Janisse Ray

Janisse Ray is one of the four 2015 inductees into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. 

Around this time last year a board of judges, fresh off another successful induction weekend, were debating the next batch of would-be honorees from an undeniably impressive list of writers.

On Monday, Nov. 9th, the hard work and discussions will finally pay off, as the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame will induct four new honorees, two posthumous and two living. This year’s inductees include Vereen Bell, Paul Hemphill, Taylor Branch and Janisse Ray.

The hall of fame inducts writers with special ties to the state, which based on public nominations and then debated on by a board of judges. Skip Hulett, the collection development librarian for the Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library, where the half of fame is housed, stated that the purpose of the hall was twofold.

“The hall of fame exists for two reasons,” Hulett said. “The first being that Georgia has an intensely rich literary history that should be celebrated and the second is that the hall and its inductees help bring public awareness to the rare book and manuscript library.”

Dr. Toby Graham, the head of UGA Libraries, said the board selected the four writers because they were the most relatable to the state of Georgia.  

“These four writers are all immensely talented in their own right,” Graham said. “And these are the authors whom Georgians should be reading. They reflect the character of the state and have written wonderful works of literature.”

In this year’s group of inductees, it’s easy to find the strong connections to the state that justify a candidate for entrance to the hall of fame.

One of this year’s posthumous inductees, Vereen Bell brought national recognition to the Okefenokee Swamp and rose to fame through outdoor fiction about Georgia’s environment. In addition, Paul Hemphill was a celebrated journalist with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and a Pulitzer Prize nominee for his works on the southern working class.

Janisse Ray is an award winning author and environmental activist hailing from South Georgia. She has heavily described Georgian rivers, swamps and forests in her works, and has spoken all over the country about conservation and sustainability.

When asked about her works and her nomination, Ray expressed her happiness with her selection, but also understood why she was considered.

“As for my nomination, I am absolutely thrilled,” she said. “All of my works reflect Southern Georgia’s environment because I believe that the earth is the one thing that should always be fought for.”

Taylor Branch is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author best known for his trilogy about the Civil Rights Movement and the life of Martin Luther King Jr. The Atlanta native is also a journalist and historian, and has most recently written on college sports and their place in society.

In regards to the actual induction, Ray had no shortage of positive things to say about what the hall of fame stands for and what its mission is.

“People who have vision in any arena should be honored, and the hall has taken the great initiative to honor the literary talent that has come from this state,” she said.

In addition to the induction itself, there will be a number of events preceding the ceremony that will give the university a chance to interact with the writers.

On Sunday, Nov. 8, there will Janisse Ray will give a talk on sustainability, with accompanying talks featuring UGA students. After Taylor Branch will lead an interactive civil rights discussion that will feature film from the UGA Civil Rights Digital Library.

The final event will be an author discussion series, at which Ray and Branch will participate in a panel discussion about their lives and careers. The hall of fame hopes that the more interactive events will attract more students than in years past.

“This year will be very student oriented,” Graham said. “Students will be able to ask questions, directly interact with, and get live responses from two authors who have done amazingly well in the world of the written word.” 

Check out the hall of fame’s website for detailed descriptions of this weekend, the honorees and their works.