franklin read next from his most recent mystery novel, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Franklin, an associate professor of English at Ole Miss, was named the John and Renee Grisham Writer-in-Residence of the University of Mississippi in 2001; he also received a Guggenheim Fellowship that year. The chapter from which Franklin read followed a small town Mississippi constable as he investigates the disappearance of a white college student.

After Franklin finished, the two writers began reading from their newest novel, The Tilted World. Fennelly and Franklin wrote the novel together, “playing dueling laptops” as they sat face-to-face with one another. The novel follows two characters, a male and a female, written separately by Fennelly and Franklin respectively, as they chase moonshiners in the face of the great Mississippi flood of 1927, which begins to fill the Delta region as the story progresses. In the question-and-answer session following the reading, Franklin commented that the idea arose evolved from a “particularly bad” zombie story he wrote for a magazine.

Many audience questions revolved around the idea of spouses coming together to work on a creative project and whether they ever argued in the process. Fennelly responded with a smile, “Of course, but the making really was a delightful experience I got to share with Tom.”