JACKSON, Tenn. – April 8, 2004 – Everyone has heroes—those larger-than-life figures who embody their goals. For some people, they are athletes, movie stars, or presidents. For Margaret Skinner, author and featured writer at Union University’s creative writing workshop, they are authors.
“Growing up and even into adulthood, I always believed writers were the greatest people on earth,” Skinner admitted. “That ideal of perfection and the knowledge that I was not the greatest person on earth made me afraid to even try writing. Because of that, I didn’t begin writing until I was in my 40s.”
Fortunately for the rest of the world and for the crowd that gathered to hear readings from her latest work, Skinner finally overcame that awe and fear. A native of Memphis, she has written two novels, Old Jim Canaan and Molly Flanagan and the Holy Ghost, published by Algonquin Books, one of the top publishers of Southern fiction.
“I would say that Margaret Skinner is one of our best Southern writers we have right now,” said Bobby Rogers, professor of English at Union and a longtime friend of Skinner. “She is admirably carrying on the tradition of Eudora Welty and Carson McCullers.”
Skinner read from her latest work, The Road to Finisterre, which will be published soon. The somewhat autobiographical work tells the story of a woman who makes a 500-mile trek across Italy in an attempt to deal with her life and an unexpected encounter with a returned war hero. In the end, the novel's themes of reunion and ritual merge to carry the warning: be careful for what you wish.
Describing the influences on her writing, Skinner said, “My Catholic upbringing caused me to focus on ritual and metaphor, both things which play an important part in my writing.”
Skinner is also working on a revision of her work, A True Life Paint Store, which tells the story of a family of house painters, set against the backdrop of the tumultuous sixties in Memphis.
In addition to writing, Skinner has taught at the University of Memphis, served as writer-in-residence at Sweet Briar College in Virginia and held several fellowships, she also has worked with area high school groups.
“Union University is privileged to be able to bring to campus a rising star among the ranks of Southern writers,” said Dr. Gene Fant, chair of Union’s English department. “We are especially excited to have her visiting as a part of the West Tennessee High School Creative Writing Workshop, where student writers will be able to have personal contact with a professional writer.”
This year’s annual Creative Writing Workshop for West Tennessee high school students had a record attendance with 11 schools and 56 students participating. The students and teachers spent the morning in workshops conducted by Union University English department faculty and upper-level English students.
“I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with the students,” said Erin Hetzel, a senior English major. “They were great, and teaching them how to write more effectively was a good experience.”
The workshop concluded with an awards ceremony for previously submitted work in non-fiction, short story and poetry at the high school and college levels. In the high school competition, Kaylen Mallard of Northside High School won first place in all three categories and received gift certificates to Davis Kidd Booksellers.
Winners in the college division were Andrew Terhune (poetry), Mariann Martin (short story) and Mariann Martin (creative nonfiction). They were awarded $150 in scholarship money for each division and also received David Kidd Booksellers gift certificates.
The winning works will be published this summer in The West Tennessee Trailblazer, a literary chapbook.
by Mariann Martin ('05)