Ouachita Baptist University student Jody Persson has been awarded the 2012 Carol Gay Award for her essay “Take It to the Porch: Meeting the Other in To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The Carol Gay Award, sponsored by the Children’s Literature Association, recognizes outstanding undergraduate research papers in children’s literature. Nominations for the award are submitted by university faculty around the nation.
Dr. Amy Sonheim, professor of English, nominated Persson’s paper. “Jody’s choice of topic and her manner of approaching it dovetailed with this year’s national convention of children’s literature, ‘Literary Slipstreams,’” Sonheim explained.
“Interested in liminality, being caught between two states, Jody realized that in Southern culture (the context for To Kill a Mockingbird), porches were liminal spaces,” Sonheim said. “Porches are between inside and outside, private and public, open and closed. In the way a set designer uses space and structure to visually suggest ideas of the action, Harper Lee uses the Finches’ front porch for the meeting places of blacks and whites, private citizens and public officials, as well as crotchety old ladies and fun-loving youngsters.
“Since Jody’s idea addressing liminality manifested the national interest in the ‘slipstream,’ a term the conference defines as children’s literature ‘both in and of transition,’ her voice seemed natural to enter the wider conversation at the conference,” Sonheim said.
“The judges seem to have chosen Jody’s paper because she read To Kill a Mockingbird in a fresh way that articulated the narrative’s tendency to cross boundaries of even more than race, crossing boundaries of sinners and saints, too,” Sonheim added.
When Sonheim told Persson about the competition, Persson said she was “apprehensive” about entering because she had never entered a competition outside of Ouachita.
Persson found out that she won the award when she was on the way back from the Sigma Tau Delta conference in New Orleans. “I couldn’t believe it at first, and then I got really excited,” Persson said.
“It is really affirming and encouraging to have someone who is not my professor tell me that my work has quality,” Persson explained. “When someone you don’t know likes reading your work, it shows that it has true value.”
“Jody is a writer who pays attention,” Sonheim said. “She listens not only to her argument, but to its rhythm. Maybe this is what happens when a soccer-playing-banjo-picking-Spanish-speaking woman writes prose: it moves its listeners.”
As the winner of the award, Persson will receive complimentary registration for this year’s Children’s Literature Association conference, a complimentary membership in the Children’s Literature Association for 2012, a $200 monetary award and the opportunity to present her paper during the conference.
Persson will present her paper the ChLA conference at Simmons College in Boston June 14-16. She is a senior English major from Sherwood, Ark.
By Nicci Fillinger