Zale Program Turns 20

November 18, 2004

Geoffrey Shannon

Officials with the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women are gearing up this week for the 20th anniversary celebration for the Zale Writer-in-Residence program, Nov. 19-20 on Tulane's uptown campus.

zaleThe event, titled "Shake Loose Our Skin: A Celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Zale Writer-in-Residence Program," will celebrate the program's long history of bringing women writers and poets to talk and teach at Tulane.

The Zale Writer-in-Residence program has been a staple of the Tulane literary scene since 1986 when Dana Zale Gerard, a 1985 Newcomb graduate looking for a way to give back to the university, noticed that very little women's literature was represented in the curriculum, despite Newcomb's status as a women's college.

Gerard received a $5,000 grant from the Edna Zale Foundation in Dallas to fund a women's literary symposium at Tulane. Since then, 19 women authors and poets have visited Tulane to share their views and skills with creative writing students during writing workshops and guest lectures. Writers are chosen for their cultural diversity and Southern perspective in their writing.

A committee of faculty, staff members and students make the final selection each year. "It's rare for writers to be able to come to a university and really meet and talk to creative writing students," said Crystal Kile, program director for the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women. "Usually, they arrive on campus, meet the professors and graduate students a few times and that's it. The Zale program offers them a unique opportunity."
Starting two years ago, the Newcomb women's center began the initial planning for the 20th anniversary celebration, Kile said. To help boost the financial capability and profile of the Zale program, university officials combined the annual Mellon visiting professorship, which is intended to strengthen humanities teachings, with the residency.

The fall semester Mellon professor is Mab Segrest, a faculty member at Connecticut College in New London and author of My Mama's Dead Squirrel, considered the first book of feminist literary criticism of Southern literature. Segrest is teaching a program titled "The Local South and the Global South," using work from previous Zale writers as reading materials.

Segrest, given the unofficial title of "Zale critic-in-residence," also has helped design the weekend activities. "Mab and the Mellon Symposium have really helped with the planning process," Kile said. "The Mellon program has provided a nice connection between the departments and the research center to connect to the campus."

Three Zale veterans will return to take part in the festivities. Sonia Sanchez, a writer-in-residence in 1992, is a professor emerita at Temple University whose poetry depicts both race and gender struggles. Linda Hogan, the 1993 Zale writer, is a Chickasaw poet and writer nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for her book Mean Spirit.

Joanna Scott participated in the program in 2002 and is a novelist and professor of English at the University of Rochester. "All three writers come from very different backgrounds but they are all geniuses with their own perspectives," Kile said.

At 3 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 19, the four authors will hold a roundtable discussion in Freeman Auditorium titled "Narratives, Rhythms, Histories--Global in the Local." Hosted by Segrest, the discussion will focus on how the writers work with history in narratives, focusing on such themes as cruelty, justice, resistance, hope and cultural traditions.

The roundtable talk will precede the main-event gala performance at 8 p.m. in Dixon Auditorium. All three authors will read from their own works, accompanied by New Orleans jazz artists Eluard and Co. and local choreographer and dancer Yvahn Martin.

On Saturday, Nov. 20, the writers will visit Eleanor McMain High School to perform readings and talk to students about the creative writing process. Kile said this year's event will continue the center's efforts to inform the Tulane and New Orleans community about contemporary female literature. "Humanities aren't just for people in the humanities," Kile said. "If you look at who helps us put together these events, it will echo that sentiment."

Zale events will continue beyond the weekend, Kile said. Segrest will host a lecture entitled "Drag You off to Milledgeville: Carson McCullers, Tennessee Williams and Southern Regimes of (In)Sanity," at 4 p.m. on Nov. 30 in Rogers Memorial Chapel. Next March, New Orleans author Ellen Gilchrist will arrive on campus as the 20th Zale Writer-in-Residence and the Mellon Professor in Literature for spring 2005.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000