Thanks to the Blake & Bailey Family Fund, brought to us by Maggie Blake Bailey, L'17, the John Grammer Fellowship brings a noted writer for an extended stay during the summer session. While visiting, the John Grammer Fellow conducts a reading of their work and collaborates with students in a workshop setting.

Kiese Laymon Named 2020 John Grammer Fellow

Thanks to the generosity of the Blake & Bailey Family Fund, author Kiese Laymon will be joining us in 2020 as the John Grammer Fellow. It would be hard to say whether Laymon is more accomplished as a novelist, autobiographer, or a social critic.  His recent memoir Heavy was named a “Best Book” of 2018 by the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Public Radio, and Audible, and won many prizes. His critical prose appears regularly in journals ranging from Ebony to Paris Review to ESPN: The Magazine, and was collected in the book How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America.  And his remarkable debut novel Long Division, tour de force that explores time-travel, America’s racial history, the life of post-Katrina Mississippi, and the complex anxieties of adolescence, is one of the most acclaimed books of the past few years. 

“The most exciting book I’ve read all year,” said the critic Roxane Gay. “One of those books that I just couldn’t stop reading…a classic American novel,” added Jeff Chang.  “The book could have been 27,000 pages instead of 270, and readers would not tire of the world Laymon creates for his characters,” said the Los Angeles Review of Books. 

Kiese Laymon was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi and educated at Millsaps College, Oberlin College, and Indiana University. He is the Ottilie Schillig Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Mississippi and recently served as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Nonfiction at the University of Iowa. 

The award, made possible by a gift from the Blake & Bailey Family Fund, brings a noted writer or scholar to Sewanee for an extended visit each summer during the School of Letters' academic term. The John Grammer Fellow is a part of the School of Letters' Summer Reading and Lecture Series. Read more about our guest lecturers here.


Jessica Jacobs, Poet | 2019

Jessica is the author of the poetry collections of Take Me With You, Wherever You're Going (2019), a memoir-in-poems focusing on coming of age in Florida and the complexities and joys of early marriage between Jacobs and her wife, fellow poet Nickole Brown, and Pelvis with Distance (2015), a biography-in-poems of Georgia O'Keeffe, which won the New Mexico Book Award and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Her poetry, essays, and fiction have appeared in Orion, New England Review, Crazyhorse, Guernica, and The Missouri Review. An avid long-distance runner, Jessica has worked as a rock climbing instructor, bartender, and professor, and serves as the associate editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal. She lives with her wife, the poet Nickole Brown, in Asheville, North Carolina with her dogs.

Lucy Alibar, Screenwriter and Playwright | 2018

Lucy Alibar has been nominated for an Academy Award, a BAFTA award, and the Scripter Award for the film Beasts of the Southern Wild. The film was an adaptation written with Benh Zeitlin based on Lucy's play, Juicy and Delicious. Beasts of the Southern Wild also earned the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and the Cannes Film Festival Camera D’Or. Lucy is also the winner of the Ray Bradbury Nebula Award, the Humanitas Prize, and the Nantucket Film Festival New Voices in Screenwriting Award. Lucy’s writing has been published in Zoetrope, Oxford American, and The Wall Street Journal and her plays have been seen at Sundance Theatre Lab, National Theatre Studio, Joe’s Pub, Ojai, Berkeley Rep, and Williamstown. Lucy is also a Usual Suspect at New York Theatre Workshop, a Sundance Screenwriting Fellow, associate editor at Oxford American magazine, and advocate for girls in the arts.

Stephanie Pruitt, Poet | 2017

Stephanie Pruitt is a poet and social practice artist who has taught at Vanderbilt University, the Sewanee Young Writers' Conference, and as a visiting artist in over one hundred K-­12 and community settings. She is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and Essence Magazine named her one of their “40 Favorite Poets.” Stephanie serves as a Commissioner for Metro Arts and on the board of directors for the Arts & Business Council. She prefers flip flops over stilettos, pancakes over waffles, and the toilet paper is always over, not under. When at her Nashville home, the mother of Nia and wife of Al can often be found with an 70lb dog in her lap. The TEDx speaker is the founder of NoStarvingArtist(dot)me and is committed to helping creators make a LIFE and LIVING with their art.

Meet Maggie, L'17

Maggie Blake Bailey, Poet and High School Teacher | Atlanta, GA

She holds degrees from Stanford, Oxford, and Brown, but it's her MFA from the School of Letters that Maggie holds most dear. Clearly a lover of learning, Maggie applied to Sewanee because she wanted to study and write poetry.

"I think a lot of us are waiting to be knighted, for someone to come along and say, 'You are good enough. Now you should start.' But no one will do that. You do that for yourself." And so she did. The same year she was accepted into the program she also published her first poem.

Just five years later, in 2015, Maggie published her first chapbook, Bury the Lede, and in 2019 will publish her first full-length collection, Visitation. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice and her work can be found in Tar River Poetry, Still: The JournalSWWIM, and others.

"Sewanee is a profoundly beautiful place that rewards your attention. The program allowed me to think of myself as a writer and to prioritize that part of myself."