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History of the CSL

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The Celebration of Southern Literature (CSL) and the Fellowship of Southern Writers—The Story of a Partnership

In 1981, the Southern Lit Alliance (formerly the Arts & Education Council) established the Celebration of Southern Literature (formerly the Conference on Southern Literature). The purpose of establishing the CSL was to bring authors and their admirers together in a non-academic setting, giving readers the opportunity to hear their literary heroes read from their works and take part in discussions. For writers it provided the perfect venue for them to meet their fans, to chat about literature and to autograph books.

Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, Cleanth Brooks, Andrew Lytle and Margaret Alexander were the first CSL guest authors in 1981. In subsequent years, James Dickey mesmerized CSL attendees with readings from Deliverance, William Styron recalled the segregated society of his boyhood and Shelby Foote called for history to be constructed like the thrilling narrative that it is. At the same time, Cleanth Brooks and Louis D. Rubin, Jr., were thinking about making Chattanooga the headquarters for an organization—the Fellowship of Southern Writers whose purpose would be to encourage excellence and recognize distinction in Southern writing.

Why Chattanooga over more obvious locations like Sewanee, Virginia or Chapel Hill?

"The universities most active in contemporary Southern letters...[were] associated with a particular group of writers, and we did not want the fellowship to fall under the aegis, however benevolent, of any one group," Dr. Rubin explains. "Although we ourselves were academics, our hope was that in years to come the Fellowship would be comprised principally of novelists, poets and playwrights, without a predominantly academic character."

Rubin's participation in the 1987 CSL confirmed their choice in Chattanooga. "The efficiency with which the CSL was promoted and operated, the widespread support it enjoyed within the Chattanooga community, the fact that it was a civic and not an academic undertaking, and equally that it was not identified with any one school or group or coterie or particular kind of Southern writing—these were very impressive," recalls Dr. Rubin.

Since then, the biennial Celebration of Southern Literature has become a cherished part of Chattanooga's cultural life drawing up to 1,000 enthusiastic readers from the community and from over thirty states.

In 1989 the Fellowship of Southern Writers started meeting in conjunction with the CSL, holding their meetings on the UT-Chattanooga campus and bestowing awards and inducting new members before CSL audiences. In the two decades since, Fellowship members, new and old, have come to cherish this gathering as a reunion of old friends and an opportunity to forge new relationships.

The 2013 Celebration of Southern Literature will mark 24 years of a collaboration that has launched careers, inspired words, sparked friendships and recorded history. Over 85 prizes have so far been awarded to emerging and established writers, and thousands of students and teachers have relished the opportunity to work with writers in the classroom.

Perhaps most importantly, amidst the growing trend toward decreased reading among all ages, the CSL has encouraged people to pick up a book and (re)discover the power of the written word. "Story-tellers need story-hearers (and vice versa)," says novelist Allan Gurganus. "This eco-system is less regional than it is eternal, essential."

Be A Part of It!

Join us for the 2013 CSL as we celebrate, and continue to write, the story of this magical partnership between the Southern Lit Alliance and the Fellowship of Southern Writers.  Register Now.