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University of Mississippi

MS Institute of Arts & Letters Announces Awards


The Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters (MIAL) has announced its award winners for works first published, performed, or shown in the year 2014, and a number of them have connections with the Lafayette-Oxford-University community.

The award recipients, chosen by out-of-state judges prominent in their respective fields, will be honored at the annual awards banquet to be held this year at the Lake Terrace Convention Center in Hattiesburg on June 6. At 1:30 p.m. on June 6, readings and signings by MIAL award winners will take place at Ogletree House at the University of Southern Mississippi.

It is with great pleasure that the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Board of Governors announces the following recipients of the 2015 MIAL Awards:

Sammy Britt photo

In our greatest artistic moment we can merely create a weak illusion of God’s great creative genius, but that tiny glimpse of God’s beauty is more than enough to share with another soul.—Sammy Britt

Lifetime Achievement Winner
Since receiving his Master of Fine Arts degree in painting from the University of Mississippi, Sammy Britt has taught painting and drawing. Before retiring in 2002, he taught at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi for 35  years. Britt teaches and practices the art of seeing and painting color through the language of the limitless light keys of nature. In 1963 he first began studying with Henry Hensche at the Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

He has a long list of accomplishments in the arts having won many prizes and awards in competitive shows and has served as a juror for outstanding art shows in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. Britt was honored by Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Laurel, Mississippi by being invited to participate in the “A Painter’s Painter: Charles Webster Hawthorne; The Influence of Provincetown and Henry Hensche on Sammy Britt, Gerald DeLoach, Richard Kelso, and George T. Thurmond” Exhibition in 1999. He received the Kossman Outstanding Teacher Award at Delta State University in 2002. He was featured on Mississippi Educational Television, is a member of Omicron Delta Kappa Honorary Leadership Fraternity, was chosen one of the Outstanding Educators in America and is listed in Who’s Who in American Art.


Elizabeth Spencer is the winner of the Fiction Award for her collection of nine stories titled “Starting Over.” The writer Alice Munro says of Spencer’s stories, “What her stories do wonderfully, for me, is explore the ties that bind — in families, friendships, communities, marriages — how mysterious, twisted, chafing, inescapable, and life-supporting such ties are.” Born in Carrollton, Spencer received her A.B. from Belhaven and her M.A. from Vanderbilt University. Winner of numerous awards such as the PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction, Thomas Wolfe Award for Literature, the John Dos Passos Award for Literature, and the Award of Merit Medal for the Short Story from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Spencer is the author of nine novels, five collections of short stories, a memoir, and a play. She was the 2009 winner of the MIAL Lifetime Achievement Award.

From The New York Times Book Review of Spencer’s short stories Starting Over (Liveright Publishing, 2014):

“Elizabeth Spencer published her first novel in 1948. Seven more followed, along with five volumes of short stories and the novella “The Light in the Piazza.” There would also be a play and an exquisite memoir. Now there is a new book of stories, “Starting Over.” Given that Spencer is 92, it’s tempting to call the title audacious, but since there seems to be nothing this extraordinary writer can’t do, maybe she’s just being realistic.”

“Elizabeth Spencer seems to have spent her life watching, observing, always paying close attention, and for her it’s the whole truth or nothing. As far as I can tell, she never missed a thing. Judging from the stories in her latest collection, she’s not about to start now.”

Read what Spencer has to say about teaching at UM, growing up in Mississippi, and The Art of Fiction in her Paris Review interview.

The winner of the Nonfiction Award is Dennis Mitchell for his work “A New History of Mississippi,” the first comprehensive history of Mississippi since a bicentennial history was published in 1976. Mitchell, of Lauderdale, is the head of the Division of Arts and Sciences and Professor of History at Mississippi State University in Meridian.

Dennis J. Mitchell, professor of history and chair of the Division of Arts and Sciences at Mississippi State University in Meridian, is author of Cross and Tory Democracy and Mississippi Liberal: Biography of Frank E. Smith (Foreward by William F. Winter).

Clarence L. Mohr, chair and professor of history at the University of South Alabama, says of Mitchell’s work, “Simply stated. ‘A New History of Mississippi’ is that rarest of achievements among state histories: a genuinely authoritative work that also tells a compelling story.” Mitchell holds the M.A. and PhD. from the University of Mississippi. He is the author of three other nonfiction works

Sid Salter, journalist and author, writes:

“In A New History of Mississippi, Dennis J. Mitchell has meticulously researched and written an incredibly valuable examination of Mississippi’s bewitching history—warts and all. The strength of Mitchell’s work is that he provides context, continuity, and perspective in chronicling the state’s past and linking that past to our shared future. Mitchell’s writing on the civil rights movement in Mississippi is honest and exhaustive, yet it conveys a sense of hope and possibility. From the history of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes to state reaction to the modern novel and film, The Help, Mitchell’s book is not for the faint of heart or those who would whitewash Mississippi’s true past. But this book should be a staple in the personal libraries of all serious students of our state’s history.”

Tim Earley, a visiting assistant professor of English at the University of Mississippi, is the Poetry Award winner for his collection entitled “Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery.” This is the Oxford resident’s third collection of poems. Seth Abramson, assistant professor of English at the University of New Hampshire, says of Earley’s work, “…a master of anaphora, Biblical rhythms, revelatory testimony, tell-it-slant aggression, and juxtapositive imagery that borrows heavily from the Southern lexicon.” Earley holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Alabama.

poems-descriptive-coverTim Earley’s Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (Horse Less Press, 2014) is described by judge Jason Koo:

“Part Henry Miller, part Rimbaud, part Whitman, part Joyce, all swirled into the “poor, rude clown” of mad John Clare resurrected and rampaging through the “post-natal slime” of the American South, Tim Earley reinvents or damn near obliterates the prose poem in Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery, a book of “abundant strangeness” and originality, a teeming cesspool of language like a “disease that overspills.” Every sentence in this book is alive and creepy-crawly with creation, belying the book’s title, because there is nothing “descriptive,” but detonating, about what these poems do to the language and the landscape. This book could only be “described” as “like when order is a disrober is a disorder is an ordinance which evades and invades itself.” What a terrifying, exhilarating ride, with death riding shotgun, that asks, “Are not our cesspools shared … are not our miseries the same?” This writer eats at his “death each day of [his] life. It feels like practice. It is [his] job.” Luckily for us he takes this difficult task on. This is a book like no other.”


Chosen for the Photography Award is Maude Schuyler Clay of Sumner for her book “Delta Dogs.” After attending the University of Mississippi and the Memphis Academy of Arts, Clay worked for the photographer William Eggleston. She has also worked as a photography editor and photographer for Esquire, Fortune, Vanity Fair, and the Oxford American. “Delta Dogs” celebrates Delta dogs in Delta landscapes. The photographer Linn Underhill says of Clay’s work, “She does not force pictures into the realm of the picturesque, she simply points. At its most basic, that is what the camera does best …”

Delta Dogs (University of Mississippi Press, 2014), By Maude Schuyler Clay, Introduction by Brad Watson, Essay by Beth Ann Fennelly, associate professor of English and director of the MFA in Creative Writing Program.

Writers Brad Watson and Beth Ann Fennelly ponder Clay’s dogs and their connections to the Delta, speculating about their role in the drama of everyday life and about their relationships to the humans who share this landscape with them. In a photographer’s afterword, Clay writes about discovering the beauty of her native land from within. She finds that the ubiquitous presence of the Delta dog gives scale, life, and sometimes even whimsy and intent to her Mississippi landscape.