the only scam
that makes me richer
than I am.
By Poetry Bob with Elvis and the Einstein All Stars
Most poets don't drive Porsches, but Oxford resident D.C. Berry, a retired University of Southern Mississippi professor and acclaimed author of hundreds of poems and several volumes, could if he wanted to. He even came close to buying one last year after coming into unexpected financial resources.
Instead, Berry created the Elvis Meets Einstein Award Fund, which will provide income each year to two deserving students in the Department of English's Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Mississippi. He hopes Ole Miss alumni and friends will step forward with gifts of their own to build the endowment from its present value of $63,000 to $100,000, with interest from the fund to be used for awards in an annual writing contest for prose and poetry.
The inaugural winners of the contest ? Christopher Allen of Pollok, Texas, and Kevin Fitchett of Green Bay, Wis. ? were recently announced and read their pieces during the Thacker Mountain Radio program at Off Square Books in Oxford.
"I've needed a Porsche since I was 13," said Berry, a three-time winner of the Excellence in Teaching Award and former poet at the Center for Writers at USM, which also honored him as the Charles W. Moorman Distinguished Professor in the Humanities. "But knowing I could have a brag ride to Kroger, I didn't want one anymore, of course. The next best way to spend money for fun, fun, fun, I thought, was to give it to Ole Miss' MFA program, one of the top 10 in the country."
And fun is what Berry — who has twice been recognized by the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters for his work — had in mind when he conceived of the award.
"I was reading Albert Einstein quotations at the time, and they were funny," he recalled. "Then Elvis' song, 'Burning Love,' came on, and I thought, let's just call it 'Elvis Meets Einstein for Writing a Whole Lotta Funny and a Hunka Smart.' That name would draw a lot of attention to the program. I wanted something that would resonate for as long as people know our friends Albert and Elvis."
Berry requires entries in the Elvis Meets Einstein Award writing contest to be "funny and smart" — not to mention concise, no more than one page in length.
"Aspiring writers need to understand that their work is, above all, a form of entertainment," Berry said. "It has to draw in the reader from the first line because there are so many types of entertainment now, and the writer must realize he's in competition with everyone from Rush Limbaugh to Benny Hinn. If you give (a young writer) $3,000 for writing one page that's funny and smart, he or she will find an audience."
Berry brought his idea for the award and contest to Beth Ann Fennelly, a UM associate professor of English and director of the MFA Program.
"Of course, I was thrilled, and we met with the good folks in (the University of Mississippi Foundation)," said Fennelly, an award-winning poet in her own right who earned a Fulbright Award in 2009. "Sometimes these things take years to put together, but D.C. Berry has tremendous energy. We managed to create the award in time to offer it this spring."
Fennelly said there is a "dire need" for this type of funding. "Our hardworking MFAs are amazing," she said. "They take three classes a semester and teach one or two classes a semester, and all the while they're writing a book-length thesis — and they're making $10,250 a year. It's remarkable, but they are driven and immensely hungry for what our program can offer them. D.C. was impressed by their output and found a creative way to encourage them. It's truly kind and generous of him."
Neil White, an Oxford-based publisher and author, served as the judge for the first contest.
The Elvis Meets Einstein Award Fund is open to receive gifts from individuals and organizations by mailing a check with the fund noted to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Avenue, Oxford, MS 38655, visiting www.umfoundation.com/makeagift or contacting Denson Hollis at 662-915-5092 or firstname.lastname@example.org.