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CCU Atheneum: Charles Joyner will present a personal video tour of his illustrious career to open the conference on Thursday, Feb. 17.
Charles Joyner will present a personal video tour of his illustrious career to open the conference on Thursday, Feb. 17.

In praise of Joyner: A bevy of writers discuss the South

by Mona Prufer
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Of course Charles Joyner is excited and honored to have a whole conference in his honor. Who wouldn't be? And not just a conference, but the definitive conference of all things Southern in terms of writing fact, fiction and poetry. And not just 23 presenters, but 23 prestigious historians and writers, each a personal friend of Joyner's. “Some I've known for five years, others for half a century,” he says. 

 “Writing the South in Fact, Fiction and Poetry” opens at 7:30 Thursday evening, Feb. 17, with a video presentation by Joyner, sharing highlights of his illustrious career. The conference continues into Friday with a day full of panel discussions in Wall Auditorium and ending with a Saturday luncheon address by South Carolina's most visible historian, Walter Edgar.

The symposium was organized by Lincoln scholar Vernon Burton as a tribute to Joyner, CCU history professor from 1980 to 2006, former president of the Southern Historical Association, and author of “Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community,” described as the seminal work on slavery in the South. Joyner was the University's first Burroughs Distinguished Professor of Southern History and Culture and director of the Waccamaw Center of Historical and Cultural Studies. He also received the Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Humanities from the state's Humanities Council for his contributions to public understanding of Southern history and culture. 

The featured writers include three Pulitzer Prize winners and an Emmy winner. In sessions at the Wall Auditorium, they will reflect on their own efforts to understand and portray the American South. The panelists plan to engage the audience, which is expected to include students and educators, as well as a diverse, nonacademic public. All sessions are free.

Included in the lineup is Josephine Humphreys, a well-known Charleston novelist who participated in CCU's first “Writing the South” conference in 1996, which also featured the late William Styron of “Sophie's Choice” and “Confessions of Nat Turner” fame. Joyner met Humphreys at a Charleston bookstore signing in 1984 when his book was new, and her “Dreams of Sleep” had just been published. They bought each other's books and became fast friends.

Joyner, who has recently retired as distinguished professor emeritus, has been quoted as saying the conference from 15 years ago was a “once in a lifetime thing” that would be hard to recapture. But it's beginning to look like this one might be even better.

Among the historians are Dale and Theodore Rosengarten, Charleston scholars whose accomplishments are doubled by their marital union. He won the National Book Award for nonfiction for his 1974 book, “All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw,” which was adapted into a Broadway one-man show starring Cleavon Little. She is curator of the Jewish Heritage Collection at the College of Charleston Library and developed the landmark exhibition, “A Portion of the People: Three Hundred Years of Southern Jewish Life.” Together they co-edited a companion volume to the exhibit by the same title. 

Natasha Trethewey, an English professor at Emory University, will also be here. She read from her “Native Guard” at CCU's Celebration of Inquiry in 2007, a few months before it won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Joyner was unable to attend the event because of a bout with cancer, but he read her book and was “blown away by it.” He sent her a note to that effect, and two years later he introduced her at a meeting of the Southern Intellectual History Circle, which turned out to be another friendship of historical proportions.

The Emmy-winning Dan T. Carter, professor emeritus of history at the University of South Carolina, is best known for “The Politics of Rage,” his biography of George Wallace. His script for the television documentary “George Wallace: Settin’ the Woods on Fire” won an Emmy in 2000. He and Joyner were roommates together during graduate school in 1980.

David Hackett Fisher will be on the first Friday panel. He's best known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Washington's Crossing (Pivotal Moments in American History),” a narrative of George Washington's leadership of the Continental Army during the winter of 1776-1777.

Hank Klibanoff, who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History for his book “The Race Beat,” a portrayal of how journalists covered the civil rights movement, is a former managing editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (He is also a brother of Judy Ingle, who is the wife of former CCU President Ron Ingle.)

The list goes on, but includes: David Hackett Fischer, Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Valinda Littlefield, James L. Peacock, Jack Bass (who is married to chef/cookbook author Natalie Dupree, who will also be in attendance), Raymond Arsenault, David Moltke-Hansen, Rod Gragg, Richard Carwardine, Anne Wyatt-Brown, John Inscoe, Daniel Littlefield, John Navin, Eldred (Wink) Prince, Robert Korstad, Roy Talbert and the inimitable Walter Edgar.

For a complete list of participants and panel times, go to:


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