2018 Prize Keynote Speaker
Brad Watson was born in Meridian, Mississippi, and has lived there, as well as in Alabama, Boston, California, and most recently Wyoming, where he teaches in The University of Wyoming’s creative writing program. He previously taught at The University of Alabama, Harvard University, The University of West Florida, Ole Miss, and The University of California-Irvine. Watson has received two awards from The American Academy of Arts and Letters (AAAL), a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation.
His four acclaimed works include Last Days of the Dog-Men, winner of the Sue Kaufmann Award for First Fiction from the AAAL; The Heaven of Mercury, winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, The Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction, and finalist for the 2002 National Book Award; Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives, a finalist for the 2011 PEN/Faulkner Award in Fiction and winner of the 2013 Award in Letters from the AAAL, and The Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction. Miss Jane, Watson’s latest novel, was long-listed for the 2016 National Book Award in Fiction. All of his books have been published by W.W. Norton & Company. Watson lives with his wife, Nell Hanley, and their dogs and horses on the prairie south of Laramie, Wyoming. (Photo Credit: McKenna Lipson)
Astonishing prose brings to life a forgotten woman and a lost world in a strange and bittersweet Southern pastoral. Since his award-winning debut collection of stories, Last Days of the Dog-Men, Brad Watson has been expanding the literary traditions of the South, in work as melancholy, witty, strange, and lovely as any in America.
Now, with Miss Jane, Watson draws upon the story of his own great-aunt, to explore the life of Miss Jane Chisolm, the novel’s protagonist, born in rural, early-twentieth century Mississippi, with a genital birth defect that would stand in the way of the central “uses” for a woman in that time and place: sex and marriage. From the highly erotic world of nature around her to the hard tactile labor of farm life, from the country doctor who befriends her to the boy who loved but was forced to leave her, Miss Jane Chisolm and her world are anything but barren.
The potency and implacable cruelty of nature, as well as its beauty, is a trademark of Watson’s fiction. In Miss Jane, the author brings to life a hard, unromantic past that is tinged with the sadness of unattainable loves, yet shot through with a transcendent beauty. Jane Chisolm’s irrepressible vitality and generous spirit give her the strength to live her life as she pleases in spite of the limitations that others, and her own body, would place on her. Free to satisfy only herself, Miss Jane mesmerizes those around her, exerting an unearthly fascination that lives beyond her still.