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28 January 2008
Dr. William A. Meehan:
Discover a New Dixie

By Dr. William A. Meehan
President, Jacksonville State University
Weekly Column - The Jacksonville News

Reprinted here in its entirety.

“A high school ring on a skeleton’s finger, a hidden diary, a rabbit who looks like a ferret … in other words, a typical week at Pinckney Plantation on Indigo Island, South Carolina.” Publisher John F. Blair’s description of Caroline Cousins’ recently published mystery book Way Down Dead in Dixie is intriguing and leaves one wanting to discover more.

Saturday, Feb. 9, Cousins, along with seven other Southern writers, will read and discuss their works in an entertaining annual conference: On the Brink 2008. This year’s conference theme is “Maybe I can explain your devil to you.” Each year a thought-provoking theme is chosen, giving attendees a hint of what is in store for the day. Gena Christopher, an instructor in the Department of English, says the quote by Flannery O’Connor was chosen as the theme by the On the Brink committee, comprised of campus and community members, “to express what we think Southern writers do — explain our lives to us.”

On the Brink, which averages 100-150 attendees, will be held on the 11th floor of the Houston Cole Library. The format consists of morning registration and refreshments followed by two speaking sessions, two book signings and a lunch after the first session and signing.

As part of the 15th year of Kaleidoscope, the College of Arts and Sciences festival of the arts, On the Brink is designed to offer emerging authors of various genres a forum to discuss how they each depict their ideas through Southern experience. The audience members are encouraged to interact by asking the authors questions.

“One of the things we are most pleased about is the casual atmosphere of the conference,” says Dr. Steven Whitton, professor in the Department of English. “Attendees have access to authors.” Dr. Whitton explains the lunch, catered by Sodexho, is “hosted” by the authors, each one sitting at a table with attendees.

Christopher looks forward to meeting new “friends” and “getting to talk with the writers and know more about their inspirations.” The lunch has become a favorite part, as well as a distinctive characteristic, of the conference which many look forward to experiencing.

JSU alumnus Lester L. Laminack is another one of the authors the audience will get the opportunity to hear from and converse with over lunch. Laminack grew up in Heflin and earned a bachelor of science and master of science in elementary education from JSU. He received a doctorate in elementary education and reading from Auburn University and is currently a full-time writer and school consultant as well as professor emeritus with the Department of Birth-Kindergarten, Elementary and Middle Grades Education at Western Carolina University.

Laminack is extremely involved in the academic community and has published several academic and children’s books. At the conference, Laminack will be reading from and discussing his most recent children’s book Snow Day! Do not hesitate to attend On the Brink because you are unfamiliar with the authors or their works. “I think it is much more fun to come to the conference with no prior knowledge of the writer,” says Christopher. “A fresh reading of a new work by an author allows me to hear the true voice when I read the rest of the work.”

Think of the conference as a unique preview screening of selections on the way to the top of book lists across the nation. Dr. Whitton describes the event as an easy, casual way to find out about Southern authors who are literally “on the brink.”

JSU has seen authors achieve greater acclaim after participating in On the Brink: Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish, as well as Time Burton’s film of the novel, and Rick Bragg’s All Over but the Shoutin’. “Poet Natasha Trethewey won the Pulitzer Prize only weeks after reading from Native Guard at last year’s conference,” says Dr. Whitton.

Come take part in the 15th annual On the Brink and discover captivating writing styles, alluring characters and riveting plots and concepts in contemporary Southern literature; discover a new Dixie.

For more information about On the Brink, visit or call the Department of English at -782-5411. The deadline for pre-registration is Jan. 31.

Erin Chupp, a graduate assistant in the Office of Marketing and Communications, contributed to this article.

About William A. Meehan

Dr. William A. Meehan is president of Jacksonville State University. His column, "Town & Gown," appears in The Jacksonville News.

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