A DISTINGUISHED LITERARY TRADITION
Enjoying what one contemporary poet calls our “remoteness without cultural dislocation,” Sewanee is a place of literary cultivation, where writers gather to study, learn, and perfect their craft, and where work takes root and spreads well beyond our community.
Seeds were planted in the 1930s and 40s, when Fugitive poets, Agrarians, and younger writers were drawn to Sewanee’s unique mix of American, Southern, and European traditions balanced by the progressive character of the Episcopal Church. Writers such as Allen Tate, Caroline Gordon, Katherine Anne Porter, Robert Penn Warren, Andrew Lytle, Peter Taylor, Eleanor Ross Taylor, Robert Lowell, and Jean Stafford lived in Sewanee and the nearby Monteagle Assembly, where unwinterized summer homes of the 19th century were affordable to rent for writers who divided space to live and work and share their meals and writing. Mixing art and region, something Bohemian and yet very traditional took place.
Renowned playwright Tennessee Williams left his literary estate to Sewanee to support creative writing. Williams’ grandfather, the Reverend Walter E. Dakin, studied at Sewanee’s School of Theology. Sewanee held a special place for Tennessee, given his family tie and Sewanee’s role in the South’s cultural renaissance during the 1920s and 30s. As with the Fugitives, Agrarians, and editors of literary magazines and quarterlies of the last century, Tennessee Williams has enabled an impressively long list of talented writers. Williams has done this in practical terms, by his generous gift to Sewanee through the Walter E. Dakin Memorial Fund, and by his inspiring example as a writer— the many miraculous plays, as well as poetry and fiction Williams produced. The vision represented by the generosity of Tennessee Williams is singular in American letters and has grown to represent a landmark for generations of writers.
Founded in 1892, the Sewanee Review is the oldest continuously published literary quarterly in the nation. Throughout its history, it has consistently published the modern world’s greatest writers, including Seamus Heaney, Wallace Stevens, Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Katherine Anne Porter, Elizabeth Bishop, T. S. Eliot, Jean Stafford, William Faulkner, Peter Taylor, Joyce Carol Oates, Eudora Welty, and countless others. The SR also has a history of discovering major talent, such as an excerpt from Cormac McCarthy’s first novel; the early poetry of Robert Penn Warren, Robert Lowell, and Christian Wiman; and a Flannery O’Connor story that would grow to be Wise Blood. Under the new editorship of Adam Ross, the SR will continue to seek out the best writing of the 21st century.
In the spirit of Sewanee’s literary community, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference has offered workshops in fiction, poetry, and playwriting since its first gathering in 1990. Today, the Conference is one of the country's premier literary events and brings together an exceptionally selective group of promising writers each summer. Participants study with a distinguished faculty and join a community of writers, editors, and agents dedicated to developing talent and introducing opportunity.
The Sewanee School of Letters is an innovative summers-only Master’s program offering an MA in English or MFA in creative writing, for students who have only summers to devote to study. The distinguished faculty consists of professors from Sewanee as well as from other campuses. Sessions are approximately six weeks long, running from early June to mid-July, and classes are small but rigorous. A vibrant faculty and guest reading and lecture series is hosted each summer. The program is designed to be completed in four or five summers. The School of Letters is under the direction of Dr. John Grammer.
In coordination with Sewanee’s prestigious English department, undergraduates can earn a certificate in creative writing; take classes in fiction, poetry, and playwriting; and study with Tennessee Williams Writers-in-Residence, Wyatt Prunty, and Kevin Wilson, among others. Students also have the opportunity to submit to and work on the staff of the undergraduate literary magazine, The Mountain Goat. Creative writing scholarships are awarded upon the basis of work to promising undergraduates. Scholarships to attend the Sewanee Writers’ Conference are also available to talented undergraduate writers. The Sewanee Review, Writers’ Conference, and School of Letters all offer internship opportunities, providing undergraduates and recent graduates valuable work experience in writing, editing, and publishing.
The Sewanee Young Writers’ Conference attracts high school writers from across the country for a two-week summer program to study playwriting, fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Dr. Elizabeth Grammer directs the Sewanee Young Writers’ Conference.
Continuing Tradition in Letters
Sewanee writers include poets Wyatt Prunty and Richard Tillinghast, fiction writer Sheri Joseph, essayist John Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Jon Meacham, and editors Roger Hodge and Liz Van Hoose— and that is just college alumni. Add the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Review, the Sewanee School of Letters, and the Sewanee Young Writers’ Conference, and one quickly understands that while we are proud of our literary tradition, what makes Sewanee exciting today isn’t the past but the anticipation of tomorrow.