2021 Hall-Waters Prize for Excellence in Southern Writing
Renowned author Michelle Richmond, a Mobile, Ala. native whose recent novel The Wonder Test has been hailed as a “gripping thriller” and witty satire of “high-stakes education,” will receive Troy University’s Hall-Waters Prize on April 14.
Richmond will discuss the evolution of her career from her debut short-story collection, The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress (2001) through such bestsellers as The Year of Fog (2007) and The Marriage Pact (2017), at 9:30 a.m. in the Lamar P. Higgins Ballroom in the Trojan Center on the Troy Campus. The event is free and open to the public.
The Hall-Waters Prize is endowed by TROY alumnus Dr. Wade Hall, an author, former member of the faculty at the University of Florida and professor emeritus of English at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY. Dr. Hall, a native of Bullock County, endowed the prize as a memorial to his parents, Wade Hall Sr. and Sarah Elizabeth Waters Hall. The award is presented regularly to a person who has made significant contributions to Southern heritage and culture in history, literature or the arts.
“Michelle Richmond is a brilliant writer who walks a great line between satirizing social obsessions like marriage, education, and crime without sacrificing the empathy readers want to feel for characters,” said Dr. Kirk Curnutt, Chair of English at Troy University. “Her novels are at once rich in setting, encompassing both her native Alabama and more recently California, where she lives now, and yet intricate in plots that are both complex and heart-pounding.”
Richmond’s most recent novel, The Wonder Test, introduces a new protagonist, FBI Agent Lina Connerly.
“FBI agent Lina Connerly promises to become the star of a fictional franchise every bit as interesting as Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series or Karin Slaughter’s Dr. Sara Linton novels,” Curnutt said. “It’s not easy to create a sleuth or crime solver whose interior life is as compelling as the thrillers she’s inveigled in, but with Lina, Michelle has accomplished that wonderfully. I can’t wait for the next Lina novel.”
Richmond was raised in Mobile and graduated from the University of Alabama with degrees in English and journalism. While pursuing an Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at the University of Arkansas, she met her future husband, Kevin, and relocated to the University of Miami. After stints in sales and advertising in New York City, she relocated to Beijing, China, an experience that inspired her first novel, The Dream of the Blue Room (2003). Eventually, she and her family relocated to the suburbs of her husband’s native Northern California, where the clashing political cultures of hi-tech, wellness and fitness, and gentrification have inspired her recent work. In addition to a new novel, she is currently writing a memoir about expatriate life during the pandemic in Paris, where she spent most of 2019-2021.
This year’s ceremony is particularly notable for the lead taken by English majors in Dr. Curnutt’s English 4495, senior seminar, organizing the event.
“We’re trying to give our majors practical, hands-on experience in publishing, literary
tourism, and arts management,” Curnutt said. “The Hall-Waters Prize is a great opportunity
for our students to step up and discover what it takes to host a public event, from
curating an award to publicizing and promoting an author’s appearance. After April
14, they’ll be able to walk into any organization and host an event with aplomb.”
2020 Hall-Waters Prize for Excellence in Southern Writing
Renowned author and songwriter Allison Moorer received Troy University’s Hall-Waters
Prize during a virtual ceremony.
Moorer, an Academy Award-nominee whose recent memoir, “Blood,” has been heralded as a frank and cathartic memoir of family and healing, is a leading voice in country, folk and Americana music and has written hit songs for artists such as Trisha Yearwood, Kenny Chesney and Miranda Lambert.
The ceremony, which was originally scheduled for an in-person event on the Troy Campus was moved online following the cancellation of campus events due to the COVID-19 coronavirus. Plans for a fall event that would bring Moorer to campus are under way.
The Hall-Waters Prize is endowed by TROY alumnus Dr. Wade Hall, an author, former member of the faculty at the University of Florida and professor emeritus of English at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY.
Dr. Hall, a native of Bullock County, endowed the prize as a memorial to his parents, Wade Hall Sr. and Sarah Elizabeth Waters Hall. The award is presented regularly to a person who has made significant contributions to Southern heritage and culture in history, literature or the arts. Past winners include Rep. John Lewis, Bobbie Ann Mason, Pat Conroy, Natasha Trethewey, Cassandra King, Ace Atkins, and the songwriting team of Dan Pan and Spooner Oldham, among others.
Maj. Gen. Walter Givhan, Senior Vice Chancellor for Advancement and Economic Development, presented the award to Moorer via video conference.
“We are so proud to have this opportunity to present the Hall-Waters Prize to singer, songwriter and author Allison Moorer,” Givhan said. “That Alabama voice truly comes through, not just in her songs, but also in her written work. Her memoir, ‘Blood,’ is what we are honoring here today and what a work it is. What an accomplishment it is to bring the written word together with music for a complete and total experience. We are doing this presentation virtually here today, but we cannot wait to have Allison come to TROY and have the opportunity to interact with our students, faculty and staff.”
Moorer said she was extremely honored to receive the award, especially since it recognizes the work of Southern artists.
“I’ve always been and will continue to be a very proud Southerner. It’s in me. It’s who I am, so I’m delighted that this award is given to honor works of a Southerner,” Moorer said from her home in Nashville. “The people who have received the award before me, I’m just in awe of and I can’t believe I get to be in such company. It means a lot to me to receive this award, and especially now when I feel like our lives are so different and who knows what we are going to emerge to. To have something like this happen during these times is a real bright spot.”
Moorer said the feedback she has received from her book and accompanying album is very rewarding.
“So much of the reward for me has been in the feedback I’ve gotten from people who have read the book or listened to the record or both,” she said. “That I’m able to help anyone in any way means that I have done good work, and, above all, I want to be of some sort of service to the world. It makes me feel good on another level to know that my work is being recognized by a University. It makes me feel that maybe my work has merit on a literary level as well.”
Moorer first gained fame when her debut single, “A Soft Place to Fall,” co-written with Gwil Owen, was featured in the Robert Redford-directed film “The Horse Whisperer.” The composition was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1999, leading to her performing it live at that year’s Oscar ceremonies. The title track of the album from which it came, “Alabama Song,” demonstrates the artist’s deep connection to her native state and in particular to Mobile, where she was born, and to Frankville and Monroeville, where she was raised.
Over the course of her subsequent nine albums, Moorer has diversified from mainstream country into pop, folk, and finally into Americana/roots music, where she is widely hailed for her earthy vocals and narrative approach to lyrics. While most of her albums feature her original songs, she has released two celebrated collections of covers, including 2017’s “Not Dark Yet,” on which she and her sister reinterpret Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain, and Merle Haggard.
Following the presentation, Dr. Kirk Curnutt, Chair of TROY’s Department of English, conducted an in-depth interview with Moorer focusing on her memoir, “Blood.” The full production will appear on the University’s social media next week.
“One central goal of the Hall-Waters Prize has always been to celebrate the versality of writing, to appreciate that words might be recorded on paper or they might be performed live but that regardless of format great art consoles human sorrows and uplifts grief through the craft of language,” Dr. Curnutt said. “We’re very excited to celebrate Ms. Moorer’s work, and we cannot wait to have her come to Troy, when we are able to schedule a visit, to speak with our students.”
2019 Hall-Waters Prize for Excellence in Southern Writing
Troy University is proud to announce that the recipients of the 2019 Hall-Waters Prize for Excellence in Southern Writing are the songwriting duo of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. Once described by The Independent as a "two-man soul hit factory," Dan and Spooner collaborated upon several of the defining American soul-pop songs of the 1960s and 1970s. From their first collaboration, Joe Simon's "Let's Do It Over" (four months in the Top 20 in 1965) on through Janis Joplin's seminal performance of their "A Woman Left Lonely" on her posthumously released classic "Pearl," the duo helped define contemporary Southern music as composers, musicians and producers. Spooner and Dan will spend Friday, April 12, in Troy meeting with students and talking about the craft of songwriting, while on Saturday they'll appear together to discuss their careers, both as a team and individually, in the South Tent. This is your chance to meet two keystones of the Muscle Shoals sound!
Troy University to honor Muscle Shoals legends Penn, Oldham with Hall-Waters Prize
Renowned songwriters Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, two linchpins of the Muscle Shoals music scene that helped define the soul, pop and rock music of the 1960s and 1970s, will receive the Hall-Waters Prize from Troy University on April 12.
The duo will discuss the craft of songwriting, the history of Southern music and the special role of Muscle Shoals in American popular culture from 10-11:30 a.m. in John M. Long Hall Room 104, on the Troy Campus. Admission is free and open to the public.
The following day, Penn and Oldham will speak at the Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery before performing a concert that evening featuring the numerous hits they wrote for Janis Joplin, the Box Tops, and Aretha Franklin.
“It’s amazing to look at Dan and Spooner’s credits and realize just how prolific and diverse they were during the heyday of Southern soul and rock,” said Dr. Kirk Curnutt, chair of English at Troy University and a co-director of the Alabama Book Festival, which Troy University co-sponsors with the Alabama Humanities Foundation, the Alabama State Council on the Arts, Old Alabama Town and several other state organizations. “They wrote ‘I’m Your Puppet’ for James and Bobby Purify, then ‘Cry Like a Baby’ for Alex Chilton’s Box Tops, two songs that sound like they come from opposite ends of that era’s musical spectrum.”
The duo’s ability to create music stretching across many different musical styles truly stands out, Curnutt said.
“More important is the sheer craft of their songs and the beauty with which they channel and synthesize so many veins of American music at once: rhythm and blues, gospel, country, soul, pop—you hear them all, sometimes all at once, in songs like ‘I Worship the Ground You Walk On,’ which Etta James among others recorded, or ‘Up Tight, Good Man,’ by Laura Lee,” Curnutt said. “Dan and Spooner’s songs crystalize so much of the American experience, and yet they feel as wide-open as America itself. Each of their songs, no matter how perfect the melody or precise the lyrics, provides space for the performer to reinvent the work and make it their own. You only need to listen to how Janis Joplin’s aching version of their ‘A Woman Left Lonely’ differs from Charlie Rich’s more country treatment to appreciate how flexible those tunes are.”
Penn and Oldham are legendary figures beyond their collaborative efforts. Penn was still a teenager when a demo recorded with his band, Benny Cagle and the Rhythm Swingsters, called “Is a Bluebird Blue?” caught the ear of Conway Twitty, who made it a hit in 1959. At 20, he became the first in-house songwriter at FAME Studios (short for Florence Alabama Musical Enterprises) in the Shoals, working closely with founder Rick Hall.
A few years later, Penn relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, where he wrote the classic “The Dark End of the Street” with Chips Moman and soon produced several hit albums and singles for the Box Tops, whose lead singer, 16-year-old Alex Chilton, later became of one of the most lionized cult figures in rock music.
As the resident keyboardist for FAME Studios, Oldham remains one of rock’s most highly sought sidemen, earning him inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Musicians Hall of Fame and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Oldham performed on such classics as Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” and Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” while his proto-funk electric piano drives Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).”
After relocating to Los Angeles, Oldham backed artists as diverse as Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. Since relocating back to Alabama, he has worked with Bettye Levette, the Drive-By Truckers and many more.
Since the early 1990s, Penn and Oldham have occasionally toured together, performing selections from their vast repertoire. In 1999, they released "Moments from This Theatre," a live recording described by allmusic.com as “an intimate and inspiring recording by two of the unsung giants of southern soul.”
The pair come to Troy University to receive the Hall-Waters Prize after a March 2019 tour of Japan.
The Hall-Waters Prize is endowed by TROY alumnus Dr. Wade Hall, an author, former member of the faculty at the University of Florida and professor emeritus of English at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky.
Dr. Hall, a native of Bullock County, Alabama, endowed the prize as a memorial to his parents, Wade Hall Sr. and Sarah Elizabeth Waters Hall. The award is presented regularly to a person who has made significant contributions to Southern heritage and culture in history, literature or the arts. Past winners include Rep. John Lewis, Bobbie Ann Mason, Pat Conroy, Natasha Trethewey, Cassandra King and Ace Atkins, among others.
Now in its 14th year, the Alabama Book Festival is a free event celebrating reading, literacy and the history of the book, held at Old Alabama Town, 301 Columbus St., in Montgomery. The festival offers workshops in fiction and nonfiction writing, poetry and setting up author tours.
Also speaking at the event will be Dick Cooper, whose photographs of Muscle Shoals music in the 1970s offer the most comprehensive visual record of the scene. For a schedule of authors and events and more information about Penn and Oldham’s concert on April 13, please visit www.alabamabookfestival.org.