A debut fiction writer penning a tale of redemption, loss and social change amid intersecting relationships in the Reconstruction South and a poet rediscovering Southern roots are the winners of this year’s Willie Morris Awards for Southern Writing, housed at the University of Mississippi.
The Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction goes to Nathan Harris for “The Sweetness of Water” (Little, Brown and Co., 2021). Monica Weatherly wins the Willie Morris Award for Southern Poetry for her poem “If I Had My Grandmama’s Praise.”
In 2020, with a $3 million gift to the UM Department of Writing and Rhetoric, Reba White Williams and Dave Williams established an endowment to oversee the administration of the Willie Morris Awards.
The Connecticut couple created the awards in 2008 to promote Southern writers, especially contemporary ones, while also preserving the life and legacy of Morris, their longtime family friend.
As the youngest-ever editor-in-chief at Harper’s magazine in New York, Morris inspired great writers and helped shape careers. As writer-in-residence at UM, Morris mentored students and aspiring writers, stimulating both their creativity and their passion for the written word. The Willie Morris Awards continue that legacy.
A national panel of judges reviewed nominated novels looking for works that ask readers to engage with the complexities of the American South.
As the fiction winner, Harris receives $10,000. He holds a Master of Fine Arts from the Michener Center at the University of Texas and was a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree in 2021.
“Nathan Harris has written a profound novel,” said Stephen Monroe, chair of the UM Department of Writing and Rhetoric. “We hope the Willie Morris Award leads more people to read his beautiful debut.”
The Seattle resident received national attention when Oprah Winfrey selected his novel for her book club, propelling it to New York Times bestselling status.
“I’m so humbled to be the recipient of the Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction,” Harris said. “Allow me to express my deepest gratitude for the judges, the University of Mississippi and the spirit and legacy of Mr. Morris himself. This is an honor I will be reflecting on for some time.”
The Willie Morris Award for Southern Poetry celebrates the diversity of Southern verse and encourages emerging poets. For her winning entry, Weatherly receives $2,500.
A poet, writer and professor of English at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College, Weatherly’s work has appeared in Tulane Review, Plainsongs Magazine and Auburn Avenue, a biannual publication showcasing the intellectual and creative voices of people of color.
“This poem grew out of a need to not only go back to my Southern roots, but it also spoke to where I was personally at the time,” she said. “Winning the Willie Morris Award affirms to me that writing in your truth is what this art form is all about. I am incredibly grateful for this artistic space to share my writing.”
For more information concerning the awards and nominations, visit The Willie Morris Awards.
The endowment is open to support from businesses, organizations, individuals and others. Gifts can be made to the Reba White Williams and Dave Williams Endowment by sending a check, with the fund’s name noted on the memo line, to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655, or https://give.olemiss.edu.
For more information, contact Nikki Neely Davis, executive director of development for principal gifts, at 662-915-6678 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Susan Nicholas/UM MarCom