Tuesday, February 4, 2014

UA Creative Writing program establishes Harrison/Whitehead Endowment

Posted By on Tue, Feb 4, 2014 at 4:02 PM

Authors and UA Creative Writing program alums Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly did a reading in Fayetteville on Jan. 31 to help kick off the new William N. Harrison and James T. Whitehead Creative Writing Endowment for the creative writing program at the University of Arkansas.

Named after the two men who founded the creative writing program in 1965, the endowment hopes to raise enough money to increase the stipends paid to graduate students in creative writing to $15,000 a year. Currently, the annual stipend is $10,800, which places UA far below the stipends paid to students at many top-tier creative writing programs. The Harrison and Whitehead Endowment will be managed through the Arkansas Community Foundation. Money will also be used to help fund an endowed chair in fiction or poetry.

You can make a tax-deductible donation to the endowment by visiting the Arkansas Community Foundation website, or by mailing a check to P.O. Box 997, Fayetteville, AR 72702

You can read the full press release about the endowment on the jump...

A pair of award-winning authors shared stories Jan. 31 for the kick-off of the William N. Harrison & James T. Whitehead Creative Writing Endowment.

Following a reading from their latest book, The Tilted World, Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly talked about their mentors and teachers in the University of Arkansas’ Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing. They were joined by Davis McCombs and Allison Hammond, director and assistant director, respectively, of the program, and Merlee Harrison and Gen Whitehead Broyles, the founders’ widows.

“The Arkansas program is one of the oldest and one of the best in the country,” said Franklin, assistant professor of fiction writing at the University of Mississippi. “Its first graduate was Barry Hannah, who set a very high bar for the rest of us. It could not have been a more rewarding, enriching, challenging, incredibly ‘fun’ four years. I now send my students there.”

Established in 1965 by Harrison and Whitehead, graduates have chalked up an impressive list of accolades including the MacArthur Fellowship (the so-called “genius grant”), the National Book Award for fiction, Guggenheim Fellowships, the William Faulkner Award for fiction, the Philip Roth Fellowship in fiction, and the Walt Whitman Award in poetry. Program alumni have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and for the PEN/Faulkner Award. They have also been nominated for Emmy awards for television writing.

Just last week, four of the nine nominees for the prestigious Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters award in fiction were graduates of the UA program. Two of those were Franklin and Fennelly.

Said, Fennelly, director of the MFA Program at Ole Miss, “It would be impossible for me to separate who I am now from the Arkansas program. I could not even begin to know, if the Arkansas program hadn’t been in my life, who I would be now because so much of every aspect of my life was shaped and honed [there]; not only who I am as a writer and reader, but as a teacher. The influence of Arkansas on my life has been immense and, frankly, not a day goes by that I haven’t been grateful for the teachers I had there and the experience I had there.”

The Fayetteville writing program, consistently rated one of the best in the nation, is one of only a few on the UA campus to enjoy such prestige. Even with falling revenues, it still ranks sixth in the nation in job placement for graduates, and applicants remain some of the best and brightest, said Hammond. But, according to the founder’s widows, Gen Whitehead Broyles and Merlee Harrison, a shortage of funds is threatening its competitive edge.

“Our goal is to raise enough money through this endowment to increase student stipends so we can remain competitive,” said Harrison’s widow, who hosted the Friday event. This has been one of the top-ranked programs at the university for the past 45 years. We hate to let that go.”

Newer programs across the country, said Hammond, have outstripped the UA in the amount that graduate students receive for teaching during their master’s studies. Here, the annual stipend is just $10,800 compared to $12,000 to $22,000 elsewhere. In addition, some of the programs do not require teaching by their students, she said, giving them time to focus only on their studies.

The Endowment, managed through the Arkansas Community Foundation, hopes to raise enough money to raise stipends to $15,000 annually. If enough money comes in, said Broyles, Whitehead’s widow, the plan is to help the university fund an endowed Distinguished Writer’s Chair in fiction and/or poetry. A screenwriting professorship would also be ideal, said Harrison. Two of William Harrison’s works, RollerBall and Burton and Speke [Mountains of the Moon] were turned into movies using his screenplays.

Contributions to the endowment, fully tax deductible, can be made through Foundation’s website or by mail to P.O. Box 997, Fayetteville, AR 72702.

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