Sidney Lanier prize to be awarded to “writer, poet and activist” Wendell Berry

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Katie Atkinson, Staff Writer

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American Novelist Wendell Berry will be awarded the 2016 Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature this month.  The Center for Southern Studies is set to present this prize April 23 in celebration of Berry’s contributions to Southern literature.  

A prizepresentation will be held April 23 at 1 p.m. in the President’s Dining Room.  There, Berry will present the audience with a reading as well as sign books.

“For several years, students who took Mercer’s First-Year Seminar classes read Mr. Berry’s poem ‘Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.’ In that poem, he exhorts the reader to live freely and love the world. The poem, and Mr. Berry’s life, exemplify many of the ideals that Mercer aspires to uphold, and his prolific career as a writer, poet and activist have thoroughly enriched the tradition of Southern literature,” said David A. Davis, chair of the Lanier Prize Committee and associate professor of English at Mercer.

As an author, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer, Berry has produced more than 40 works–a combination of fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

Berry has received numerous awards for his work, including the Cleanth Brooks Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the Fellowship of Southern Writers (2009) and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Jean Stein Award (1987), among others.

Berry has taught at Stanford, Georgetown College, New York University, the University of Cincinnati and Bucknell University.  In 2015, Berry was the first living author to be inducted in the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.

Many of Berry’s novels, short stories, and poems are set in Port William–a small farming community that sits near the Ohio and Kentucky rivers, much like his current home in Port Royal.  The themes of Berry’s writing include a push for individuals to live in harmony with the natural world. He draws inspiration from the tradition of self-sustenance that can be found on the family farm.

The Sidney Lanier Prize, named after a 19th century Macon poet, has been awarded each year since 2012.  The award recipient is selected each year by a panel of judges, including Mercer professors, scholars of Southern literature and members of the Macon community.

Berry’s acceptance of this award follows that of many others who have made significant career contributions to Southern writing in drama, fiction and poetry.  Past winners include Ernest Gaines (2012), Lee Smith (2013), Elizabeth Spencer (2014) and Yusef Komunyakaa (2015).

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