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Press Release, Granville County Government
On Saturday, September 28, the Richard H. Thornton Library will host a showing of the documentary “Landscapes of the Heart: The Elizabeth Spencer Story.” The 58-minute film is a project of the Southern Documentary Fund, a non-profit arts organization which undertakes projects made in or about the American South.
This particular film, as seen on UNC Television, offers a perspective on class, race and the changing role of women, examined through the lens of a prize-winning American writer.
Elizabeth Spencer was reared on a Mississippi plantation during the depression era. Born in Carrollton, Mississippi, she graduated from Belhaven College in Jackson, MS, later earning her master’s degree in literature from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.
After a short teaching career, she accepted a position with the “Nashville Tennessean,” but soon left the newspaper industry to return to teaching, this time at the University of Mississippi. Her first book, “Fire in the Morning,” was published in 1948. In 1953, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, leaving for Italy to pursue writing full-time.
After marriage, she moved to Canada in 1956, where she taught creative writing at Concordia University. Thirty years later, the couple relocated to Chapel Hill, NC, where Spencer continued to teach. Now in her 90s, she still resides in Chapel Hill.
In all, Spencer has penned nine novels, eight collections of short stories, a non-fiction memoir and a play. Her latest work is a collection of short stories called “Starting Over,” which was published in 2013 and was the recipient of the 2013 Rea Award for the Short Story. The award, sponsored by the Dungannon Foundation, is given annually to a living U.S. or Canadian writer who has made a significant contribution to the discipline of the short story form.
In addition to this honor, Spencer is also the recipient of the O. Henry Prize for short fiction, the Award of Merit Medal for the Short Story, the J. William Corrington Award for fiction and the William Faulkner Medal for Literary Excellence, among many others.
“A writer who is not writing is like a useless piece of furniture,” she says, “ready for the attic.”
Spencer’s 1997 work “Landscapes of the Heart” is a memoir that serves as the title of the documentary to be shown this weekend. Through the film, viewers will learn Spencer’s unique family story, and how tackling the important issues she used as inspiration for her writing set her at odds with her father, a deeply religious and politically conservative Mississippi planter and entrepreneur.
Introducing the film will be producer Sharon Swanson, who will be available to answer questions in a follow-up discussion. The presentation will begin at 2 p.m.
Founded in 2002, the Southern Documentary Fund (SDF) is based in Durham and covers a diverse spectrum of topics – civil rights, the environment, history and the arts. Projects undertaken are used as tools for social change, education and community development. Since its founding, the SDF has sponsored more than 100 independent documentaries and has 77 active ones on the roster.
The Richard H. Thornton Library is located at 210 Main Street in Oxford and is one of four branches of the Granville County Library System. For more details about this event, contact Stefani Perry at 919-693-1121.