‘Nothing better than being a writer,’ says Hall-Waters Prize recipient Patricia Foster

Foster received the award on April 12 during a luncheon in the International Arts Center on the Troy Campus.

Foster received the award on April 12 during a luncheon in the International Arts Center on the Troy Campus.

Author and Fairhope native Patricia Foster received the Hall-Waters Prize from Troy University during a ceremony on April 12 at the Troy Campus.

The celebration of Foster, who is professor emerita at the University of Iowa’s Master of Fine Arts Program where she taught for more than 25 years, began with the author reading selections from her most recent memoir, “Written in the Sky: Lessons of a Southern Daughter” and responding to questions from TROY students.

The reading was followed by a luncheon in the University’s International Arts Center, where Foster was presented with the award.

The day began with Foster reading from her most recent memoir, “Written in the Sky: Lessons of a Southern Daughter,” and answering questions from TROY students.

“I am so honored to receive this award and I’m simultaneously humbled,” Foster said. “I want to thank Dr. Hawkins and Dr. Curnutt. I hope you all will write. I think there is nothing better than being a writer. It probably ages you quickly, but it makes you more thoughtful and it makes you more conscious of your own lack of dignity and you own becoming. The students here have been so articulate and so eloquent in their questions and their comments. Troy is lovely. This has been a wonderful experience. It is wonderful to come back to Alabama. As I told the students earlier, you can take the girl out of Alabama, but you can’t take Alabama out of the girl. I’ve always come back, and I’ve always written about Alabama or the South and I know that’s not going to stop.”

Endowed by the late Dr. Wade Hall, a Bullock County native and TROY alumnus, in memory of his parents Wade Hall, Sr. and Sarah Elizabeth Waters, the award is presented regularly to a person who has made significant contributions to Southern heritage and culture in history, literature or the arts. Past winners include Rep. John Lewis, Bobbie Ann Mason, Pat Conroy, Natasha Trethewey, Cassandra King, Ace Atkins, and the songwriting team of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, among others.

Drawing on themes common to the writings of both Hall and Foster, Troy University Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr. said that strength is found in differences.

“I think we are all victims or creatures of the experiences that we have had,” he said. “I think one thing that has driven us at Troy University is the recognition that there is strength in differences. You don’t have to be afraid of differences. I think that has been at the heart of us wanting students from around the world to come to this place to create a new and different culture where people from all backgrounds, races and beliefs can learn from each other. It is from understanding that appreciation develops, and then lasting relationships are the result.”

Foster responds to questions from students from Dr. Kirk Curnutt’s senior seminar class.

Gregg Swem, representing the late Dr. Hall, used the term “self-discovery” to describe Foster’s work.  

“After reading some of honoree Patricia Foster’s works, the term self-discovery comes to mind,” Swem said. “Like Wade Hall, the creator of this award and a 1953 alumnus of the University, Professor Foster was on a journey of self-discovery. When Wade completed a series of 19 interviews in his home community that evolved into the book “Conecuh People: Words of Life from the Alabama Black Belt,” there were similar revelations.”

Foster is the author of eight books, including, in addition to “Written in the Sky,” published by the University of Alabama Press, the novel “Girl from Soldier Creek,” the essay collection “Just Beneath My Skin,” and the memoir “All the Lost Girls: Confessions of a Southern Daughter.” Additionally, she co-edited the creative nonfiction anthology “Understanding the Essay” with Jeff Porter, and three collections of women’s nonfiction, “The Healing Circle: Narratives of Recovery,” co-edited with Mary Swander, “Sister to Sister,” and “Minding the Body: Women Writers on Body and Soul.”She is the recipient of a 2020 Pushcart Prize, the Clarence Cason Award for Nonfiction, and the SFA Prize for the Novel, among many other honors.

For the third straight year, English majors in Dr. Kirk Curnutt’s English 4495, senior seminar, are organizing the Hall-Waters ceremony, from picking the menu and writing the award citation to publicizing the event.

“This has really been an opportunity for students to understand not only how events are planned but how to put events together. Many of them will go on to careers in arts management and events planning,” Curnutt said. “They sat down and really studied Professor Foster’s career and tore the book ‘Written in the Sky’ to find interesting things to say to her.”

Students participating in the program were: Destiny Ford, Jason Frye, Carolyn McInnis, Jonathan Sheffield, and Makayla Thomas, who served as emcee of the luncheon.