Macon—Georgia Poet Laureate David Bottoms is serving as the Ferrol A. Sams Jr. Distinguished Chair in English at Mercer University through early March. A 1971 graduate of Mercer's College of Liberal Arts, Bottoms is teaching a creative writing course on Mercer's Macon campus.
While in residence at Mercer, Bottoms will give two free public readings of his work. He will present "Waltzing through the Endtime: New Poems" on Thursday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m. in Newton Chapel on Mercer's Macon campus. He will give another poetry reading entitled "Armored Hearts: Selected Poems" on Thursday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m. in Newton Chapel on Mercer's Macon campus.
In addition, the novelist and poet will give a free public lecture "What the Graveyard Says: A Thought on the Consequence of Place" on Thursday, Feb. 17, at 7 p.m. in Newton Chapel. In this lecture, he will discuss how Macon has influenced his writing. Much of his work is set in Macon, including one of his novels, Easter Weekend.
Bottoms is excited to be back at Mercer.
"Mercer is a special place for me, and it is a real thrill to be teaching here," he said. "The character of the University is still very much the same as it was when I was a student, which is heartening. I am proud that the University is still so committed to the liberal arts."
Bottoms recalls with fondness his days at Mercer and the personal relationships he built with the Mercer College of Liberal Arts faculty, including former English professor Ben Griffith Jr., English professors Diana and John Stege, English professor Mike Cass, philosophy professor Tom Trimble, Christianity professor emeritus "Papa Joe" Hendricks, and the late philosophy professor Ted Nordenhaug.
"Anytime you can name half a dozen people like that off the top of your head who were influential in your life, you know it was a special place," he said.
The Canton, Ga., native said he has written since he was a young boy, but he did not share his writing with anyone in high school. When he came to Mercer and showed his poetry to his English professors Ben Griffith and Diane and John Stege, they were very encouraging. Bottoms continued to write and said that Mercer and Macon were influential during this pivotal time in his life as a writer.
"Macon was a place where an artistic sensibility could be nourished," he said.
"With the Sydney Lanier Cottage and houses that look like they are straight out of Gone With the Wind, Macon has a sense of history, and it felt like a place of consequence. It was possible here to be a writer, to be an artist."
Since his time at Mercer, Bottoms's writings have been numerous and varied. His poetry chapbook, Jamming with the Band at the VFW (1978) was followed by the widely acclaimed Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump, which established Bottoms as a prominent new voice in American poetry. He continued his prolific poetic output with In a U-Haul North of Damascus (1983) and Under the Vulture-Tree (1987). Shifting genres, Bottoms used his poetic gifts in his novels, Any Cold Jordan (1987) and Easter Weekend (1990). Subsequently, he has returned to his first literary love with three poetry collections Armored Hearts: Selected and New Poems (1995), Vagrant Grace (1999), and Waltzing through the Endtime, published just last fall.
The Mercer graduate has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. His book of poems entitled Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump was chosen by Robert Penn Warren as the winner of the 1979 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets. He has been honored with the Ingram Merrill Award, the Levinson Prize of Poetry magazine and an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He also has been selected for fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He was appointed poet laureate for the state of Georgia in 2000.
Bottoms is the associate dean of fine arts and the John B. and Elena Diaz-Verson Amos Distinguished Chair in English Letters at Georgia State University. He is the eleventh honoree to hold the Ferrol A. Sams, Jr. Chair at Mercer. Previous recipients include fiction writers Will Campbell, Gloria Naylor, Fred Chappell and Alvin Greenburg; poets Dana Gioia, Louis Simpson and Pattiann Rogers; and playwrights Sandra Deer, Steven Dietz, Allison Gregory and Rebecca Gilman.
Established in 1993, the Ferrol A. Sams, Jr. Distinguished Chair of English brings a nationally prominent fiction writer, poet or dramatist to Mercer University each spring to teach creative writing and highlight the literary arts. Made possible by a $500,000 grant from the Lettie Pate Evans Foundation, this endowed chair honors Dr. Ferrol A. Sams, Jr., a physician, author and distinguished alumnus of the College of Liberal Arts, whose works include, Run with the Horsemen, The Whisper of the River, When All the World Was Young, The Passing, the Widow's Mite and Christmas Gift.