LES Award Winners
The Lillian E. Smith Writer-In-Service Award
Justin Rudder is a Digital Asset Archivist at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, as well as the founder and director of the Digital Grassroots heritage project. He has written for Alabama Heritage, the Alabama Review, and the Encyclopedia of Alabama on slavery and civil rights in Alabama, Black historiography, and geography and place-naming in Black community life.
Dr. Sarah Higinbotham co-founded and co-directs Common Good Atlanta, an initiative that provides accredited college courses in men’s and women’s prisons throughout Georgia. Since its founding in 2008, Common Good Atlanta works in 4 Georgia prisons, 4 days a week, and has a waiting list for students and volunteers. Dr. Higinbotham has worked with some of her students at Emory to extend Shakespeare studies to combat veterans through “The Feast of Crispian.” She has also spoken to policymakers, judges, and media on the ways that incarceration affects not just those who are incarcerated but also their families and children.
Sarah Browning is the author of Killing Summer (Sibling Rivalry, 2017) and Whiskey in the Garden of Eden (The Word Works, 2007). Her poems have appeared in Poetry, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, Beloit Poetry Journal, Shenandoah, and many other journals and anthologies. She is co-founder and was Executive Director of Split This Rock: Poetry of Provocation & Witness for 10 years. She is an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. Browning is the recipient of artist fellowships from the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Yaddo, Mesa Refuge, and the Adirondack Center for Writing. She has been guest editor or co-edited special issues of Beltway Poetry Quarterly, The Delaware Poetry Review, and three issues of POETRYmagazine. From 2006 to 2019 Browning co-hosted the Sunday Kind of Love poetry series at Busboys and Poets in Washington, DC. She has been nominated numerous times for the Pushcart Prize.
Browning is a columnist for the Other Words op ed service and her essays have appeared in newspapers around the country, in Common Dreams, Utne Reader, Sojourners, The Writer’s Notebook, VIDA Review, and other venues. She previously worked supporting socially engaged women artists with WomenArts and developing creative writing workshops with low-income women and youth with Amherst Writers & Artists. She has been a community organizer in Boston public housing and a grassroots political organizer on a host of social and political issues.
Dana De Greff is a creative writing instructor at the University of Miami and a widely-published and award-winning author of fiction, poetry, and book reviews. She has worked as a writing teacher in various capacities for eight years for both children and adults. She is the executive director for the administration of a $45,000 grant from the Knight Foundation that has created and operates PageSlayers Summer Camp, a series of three consecutive two-week sessions for rising fourth and fifth graders. She also served as the community outreach and public relations coordinator for the VONA Voices Writers’ Conference in Miami in 2016.
Dyan Neary has many years of experience as a volunteer and as a professional teaching literacy and creative writing in prison systems, low-income communities, and in the classroom. She served as a volunteer with Books Through Bars, a New York-based organization that sent books to prisoners for free. While living in Ecuador, she visited a women’s prison twice a week, teaching elementary school children to read in one of only two countries where children are permitted to live in the cells with their incarcerated mothers. She went on to film a documentary based on her experiences there. Neary also co-founded Picture This, a volunteer-run creative writing and photography workshop in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, NY, where she taught classes for at-risk middle school children. She facilitated creative-writing workshops at Gadsden Correctional Facility, a women’s prison in Quincy, FL. “I am committed to helping my students succeed as writers,” Neary said.
Mr. Halloran is a combat veteran, and his debut collection, Shortly Thereafter, is a memoir-in-verse documenting his experiences on the front lines of Afghanistan and the impact they had on him when returning to civilian life. His follow-up collection, Icarian Flux, explores Halloran’s post-military life with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He has conducted numerous workshops for other veterans and their families, teaching writing as a coping mechanism for those suffering from PTSD. He has consulted with the National Center for PTSD and several VA hospitals around the country, working with care teams and leadership to encourage the incorporation of creative arts and narrative medicine into treatment plans for the disorder.
A teaching specialist and the Director of the Community Practice Clinic at the University of Minnesota, Professor Cook strives to integrate her writing, teaching, and social activism while bringing literature and creativity to her community work and addressing issues of social justice in her artistic endeavors. She has conducted numerous workshops for writers and public interest practitioners in St. Louis, Michigan State University, University of Wales College in South Wales, City University in London, and also in Puerto Rico.
Mr. Kirkland is the curator of history at the History Museum of Mobile. His primary focus of historical research is twentieth-century Mobile politics and civil rights. His work on Mobile has received research and writing awards from the Alabama Department of Archives and History, the Gulf South Historical Association, and the Alabama Historical Association.
Ms. Reed is an accomplished writer, producer (an Emmy Award nominee), author of essays, short stories, and All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality (University of Alabama Press, 2006).
Ms. Best is a performance poet who has taught writing workshops for women in Atlanta through an outreach program called The City of Refuge.
Ms. Stevens is the founder, director, and a teaching poet with the Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project at Auburn University. The Project teaches creative writing, promotes literacy, and distributes reading materials in Alabama prisons.
“In its most pure form, my work in the prisons is based on the fundamental belief that poetry is life-changing and that opportunities to learn and create should be available for everyone,” wrote Stevens in her application essay.
Ms. Stevens earned a B.A. in English from Auburn University in 1994, and she earned an M.A. in women’s history and an M.F.A. in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College in New York. She has worked as a firefighter with the Farmville Volunteer Fire Department and a Council Member in the Town of Waverly. She also serves as an Advisory Board Member for the Emerging Arts Leaders of Alabama.
Mr. Dickson teaches creative writing at the Booker T. Washington Magnet High School in Montgomery, Alabama. He was named Secondary Teacher of the Year by the Alabama PTA for the 2009-2010 school year. He earned a B.A. in English from Auburn University at Montgomery in 1996, and he completed a Master of Liberal Arts degree from AUM in 2008.
“My own writing has kept me engaged deeply in Southern culture, particularly in Alabama’s culture, and I have made sure to carry that engagement into my teaching,” wrote Dickson in his application essay.
Gabriele Stauf Residency Award
Dr. Miller is an Associate Professor in The Reading and Elementary Education Department in the Cato College of Education at The University of North Carolina Charlotte. She teaches courses such as: Language Arts for Elementary School Learners, Theories and Practice for Equity in Urban Education, Racial Identity Development and Anti-Racist Activism in Urban Education. Dr. Miller’s multi-layered research examines a) racial identity construction in childhood with a particular focus on white children; b) the early racialized memories/experiences of white teacher candidates and the possible impact those might have on their practice, and c) the development of anti-racist pedagogies for elementary aged children through culturally relevant/sustaining early literacy practices Across these inquiries, she focuses on the intersections of race, racism, and racial identity in dialogue with Critical Whiteness Studies/White Teacher Identity Studies. Dr. Miller is the ex-officio chair of the Early Childhood Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) serves on NCTE’s Elementary Steering Committee.
Dr. Eric Solomon teaches courses at Emory’s Oxford College in American Studies. Last year, he taught “Queer Intersection, American Outlaws.” In the course, Dr. Solomon teaches writers such as James Baldwin and Gloria Anzaldúa along with trans cultural figures such as Kate Bornstein. He integrates Smith’s thinking and writing into the course as well. His project explores, as he writes, “the ‘queer’ side of Smith’s worldview through her relationship with long-term partner Paula Snelling as well as her connection with James Baldwin and other queer figures.”
The winner of the 2018 Gabriele Stauf Residency Award is a writer who has dedicated nearly thirty years to teaching creative writing. Denise Trimm nurtured the creative writing department at the Alabama School of Fine Arts for nine years while also completing an MFA in creative writing at the University of Alabama. In 2001 she was nominated by her students and won the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts Distinguished Teacher of Arts Award. For the past eleven years she has been teaching creative writing and English at Mountain Brook High School while also teaching evening adult enrichment classes at Samford University. Two years ago, she started “Alabama Writers Connect,” which is a community for adult writers who meet weekly and critique each other’s writing. The Alabama Writers Forum honored her as the “Most Winningest Teacher” for the Alabama High School Literary Arts Award. “I am currently editing a novel that has taken me nearly twenty years to write,” Trimm explains. “I need the time and seclusion to put that book to bed.”
McClure-Scanlin Visual Artist Residency Award
Tom Hansell is a filmmaker, educator, and author who explores relationships between energy, community, and nature. He is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Independent Television Service, The Headlands Center for the Arts, and the Southern Humanities Media Fund and his films have screened at national and international festivals, including the Museum of Modern Art. Hansell plans to use his residency at the Lillian Smith Center to focus on the Ancient New project, a series of short films, art installations, and public events that will reveal invisible ties between mountain headwaters communities and urban communities downstream. Working across geographic, racial, and political boundaries, these events will bring people together to celebrate the river and to ensure equal access to fresh water.
Teena Wilder is the recipient of the 2020 McClure-Scanlin Visual Artist Residency award. Wilder has been Yale Norfolk School of Art Summer Residence and received the Ellen Battell Stoeckel Fellowship. She has had numerous exhibitions in South Carolina and Wisconsin, and her work has appeared in publications such as Jet Magazine. Wilder’s work, as she puts it, “seeks to disrupt and redirect space, time, and form through video, sculpture, performance, and critique.” She focuses on the ways that “the black body utilizes being an inconsequential spectacle as a way to navigate restricting systems and invisibility.”
The winner of the 2018 McClure-Scanlin Visual Arts Residency Award is Ira Merritt. A multimedia artist from The Bronx, Merritt’s creative roots are in photography and printmaking. He is a retired teacher of photography for 33 years, the last 24 of which were at the High School of Art & Design in Manhattan. He built up the school’s internship program to be one of the most successful in New York City. He has been a recipient of four individual artist awards in photography from the Bronx Council on the Arts and has received grants for photography projects including documenting the residents of the Amalgamated Cooperative (the oldest housing co-op in the nation) during their 85th anniversary year. “The struggle between individual needs and wants and what is good for society has been waged since the beginning of human existence,” Merritt says. “Every individual first investigates and then debates internally before a decision is made; weighted down by a lifetime of experiences.”
Emily Pierce Graduate Residency Award
Amy Bonnaffons is the author of the story collection THE WRONG HEAVEN and the novel THE REGRETS, both published by Little, Brown. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Kenyon Review, The Sun, and elsewhere, and has been read on NPR’s This American Life. She holds a BA in Literature from Yale, an MFA in Creative Writing from NYU, and will soon complete a PhD in English and Women’s Studies at the University of Georgia. Amy is also a founding editor of 7×7.la, a literary journal devoted to collaborations between writers and visual artists. Born in New York City, she now lives in Athens, GA.