For nearly every field of endeavor, there is a list of practitioners who have achieved preeminence. These individuals are the inspiration for the concept of the hall of fame. Sometimes these “halls” are made of brick and mortar, like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio; sometimes they are figurative, like the South Carolina Academy of Authors.
Founded in 1986, the Academy seeks to “identify and recognize South Carolina’s distinguished writers, living and deceased, and to promote the reading and rediscovery of their works.”
Each year the Board of Governors, made up of individuals from across the state, select a roster of inductees. Among the first to be inducted in the state’s literary hall of fame in 1986 were 19th-century novelist and man of letters William Gilmore Simms, whose historical romances are often compared to the Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper; novelist Julia Peterkin, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning “Scarlet Sister Mary” chronicled the folkways of African-Americans on her husband’s plantation; and poet and novelist James Dickey, whose most famous work is “Deliverance.”
Since that time, the list has expanded to include such historical luminaries as poet Henry Timrod, diarist Mary Boykin Chesnut, and DuBose Heyward, the author of “Porgy and Bess.” Among living authors inducted in the state’s literary hall of fame have been Pat Conroy, John Jakes and Josephine Humphreys.
This weekend, the South Carolina Academy of Authors is poised to add four more names to its roster of honorees. Tomorrow, at the new Hollings Library on the campus of the University of South Carolina in Columbia, the Academy will induct poets Nikky Finney and Terrance Hayes as well as historian Jack Bass and journalist Eugene Robinson.
Nikky Finney is no stranger to local residents since she was the featured writer this spring as part of the Oswald Writers Series at USC Aiken. A Conway native and the daughter of the first African-American chief justice of the state Supreme Court, Finney has spent years honing her craft and mentoring others. Her long-term engagement with the art of poetry culminated in her winning the 2011 National Book Award for her volume entitled “Head Off and Split.”
One year earlier, Terrance Hayes, who was born and raised in Columbia, won the same prize for his book “Lighthead.” When he was growing up in Columbia, Hayes was more interested in basketball and painting than in poetry, but after moving to Pittsburgh, Pa., where he is now a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, he decided to devote his life to the written word.
So too did Jack Bass, who traded the life of a reporter for that of a cultural historian whose focus is Southern politics. A USC graduate, Bass has written nine books – of most interest to area readers are perhaps the two devoted to the life and legacy of Strom Thurmond. Bass currently lives in Charleston with his wife, the doyenne of Southern cooking, Nathalie Dupree.
The fourth and final inductee of the year is also a journalist. An Orangeburg native, Eugene Robinson has worked for The Washington Post since 1980; for his commentary on the 2008 Presidential campaign, he won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. He is a frequent panelist on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and a political analyst for MSNBC.
For more information on our state’s rich literary heritage, please visit the South Carolina Academy of Authors on the web at www.scacademyof authors.org.
The site includes a master list of all past inductees; clicking on each name will take the visitor to a short biography.
Plans are currently underway for the 2014 induction, which will take place on the campus of Furman University in Greenville next April. Four inductees have already been selected for 2014, their names will be announced tomorrow night.
A Carolina Trustee Professor, Dr. Tom Mack currently holds the G.L. Toole Chair at USC Aiken. His new book “Hidden History of Aiken County” will be featured at the South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia (May 17-19).