UM English professor receives Corrington Award for Literary Excellence

Published 1:15 pm Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Aimee Nezhukumatathil honored at Centenary College

By Edwin Smith

The Department of English at Centenary College of Louisiana has honored University of Mississippi essayist and poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil with the 2023 John William Corrington Award for Literary Excellence.

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The annual award, presented to an established, critically-acknowledged writer, honors Centenary alumnus Bill Corrington, who worked as an English professor, attorney and, with his wife, Joyce, head writer for several television series, including “Search for Tomorrow” and “General Hospital.”

The UM professor of English and creative writing is the second Mississippi author to receive the award. The first was Eudora Welty, who was the inaugural winner in 1991.

“This award given by Southern scholars and writers means the world to me because it recognizes the breadth and depth of my writing since I published my first book over 20 years ago,” Nezhukumatathil said. “When they told me I’m the first Mississippi author to win this award since Eudora Welty, I was just shocked, as I believe this state overflows with writing talent, so this is something I don’t take lightly or for granted.”

Previous recipients include such acclaimed authors as Paul Muldoon, James Dickey, Yusef Komunyaaka and Tim O’Brien.

Nezhukumatathil is a fitting honoree for the award, said Caroline Wigginton, chair and professor in the UM Department of English.

“Professor Nezhukumatathil is a marvelous author, teacher, colleague and member of our community,” she said. “I’m delighted she’s been recognized with this well-deserved award and to see her join the ranks of such other literary luminaries as Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jericho Brown and beloved Mississippi novelist Eudora Welty.”

Nezhukumatathil has earned widespread praise for her “World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments” (Milkweed Press, 2020), a book of nature essays. The New York Times bestseller was the 2021 Common Reading Experience selection at Ole Miss and was this fall’s common reading text at Centenary College, where it was used in freshmen classes and themes from the book will be the subject of several campus chapel services.

“‘World of Wonders’ is a great mentor text for students working to develop a more expansive relationship to knowledge,” said Rachel Johnson, director of Centenary’s Center for Teaching and Learning. “Nezhukumatathil demonstrates how paying close attention, being curious and opening oneself to new experiences helps us better understand ourselves and our world.”

The author said she enjoyed interacting with students during her visit to Centenary to accept the award.

“I loved that the Meadows Museum’s fall exhibition was all fine art inspired by ‘World of Wonders’ and that there was a ‘Wonders’ essay contest for freshmen,” she said. “Centenary really did a tremendous job of integrating the book in so many classes across the disciplines and they even arranged for an arboretum tour for me with creative writing students and the arboretum director.”