Ford Center Studio Theatre Dedication Honors Mobley and Collins

Daughter's gift to UM also establishes scholarship in memory of beloved couple

Gary Collins and wife Mary Ann Mobley were among dozens of stars who participated in the 2005 ‘Mississippi Rising’ fundraiser at Tad Smith Coliseum to support Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The first Mississippian to wear the Miss America crown, the late actress Mary Ann Mobley, and her husband, the late actor Gary Collins, will have their legacies expanded at the University of Mississippi with the naming of a studio theatre in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts and the university’s first-ever theatre and film scholarships.

Their daughter, Clancy Collins White, of Los Angeles, has directed more than $1.6 million from Mobley’s estate to her alma mater, where she was the inaugural recipient of the prestigious Carrier Scholarship, an Associated State Body officer, majorette in the band, Miss Ole Miss and Miss University.

A public ceremony is set for 6 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 27) in the Ford Center lobby, paying tribute to the lives of the couple, as well as honoring White for her role in the gift. Before the dedication, a reception begins at 5:30 p.m., with the couple’s photos and scrapbooks on display. Theatre arts students also will perform several musical selections following the dedication.

White, a senior vice president with Warner Bros. Television, said her parents would be “incredibly honored” with the scholarship endowment’s and studio theatre’s names linking them to the place they loved in perpetuity, musing that her mom, who “never stopped talking, might even be speechless.”

“At a time when our world is in such disarray and all we’ve held dear seems to be in jeopardy, there is such an incredible power in storytelling – the power to inform, educate and most importantly transform,” she said. “My parents were huge believers in the power of the arts to impact people’s lives and make them feel. And they felt as though performing is the greatest expression of love.

“My mother credited Ole Miss with changing her life. She talked so lovingly and glowingly about Ole Miss as I was growing up that I was convinced I’d be going there too, pledging Chi Omega and telling my own stories to my children. Obviously, I stayed out West but I have always loved Ole Miss.”

Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter expressed his appreciation for the significant gift.

“We are deeply grateful to Clancy Collins White for directing this marvelous gift to the University of Mississippi, enhancing our vibrant cultural arts offerings,” Vitter said. “To have Mary Ann Mobley’s and Gary Collins’ names on the studio theatre and scholarships makes us very proud; they were both such loyal, passionate ambassadors.

“The scholarships will be life-changing to our theatre and film majors.”

The gift reflects the family’s love for Ole Miss, Mississippi and the importance of the arts in everyone’s lives, said Julia Aubrey, Ford Center director.

Recognized humanitarians, Mobley and Collins also supported “Mississippi Rising,” the Hurricane Katrina benefit hosted at Tad Smith Coliseum in 2005, as well as countless other events and initiatives designed to build resources for Ole Miss and the state.

“Mary Ann Mobley never forgot her home state as she pursued a career in Hollywood, and Gary Collins adopted Mississippi as his home state,” Aubrey said. “Throughout their lives they gave back to Mary Ann’s alma mater and supported efforts to celebrate the arts and bring attention to the needs of the people of this state.

“They generously shared their talents and influence to help throughout their lives.”

The 130-seat Mary Ann Mobley Collins and Gary E. Collins Studio Theatre will be dedicated inside the Ford Center, which will benefit from half the gift. The Mary Ann Mobley Collins Theatre Arts Scholars – the first endowed scholarships in the department’s history – will assist students who want to pursue careers in the performing arts.

The scholarship resources will have a significant impact on students, said Michael Barnett, chair of the Department of Theatre and Film.

“This assistance will enable students who are chosen as recipients to focus on their education so they can entertain and enrich audiences around the world,” he said. “They will be able to fully dedicate themselves to their craft.

“The department, the faculty, the staff and students – everyone who touches theatre and film at Ole Miss – is deeply grateful for the support Clancy Collins White has shown to this university and especially to our students, who are the next generation of those who will be able to shape our culture through the arts.”

The studio theatre in the UM Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts is being named in honor of actors and humanitarians Gary Collins, who died in 2012, and Mary Ann Mobley, who died in 2014. The university has received a major gift from Mobley’s estate that will benefit the Ford Center and endow the university’s first-ever theatre arts scholarships. Submitted photo

Mississippians gathered around their TV sets on Sept. 6, 1958, to watch with pride as their native daughter won Miss America 1959. Mobley, a native of Biloxi who later lived in Brandon, went on to achieve success in film, television, Broadway, personal appearances and as a documentary filmmaker.

The Golden Globe winner appeared in countless TV series, including “Diff’rent Strokes,” “Fantasy Island,” “The Love Boat,” “Falcon Crest” and “Hearts Afire.”

Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat was a lifelong friend of Mobley’s, beginning with their freshmen and sophomore years at Ole Miss.

“Mary Ann became Mississippi’s most popular citizen, before Archie and Eli Manning,” Khayat said. “After she brought such positive attention to her home state, no child was raised in Mississippi without knowing who Mary Ann Mobley was.

“She had a great career, and she made a movie with Elvis. If that doesn’t give you standing, I don’t know what would.”

Mobley was the first woman to be voted into the Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame. The group inducted with her included her friend William Faulkner, the Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize-winning author.

“Wherever Ole Miss hosted an event – Oxford, Washington, D.C., or California – Mary Ann and Gary were there lending their support,” Khayat said. “Gary was one of the most likeable individuals you would ever meet. Mississippi people claimed him as much as he claimed us.”

White agrees with that description of her father, a native of Venice, California, who made his motion picture debut in “Cleopatra,” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. He acted in a number of movies, Broadway productions and TV series.

He also was host of “The Home Show” and “Hour Magazine,” for which he won an Emmy. Additionally, he hosted the Miss America Pageant from 1989 to 1994.

“My parents were married in Mississippi in 1967 and from then on, my father’s love for Mississippi only grew and grew,” White said. “By the time I was a child, I think he loved it as much, if not more, than mom!

“He felt so welcomed and embraced by everyone in Mississippi and Ole Miss, something he’d never had before in his life.”

In fact, that was part of the inspiration behind the gift.

“My parents wanted to repay all that Ole Miss had given to them and provide an opportunity for others to achieve their dreams,” White said. “My mother would be overjoyed. You have to understand, she was a girl from a small town of 2,500 people who never thought she would achieve what she was able to accomplish.”

Mobley and Collins were active volunteers with the March of Dimes for more than three decades and traveled around the globe with relief organizations to end world hunger. They were involved with the Crohns & Colitis Foundation and other groups. Collins was dedicated to raising awareness about breast cancer in support of his wife, who was diagnosed with cancer twice.

Sam Haskell III – a philanthropist, author, producer and the former Worldwide Head of Television at the William Morris Agency – and his wife, actress and singer Mary Donnelly Haskell, were close friends of Mobley and Collins. Both couples lived in Los Angeles and were enthusiastic ambassadors for Ole Miss and Mississippi.

Mobley and Collins appeared in every show Sam Haskell produced to secure funding for student scholarships, academic programs and disaster relief.

“As I think of the careers of many, and I was involved in so many, I think about Mary Ann Mobley and Gary Collins and the amount of national and international exposure they had,” Haskell said. “I’ve always believed the best way to make a difference is to use whatever position God has blessed you with to do that.

“Mary Ann and Gary did a lot of good for a lot of people, whether in Hollywood, Mississippi, New York or beyond.”

Fun, Frights and Food Set for Annual ‘Spooky Physics’ Night

UM Department of Physics and Astronomy hosts hands-on event Oct. 26

An Oxford Elementary School student lies on a bed of nails as a volunteer places a weight on her while other ‘Spooky Physics’ participants observe. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – New frights and fresh takes on old delights are the order of the evening when the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy presents “Spooky Physics Demonstrations” from 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 26 in Lewis Hall.

The program will include a stage show at 7:30 p.m. New demonstrations planned include a virtual reality simulation that will allow people to see a particle detector in 3D. New demonstrations on electricity, magnetism, lasers and optics also will be on hand.

“As in the past years, there will be shows and a lot of hands-on science demonstrations with a Halloween ‘twist’ to experience weird physics phenomena, from electricity to heat and pressure to the ultra-cold,” said Marco Cavaglia, professor of physics and coordinator of the evening’s activities. “And to make the evening ‘sweeter,’ guests will be able to taste our world-famous liquid nitrogen ice cream.”

Activities throughout the evening include freezing objects in liquid nitrogen (at minus 320 degrees), generating sound waves with Bunsen burners and tubes, and levitating magnets with superconductors. Other fun hands-on experiences include optical illusions with mirrors, a Van de Graaff generator (a “hair-raising” electrical device), a bed of nails and other contraptions.

Physics department personnel also will prepare ice cream with liquid nitrogen and award prizes for the most original, scariest and cutest costumes to kids 10 and under.

“Prizes will be cool physics demonstration toys,” Cavaglia said. “Winners will be able to impress their friends by repeating some of the cool demonstrations they will see at the show.”

The annual event is the department’s way to give something back to the community, said Luca Bombelli, chair and professor of physics and astronomy.

“We, as scientists, feel that outreach and education is an important part of our work,” he said. “Many people are often intimidated by science, and children often do not pursue a career in STEM because they have not been exposed to it.

“We want to show cool science while having fun. And, who knows? Maybe one day one of the children at our ‘Spooky Physics’ night will win a Nobel Prize.”

Parking will be available along All American Drive, in the Circle, areas alongside or behind the Turner Center and the Intensive English building (just west of the Turner Center), in the Pavilion garage or in the Tad Smith Coliseum parking lot after 6 p.m.

For more information or for assistance related to a disability, call the Department of Physics and Astronomy at 662-915-5325.

First Student Graduates in MFA in Documentary Expression Program

Susie Penman channels personal experiences with crime and punishment into revealing films

Susie Penman, the university’s first graduate of the Master of Fine Arts in Documentary Expression program, visits the Isle of Man in Scotland. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Support from fellow students and faculty proved invaluable for Susie Penman, the first graduate in the Master of Fine Arts in Documentary Expression program at the University of Mississippi.

Penman, who also earned two other degrees from the university– a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2007 and a master’s in Southern studies in 2012 – received her latest degree in August. She said she made good use of the resources at UM and its Center for the Study of Southern Culture, where the new MFA program is housed.

“For someone who is thinking about it, it’s a very supportive program,” Penman said. “There are people here to help you not just pursue what you are already interested in, but certainly in my case because I had never done film before, there were people who were patient and who taught me what I needed to know.

“That’s what I got out of it most, just learning this whole new skill set, which is working with film.”

Her film, “The Knowing of People,” is about juvenile crime and punishment in New Orleans. She took a personal experience she had while living in the city and brought it to life onscreen.

“I was carjacked a couple of years ago, and the people who did it were three teenagers who were tried as adults,” Penman said. “When I found that out, before I even knew about the MFA program, I just got interested in it because I was not part of the process at all; I just got a letter saying they’d been sentenced.

“I didn’t know anything about how the justice system worked and I wanted to explore that, and then I applied for the program and it just seemed like a natural fit because it was the thing I found myself thinking about and talking about more than anything else. I was upset about it and I wanted to do something.”

Penman started reaching out to people in New Orleans, asking questions about how the criminal and juvenile courts worked, and getting a better understanding the role of the district attorney and other players in the process.

“Things I’d been oblivious to because I’d been lucky enough not to have been involved with crime before – whether as a victim or living in a community affected by crime – so it’s a combination of personal experience and field work,” Penman said.

“I asked people who either work in the criminal justice system or have been affected by violence in the community somehow and pieced together a story about the bigger picture of juvenile crime in New Orleans told through by what happened to me.”

When she arrived last fall to begin the MFA program, Penman thought she would work on an audio-based project, such as a podcast or an oral history, or photography.

“I didn’t think I’d be doing film, and then I saw that Andy Harper was teaching a class and became interested and just thought I would do it to learn it,” Penman said. Although she was at first reluctant to commit to filmmaking for her thesis, she ended up loving the work and took full advantage of the support.

“If someone is thinking about getting their MFA, there are just wonderful people here who are helpful,” Penman said. “There is a good mix of people – you know, historians – but also a good balance of scholarship and technical tools that you need to learn.

“We were all there to bounce ideas off of each other, and I never felt alone, I always felt like there were people within reach I could ask questions of. I liked the feedback I would get from people.”

Andy Harper, director of the Southern Documentary Project, said he couldn’t be happier that Penman is the first MFA graduate.

“Susie represents everything we are looking for in adding students to our new program: someone who has a background in documentary work, but more importantly has a desire to learn more about the intersections of cultural studies and documentary arts,” Harper said.

Susie’s MFA thesis film on juvenile incarceration is at once personal and provocative – a great example of advocacy-based documentary work that is so important today. Now that we have one MFA graduate in the books, I can’t wait to see who is next and what stories they will tell.”

One thing that surprised Penman was how much she enjoyed the editing process.

“Filming is hard, and there are so many things that can go wrong,” she said. “I try to remind myself that most people work in teams and they have a camera person and someone doing the interview and a sound person, and this was just me, the whole time.”

Being thrown into the field made her realize there is much more work involved in filming than people understand, Penman said.

“You have to get everything just right, and in most cases, I didn’t,” she said. “I usually got one crucial thing wrong that I had to make up for, but that was part of the learning process.”

Besides her thesis, one of the films Penman worked on for Ava Lowrey’s Advanced Documentary class last spring was “Sister Hearts,” about Maryam Uloho, a woman who was incarcerated for more than 11 years for a crime that she says she didn’t commit. Her sentence was overturned, and she runs a thrift store in New Orleans that aims to help people, mostly women, who have been incarcerated.

Although Uloho’s footage did not end up in Penman’s thesis film, it still informed her work.

“For the past year, I’ve been immersed in all things related to incarceration and trying to understand the various ways the system functions or doesn’t function, and her story was crucial in helping me understand some aspects of that, specifically in regard to women,” Penman said.

“There are so many different stories that revolve around crime and violence and punishment that we really need to listen to people who have been incarcerated before and who have had these experiences. There are so many individual stories, and I feel like that gets forgotten in the whole mess.”

Penman hit the ground running with production of four films during her MFA studies, said Ava Lowrey, Pihakis Documentary Fellow for the Southern Foodways Alliance.

“It’s been a privilege to watch Susie grow as a documentarian, and her success is a reminder of the importance of this program in shaping a new class of Southern documentarians,” Lowrey said. 

Penman is continuing her documentary work with incarceration this fall as a doctoral student in American studies at the University of North Carolina.

“As long as I can talk to people who have stories to tell me, I feel like that’s a way of remembering that this is something that really affects tons of people in so many different ways,” Penman said. “The MFA program helped solidify the idea in my head that I want to keep studying incarceration and using documentary methods to do that.

“It helped reaffirm the importance of people’s voices and storytelling in doing research instead of just going to a library.”

New Scholarship Honors Late Alumna’s Favorite Professor

Lori Sneed and Colby Kullman are linked by gift to Ole Miss Women's Council

Members of the late Lori Sneed’s family – (from left) brother, Johnny; mother, Patti; and father, Shorty Sneed – are joined by honoree Colby Kullman at a recent Ole Miss Women’s Council Rose Garden Ceremony. Photo by Bill Dabney/UM Foundation

OXFORD, Miss. – As a University of Mississippi student, the late Lori Sneed quickly formed a special bond with English professor Colby Kullman, and soon the feeling was mutual. Now, the two “great friends” will be linked in perpetuity by a new Ole Miss Women’s Council scholarship endowment bearing their names.

The $250,000 Lori Sneed Council Scholarship Endowment in Honor of Colby H. Kullman, Professor Emeritus was established as a gift to the university by Sneed’s parents, John B. “Shorty” and Patti Sneed of Gulfport.

The scholarship’s recipients will be entering freshmen majoring in English, chosen on the basis of financial need, academic ability and leadership potential. Contingent upon maintaining a 3.0 GPA, the award may be received for up to eight semesters.

Besides their academic pursuits, scholars will be expected to participate in leadership development and mentoring sponsored by the OMWC and the Lott Leadership Institute.

“We are deeply honored that Colby allowed us to honor him along with Lori because he was her favorite teacher, without a doubt,” said Shorty Sneed, adding that Kullman, of Oxford, agreed to participate as mentor for the scholarship’s first recipient.

Lori Sneed, who died of liver cancer in July 2017 at age 44, suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury in a 1991 car accident during her UM freshman year. After months of rehabilitation and a year at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, she returned to Ole Miss to complete her bachelor’s degree in English.

Kullman recalls a special memory he has of his favorite student, who was always prompt for class.

“One day she didn’t appear and I thought, ‘I wonder what’s wrong,'” Kullman said. “Well, 10 minutes into class, suddenly there’s this police officer with Lori in her wheelchair. Both looked a little bit winded. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, did she get arrested?’

“But she had parked her van and some unthoughtful person had parked behind her, so she was trapped in her van. Well, the police officer helped her out of the van, got her into the chair and brought her to class.

“She always deflected attention away from herself, so she said, ‘This is Officer Clark. He is my hero today. He just rescued me from my car. Let’s hear it for Officer Clark!’ And there was a round of applause and she said, ‘You can do better than that!’ And they all stood up and gave him a standing ovation.”

Lori Sneed

A longtime Ole Miss professor, Kullman earned his bachelor’s degree at DePauw University, master’s degrees from the universities of Chicago and Kansas, and a doctorate from the University of Kansas. His teaching and research interests include restoration and 18th century studies, dramatic literature, satire, biography, comedy and tragedy.

He is a published author and editor of a number of academic works, including “Speaking on Stage: Interviews with Contemporary American Playwrights;” “Studies in American Drama: 1945-Present” and “Death of a Salesman at Fifty: An Interview with Arthur Miller.”

Lori’s uncle, Bill Henry, quoted in Gulfport’s Sun Herald, said that beyond her humor and strength, Sneed was exceptionally kind.

“For me, the thing about Lori was, when you were with her, she always made you feel as if you were the nicest thing that happened to her,” he said. “She asked how you were doing; she’d compliment you about something you were wearing. … It’s like you were the absolute highlight of her day.”

At Ole Miss, she was a Campus Favorite, member of Pi Beta Phi sorority, member of the Committee on Disabilities and a two-time winner of the Most Beautiful Eyes on Campus contest, before and after her accident.

After graduation, she moved to Atlanta, where she worked in public information for CNN from 1997 to 2006. In Atlanta, she performed self-deprecating humor in comedy clubs, telling audiences they should request their money back if they were expecting a stand-up comedian. She loved art, poetry, music and animals.

She returned to Gulfport in 2015, where she attended St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and worked as a self-employed artist.

Her love for her family was deep.

“Nothing brought her more pride than when her mom and dad came to Atlanta so Lori could bring them to CNN or to go to dinner with them and her Atlanta friends,” said Tom Johnson, former president of CNN, delivering a eulogy at Sneed’s funeral.

During a recent OMWC ceremony officially dedicating the endowments, Shorty Sneed said he remembers the day his daughter, who never thought of herself as disabled, called to say that she would casually roll through the background of the CNN news broadcast.

“Look for me. I’ll be wearing a blue blouse and some gray slacks,” she told him.

“I said, ‘Lori I think you’ll be the only person in the newsroom in a wheelchair. I think we’ll be able to pick you out,'” her father said, laughing. “And she rolled through and just kind of looked at the camera. She never let (her disability) hold her back in school or at work at CNN or in her social life.

“She once asked one of Oxford’s finest on the Square one night if he would follow her home so she wouldn’t get a DUI. He did. And she didn’t.”

Johnson remembers Lori Sneed’s jovial spirit, an affable charisma that kept her coworkers both on their toes and in good humor.

“For me, there has never been a more inspiring example of optimism, of warmth, of courage, of humor and of love than Lori,” he said, remembering the many times she would navigate her motorized wheelchair at full speed into his office with one announcement or another or to meet visiting dignitaries or celebrities.

“One day, she wheeled into my office to tell me that the doors at CNN were not wheelchair-friendly, especially the one down the hall from her office on the sixth floor,” Johnson said. The doors at CNN Center became accessible within a week.

Lori Sneed did things and got things done.

Even now, brother Johnny Sneed, an actor in Los Angeles, gives his sister credit for shaping his personal life. A series of events initiated by Lori resulted in Johnny’s introduction to his fiance, Cristina; the two are parents of a 1-year-old boy.

“Lori passed away in July and my baby boy, Wilder, was born in August,” Johnny Sneed said. “A big regret of mine is that they weren’t able to meet, but I know that she’s with us. We see her in different ways every day.”

At the dedication ceremony, OMWC chair Mary Susan Gallien Clinton expressed her gratitude for the Sneeds’ generous gift.

“This OMWC scholarship honors Dr. Kullman and an extraordinary, vivacious young woman who tragically lost her life while living it to the fullest,” Clinton said. “The generosity of this gift, which overwhelms our hearts, will continue for many generations to give OMWC scholars a four-year academic and cultural program to prepare their lives to be world-ready upon graduating.

“Our hope is the life Lori lived will inspire her scholarship recipients to always strive to achieve the best version of themselves, despite the circumstances.”

Read more about the Women’s Council at For information on how to make a gift to support OMWC programming or a scholarship, contact Suzanne Helveston, development associate, at or 662-915-2956.

UM to Stage Reading of William Faulkner’s ‘Marionettes’

Public invited to free Monday performance of Nobel Prize-winning author's play

One of six original copies of the script for William Faulkner’s play ‘The Marionettes’ is on display in the J. D. Williams Library. The play is written, illustrated and hand-bound by Faulkner, who sold the books for $5 on the Ole Miss campus to raise money for the drama club, The Marionettes. Photo by Katherine Stewart/Department of Theatre and Film

OXFORD, Miss. – When it comes to Oxford’s original writer-in-residence, William Faulkner, most people can easily rattle off at least one or two of the titles that earned the man his place in the literary pantheon. Relatively few people, however, are familiar with a work titled “The Marionettes,” a one-act play written by Faulkner years before he published any of the novels his reputation would be built upon.

The University of Mississippi Department of Theatre and Film aims to remedy that with a rare staged reading of the little-known play at 7:30 p.m. Monday (Oct. 22) in Meek Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public, and no tickets are required.

The production is part of the Ole Miss Common Reading Experience, a program that is intended to foster a sense of community by encouraging every first-year student to read a selected text that will be woven into classes. The selection for 2018 is William Faulkner’s “Collected Stories,” which Peter Wood, professor of theatre arts, said inspired him to work a theatrical event into the CRE programming – no small feat, given the paucity of plays in Faulkner’s body of work.

“Eric Ehn has written an excellent adaptation of ‘The Sound and the Fury’ for the stage, but I quickly discovered there’s no script copy of that … it’s not published anywhere,” Wood said. “While I was researching that, I stumbled across ‘The Marionettes.’

“Since it’s a short play and something I could probably do a reading of, it seemed like something we could easily add to the theater season, and a way to take part in the freshman reading series.”

A staged reading, as opposed to a full production, is exactly what it sounds like: actors on a stage reading a script as if they were performing it, but without sets, props, costumes, choreography and other theatrical elements typically found in a performance. The play lends itself well to such a pared-down presentation, Wood said.

“The play itself is kind of a symbolist drama, and in symbolist dramas, a lot of what’s happening is in the interior,” he said. “There’s not a lot of action … it’s more of a poetic meditation on themes of desire, sexuality, growing older, life and love.

“A staged reading can convey all of that in a way that doesn’t necessarily prepare expectations for a full production.”

Faulkner wrote the play circa 1921, during his brief stint as an Ole Miss student, for the campus drama club, The Marionettes. The play is entirely written, illustrated and bound by hand, and Faulkner produced only six copies, one of which is on display in the J. D Williams Library.

It wasn’t until 1975 that the play was published commercially, in facsimile, by Yoknapatawpha Press. The Marionettes may have performed the play back in the 1920s – and that may be the last time it was seen by an audience.

“I’m not aware of any significant performance history the play has,” said Jay Watson, Howry Professor of Faulkner Studies. “It may be that in the 45-year history of the Faulkner conference (The Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference celebrating the author, held annually by the university) there were some early moments when they gave this a whirl, but in the 30 years I’ve been here experiencing the conference, we’ve never taken it up.”

Despite its limited exposure to theatregoers, “The Marionettes” has attracted the attention of Faulkner scholars and enthusiasts specifically because it was written so early in Faulkner’s career.

“Faulkner isn’t ‘Faulkner’ yet,” Watson said, “So when people get interested in this play, they mainly get interested in what it might foreshadow about where Faulkner’s going to go from here.

“I certainly think the idea of an interior life that can play itself out in highly stylized scenes, that we script and choreograph, and direct a kind of fantasy of ourselves in our interior life … this is an insight that is on the way to some of that great stream-of-consciousness work he’ll do in the novels that first made him famous.”

“The Sound and the Fury,” published nearly a decade after “The Marionettes,” in 1929, employs the stream-of-consciousness style – as well as a similar narrative device called “interior monologue” – that would become a hallmark of Faulkner’s most enduring novels; the author is credited with advancing the development of these techniques in the early 20th century.

The play is a basic melodramatic romance: Boy woos girl, girl relents, boy disappears. But the similarities between Marietta, the female love interest, and Estelle Oldham, Faulkner’s childhood sweetheart who eventually became his wife, have led scholars to a more personal kind of speculation about the author’s early work.

“On a more biographical level, scholars have been very interested in how much Marietta derives from Estelle Oldham, who at the time that he wrote this was the childhood sweetheart that he couldn’t marry and who had gotten married to another man and was no longer living in Oxford,” Watson said.

“So when he writes this play, this is perhaps a way for Faulkner to grapple imaginatively, to work through some of the issues he has with his absent love object.”

Oldham’s marriage eventually broke up, and when she returned to Oxford to live with her family, Faulkner was waiting. They were married in 1929, the year “The Sound and the Fury” was published.

“These are a few of the many reasons this play has been interesting to people,” Watson said.

The staged reading, which will run approximately a half-hour, will be followed by a talk-back with Watson and Wood in the auditorium and a reception in the lobby of Meek Hall.

Broadway Rendition of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ Coming to Oxford

The Yellow Brick Road leads to the Ford Center on Sunday

Nicholas Pearson performs the role of the cowardly lion in the national tour of ’The Wizard of Oz’ that will be at the University of Mississippi’s Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 7:30 p.m. Photo courtesy of Denise Trupe

OXFORD, Miss. – The national tour of “The Wizard of Oz” stops off at the University of Mississippi’s Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts for one performance at 7:30 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 21).

The musical, based on the most recent Broadway production, is a celebration of the 1939 film, and audiences will find all the characters and songs they love, with a few surprises.

Nicholas Pearson, who performs the role of the Cowardly Lion in this production, is celebrating his one-year anniversary as a cast member. Even though he has been with this touring production since October 2017, Pearson said he continues to enjoy feeling the energy of each audience as the show travels across the country.

“(‘The Wizard of Oz’) is so iconic,” Pearson said. “I have always wanted to be a part of it and the fact that I get to play the Cowardly Lion now is just kind of the cherry on top of the sundae.”

Pearson said he hopes those who come to see the musical on Sunday, even if they have seen the film or stage production before, will leave the Ford Center with the show’s positive message.

“Everyone always thinks that the main idea in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is that there’s no place like home, (but) it’s a place where you’re never too much of one thing or another, you’re never too little of one thing or another, (but) you’re perfect just the way you are.”

Kate Meacham, Ford Center marketing director, said she looks forward to the sets and classic songs from “The Wizard of Oz.”

“This is a great opportunity for people on campus and in the community to see a Broadway production without having to go to Memphis or Birmingham,” Meacham said. “We want them to enjoy the experience of seeing this classic adventure live.”

Tickets are $75 for orchestra/parterre and Tier 1 box-level seating, $69 for mezzanine and Tier 2 box-level seating, and $63 for balcony seating. A 10 percent discount is offered to Ole Miss faculty, staff and retirees. Student tickets are $35 for balcony seats only.

Tickets can be purchased at the UM Box Office at the Ford Center or online at Discounted and student tickets are available only at the UM Box Office with a valid Ole Miss ID.

For more information on “The Wizard of Oz,” visit

Scientist Invents Device to Improve Fishery Operations

Design being tested by Gulf shrimpers reduces bycatch of untargeted marine life

Glenn Parsons

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi marine biologist has created a new device that could greatly improve shrimping operations and is putting the device to the test through partnerships with members of the Gulf of Mexico fishing industry.

Glenn Parsons, professor of biology and director of the UM Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Research, has invented a device that reduces unwanted fish and other creatures caught during the commercial fishing process – also known as bycatch – and thereby significantly increases the amount of shrimp caught.

“Bycatch slows down fishing, requiring extensive sorting to separate shrimp from bycatch,” Parsons said. “I have squatted on the back deck of countless shrimp boats, sorting shrimp from bycatch. It is back-breaking work – sort of like picking cotton.”

About a decade ago, Parsons noticed that previous bycatch reduction devices do not take advantage of flow quality changes that encourage fish to move to a place in the net where they can escape. With that in mind and through collaboration with Gulf Coast shrimpers and scientists at the Pascagoula Laboratory of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Parsons developed an improved version.

A typical catch on shrimp boats operating in the Gulf of Mexico contains many unwanted fish (bottom basket), known as bycatch, creating work for crews and reducing the amount of shrimp caught. Photo courtesy of Mark Kopsvywa

“Called the Cylinder Bycatch Reduction Device, it was developed to increase the amount of shrimp that is retained in the trawl and to eliminate a greater number of bycatch species,” he said. “This BRD creates a flow shadow that draws fish – but not shrimp – to it. The fish are then able to escape.”

Final design modifications of the Cylinder BRD occurred two years ago. The device has been tested by the National Marine Fisheries Service, passing with flying colors.

“A BRD has to deliver 30 percent or more bycatch reduction to be certified,” said Dan Foster, gear development specialist at the service in Pascagoula. “Ours came in at about 44 percent.”

Before administrative certification, Parsons and company decided that it should be placed on commercial shrimp boats to gauge its acceptance. It is being tested on about 10 boats in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

One boat captain using the CBRD gave it rave reviews.

Shrimpers using the Cylinder Bycatch Reduction Device have recorded dramatic decreases in the amount of bycatch (left basket), which means less work and more profitable catches. Photo courtesy of Mark Kopsvywa

“He said that it eliminated about half of the fish from the trawl and lost very little shrimp,” Parsons said. “The shrimp loss is a very important consideration for shrimpers.

“Most shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico are using a BRD called the ‘fish eye,’ and it loses about 10 percent of the shrimp that enters the net. The Cylinder BRD enjoys superior bycatch reduction but only loses 1.7 percent of shrimp.”

The new BRD is fully developed and is being distributed, free of charge, to shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico. While some changes will likely be required, early evaluation of the device by shrimpers has been extremely promising. Parsons will deliver the BRD to shrimpers wherever they are.

“Feedback from shrimpers is very important for gauging the performance of the device in a real-world situation,” Parsons said. “After using the device, we require a short questionnaire to be filled out. As an incentive, we’re offering a $250 honorarium to try the device.”

Parsons’ device is funded under his U.S. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA cooperative agreement No. NA17NMF4720254, “Application of a New Bycatch Reduction Device for Use in the U.S. Shrimp Industry.”

To evaluate the new BRD, contact Parsons at 662-915-7479 or Learn more about the device at

UM TEDx Seeks Speakers for 2019 Conference

Annual event brings community together to share ideas in TED-like experience

Jandel Crutchfield, UM assistant professor of social work, speaks at the 2018 TEDxUniversityofMississippi event in February. The group is taking nominations through Nov. 2 for the event to be held in spring 2019. Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD – If you are someone who has something to say, you may be just the person that TEDxUniversityofMississippi is looking for.

Organizers of the event, which is designed to bring community members together to discuss a wide range of topics, are seeking nominations for 2019 speakers.

TEDx is an independently organized community forum designed after the national TED Talk conferences. In spring 2019, the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts will host the University of Mississippi’s fourth edition of the program.

In a change for this year, speakers can nominate themselves by submitting information about their topic and why that topic is relevant to the UM and Oxford communities. Approximately eight speakers will be selected from the pool of nominees.

“We believe a university like (UM) should be a place for learning and hearing new and different and challenging ideas,” said Marvin King Jr., event organizer and associate professor of political science and African American studies. “It’s nice to have an event like this that isn’t part of a formal class – there’s no test, no notes, no quizzes.

“It’s just a chance to hear, in one event, eight very different ideas on eight different subjects where you can learn quite a bit in two hours.”

Nomination submissions are due by Nov. 2, and those will be pared down to approximately 15-20 finalists. The finalists will then submit a short video on their topic of choice and the final speakers will be selected by the TEDx Committee, which consists of UM students. Once speakers are selected, a theme for the 2019 program will be chosen and a final date for the event will be selected, King said.

TEDxUniveristyofMississippi organizer Marvin King Jr., an associate professor of political science and African American studies,  discusses how the event is a chance for the community to hear different ideas on different subjects and share experiences. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“The best speakers are those who aren’t lecturing, but those who are having a conversation with the audience,” King said.

Anyone from anywhere is allowed to submit a nomination, but King said he hopes to focus on speakers connected to the “Ole Miss family.”

“We would love to have more alumni – those people who have their own businesses and life experiences,” King said. “That will allow those alumni to connect to the community.”

King said he originally planned for the UM TEDx events to conclude after three years, but with attendance growing, from approximately 100 at the first event in 2015 to more than 500 at the 2018 event, he felt there is a need to keep the program alive.

“We hope to one day sell out the Ford Center,” he said.

Interested speakers can apply for nomination online. Tickets will be available on the Ford Center website once an official date is announced.     

Versatility of Wheat in Cooking Topic for October Science Cafe

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi professor Susan Pedigo will lead a program Oct. 16 examining “The Versatility of Wheat in Cooking” at this month’s Science Cafe.

Pedigo, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, will speak on the subject at 6 p.m. at Uptown Coffee. The event is free and open to the public.

Susan Pedigo

The Oxford Science Cafe features monthly conversations about science known and unknown. Speakers and topics are scheduled through the UM Department of Physics and Astronomy.

This month’s discussions will center on the genetic rewiring of wild wheat to promote convenience in harvesting and planting, and how those changes promoted wheat’s meteoric rise in importance as a major food in civilization.

The event is sponsored by the Office of the Provost, University of Mississippi Women in Physics, Uptown Coffee and the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

For more information about Oxford Science Cafe programs, go to For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit or call 662-915-7046.

English Professor Included in Poetry and Essay Anthologies

Aimee Nezhukumatahil published fourth poetry collection last spring

Aimee Nezhukumatathil

OXFORD, Miss. – A University of Mississippi professor’s poetry and essay have been selected for inclusion in two separate prestigious national publications.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil, professor of English in the Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing, has been selected to the 2018 edition of the “Best American Poetry” anthology series. This is her second time in three years to have been selected for inclusion in the series.

Also, her essay “What Wonder Can Do,” from her forthcoming book of short nature essays, has been named as a notable essay for “Best American Essays 2018.”

“These are collections that I looked to when I was an undergrad to get a taste for what was being hailed as important and interesting work being published from each year,” Nezhukumatathil said. “I’m especially pleased to say for the first time in my listed biography for this anthology that I live and teach in Mississippi, since traditionally many of the poets who get usually get selected are from the East or West Coast.”

Nezhukumatathil said she hopes that her recognitions serve as a reminder of all the acclaimed literary work being produced at the university that continues to engage national conversations about literature.

“I am so thrilled to be part of a dynamic literary community here in Oxford,” she said.

Celebrating 30 years, “Best American Poetry, praised by the Chicago Tribune as “a ‘best’ anthology that really lives up to its title,” collects the most significant poems of the year, this year chosen by Dana Gioia, poet laureate of California.

Nezhukumatathil’s poem “Invitation” originally appeared in Poetry magazine, one of the world’s most prestigious poetry journals, earlier this year.

The author is most deserving of her latest recognitions, said Jay Watson, professor of English and Howry professor of Faulkner Studies.

“Aimee has long been established as one of the most original and resonant poetic voices working in English today,” he said. “Now she’s proven herself just as vital in the realm of creative nonfiction.

“The versatility she brings to her teaching and creative work, along with her commitment to continuing exploration and growth as a writer, make her an ideal model and mentor for our students.”

Due out next year, Nezkuhumatahil’s forthcoming book for Milkweed Editions is a series of essays about the wonders of the unsung plants and animals that are usually viewed as too “weird” or not very well-known, and her reflections on growing up as an Asian-American girl who grew to love and study nature.

“I think one of the great joys of writing essays is the ability to stretch metaphor and music as wide and far as you want without the exuberant tyranny of the line break,” she said. “I very much think in poems in some ways, but my knowledge of plants and animals helps me expand that lyrical way of processing this world with a scientific knowledge to back it up.

“I can’t wait to be finished with it. It’s absolutely a celebration of being present in this complex and scary and gorgeous world.”

Nezhukumatathil has authored four books of poetry, most recently, Oceanic (Copper Canyon, 2018). Her honors include a Pushcart Prize and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She was the 2016-17 Grisham Writer-in Residence and is poetry editor of Orion magazine.

For more information about the UM Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, go to