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Artist-in-Residence reading from "Written in the Sky: Lessons of a Southern Daughter" September 20 Impact
Fairmont State News

Artist-in-Residence reading from "Written in the Sky: Lessons of a Southern Daughter" September 20

Patricia FosterAward-winning writer Patricia Foster, Fairmont State University's 2023 Artist-in-Residence, will read from her new essay collection, “Written in the Sky: Lessons of a Southern Daughter,” on Thursday, September 20 in the Frank & Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center’s Great Room of Cultures. The reading begins at 6 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

“Written in the Sky: Lessons of a Southern Daughter,” published by University of Alabama Press, is a collection of linked essays that interrogate the legacy of racial tension in the South and the way race, class, and white privilege are entwined in the narrator’s story.

"In 'Written in the Sky: Lessons of a Southern Daughter', I try to give a double portrait of place and family, writing about class, gender, and racial tensions that are entwined in my story," said Foster."  My mother, a complicated woman and a primary character in my book, grew up in a mining town in northern Alabama, a desperate place in the 1930s and 40s.  She is the impetus for many of my obsessions and anxieties, as present in my psyche as if she sat right next to me, saying, 'Keep working!'  I also write about Tuskegee, Alabama, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, and Africatown in Plateau, Alabama, because I’m moved to study the racial scars and crossroads in my past and in southern history. "

Foster will be in residence from September 18-22 and from October 16-20. In addition to her reading on September 20, she will give a publicguest lecture for the Women and Gender Studies Colloquium, visit classes, and teach a master class in nonfiction writing for Fairmont State students. 

Foster is also the author of the essay collections “Just Beneath My Skin” and “All the Lost Girls: Confessions of a Southern Daughter,” and the novel “Girl from Soldier Creek.” She has also edited or co-edited anthologies on the essay (“Understanding the Essay”), women’s studies (“Sister to Sister” and “Minding the Body: Women Writers on Body and Soul”), and chronic illness (“The Healing Circle: Narratives of Recovery”). She has published well over one hundred essays and stories in such journals as Antioch Review, Arts & Letters, Glimmer Train, Ploughshares, The Sun, and Virginia Quarterly Review, among others, and more than fifteen of her essays have been recognized in Best American Essays. A new essay by Foster will appear in the Summer 2023 issue of Kestrel: A Journal of Literature and Art.

"The story of place, I’ve discovered, emerges from family histories and cultural traditions and most importantly from wrestling with a culture’s irreconcilable ideas: the hard push to determine what matters," said Foster.  What matters are often the shadow stories beneath our mythologies, the complicated and radiant narratives that must be excavated and reckoned with."

A native of Alabama, Foster earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at Vanderbilt University, a Master of Fine Arts in Visual Art from the University of California Los Angeles, a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and a Ph.D. from Florida State University. 

Foster’s career has included teaching positions at Goddard College and Auburn University, and she recently retired after more than twenty-five years at the University of Iowa, where she taught in the Master of Fine Arts Program in Nonfiction. Foster has also taught writing in France, Australia, the Czech Republic, Italy, and Spain. In 2013, she received the Carl Klaus Teaching Award. She has also received a Pushcart Prize (2020); the Clarence Cason Award for Nonfiction from the University of Alabama (2017); the Theodore Hoepfner Award from Southern Humanities Review (2016); the Stephen F. Austin Fiction Prize for “Girl from Soldier Creek” (2016); and the Fred Bonnie Award from River City Publishing (2010), among others.

“I first met Patricia Foster in graduate school and admire her work immensely, and I am delighted that she will be in residence at Fairmont State. Patricia’s creative and scholarly interests in fiction and nonfiction and on such topics as women’s studies, race, and Southern history make her visit important not just to our literary community but to everyone interested in the world we live in. The opportunity for our community to hear her work and for students to participate in a writing workshop with her is exciting,” said Dr. Donna J. Long, Professor of English at Fairmont State.

The Artist-in-Residence Program was awarded annually at Fairmont State University for more than twenty years, and Foster’s residency will hopefully be the first in a reinvigorated program designed to enhance the academic and curricular arts programs of the University, provide the opportunity for faculty development and growth, and provide a valuable intellectual and cultural resource for the community. Foster’s residency is made possible by a University Faculty Fellowship awarded to Dr. Donna J. Long of the Department of Humanities by Fairmont State University.

"I’m delighted to be invited to Fairmont State College, to engage with so many students and faculty, to talk about our similar and diverse ideas, and to contemplate the story of place," said Foster. "As Eudora Welty said, '. . . feelings are bound up in places.' I believe that, and I’m excited to hear and read the stories of West Virginia, stories that reveal the newly awakened self, stories that touch the nerve ends, that embarrass and surprise and astound.  I say stories because the memoir and personal essay are forms of narrative storytelling; they allow a writer to use an autobiographical lens to explore her experiences and to create meaning. "

Successful residency programs have been provided in past years by fiction writer Cary Holladay; British musician Emma Peake; stage director Jeffrey Ingman; poet Maggie Anderson; sculptor Wayne Trapp; the late local jazz legend, Johnnie Johnson; British actor Roger Jerome; freelance artist Patricia Musick; opera singers Maryanne Talese and Stephen Lusmann; portrait artist Elizabeth McLain; writers Jaimy Gordon and Meredith Sue Willis; pianist Nada Loutfi; landscape painter Ann Templeton; singer-songwriter Larry Groce; professional dulcimer player Stephen Seifert; Russian-American soprano Dina Kuznetsova; and animator and cartoonist Gary Leib. Residencies have included mentoring of Fairmont State students, well-received performances and exhibitions for the college and community, and workshops for public school students and teachers.