Morgan's Storied Writers
Hats Off To Writers In Celebration of Georgia Writers Month
Written by Ramsey Nix | Photographed by Angelina Bellebuono
This year Governor Perdue proclaimed March “Georgia Writers Month,” encouraging citizens to discover Georgia writers. This official designation inspired the Morgan County Citizen to track down any novelists, poets, and journalists in our midst. In doing so, we realized that Morgan County is home to many writers. As local poet Dan Hicky says, “There must be something about this area that influences people to write.”
Writing is a solitary pursuit and writers are notoriously independent. When inspiration strikes them, they’ll wake up early or stay up late tinkering with words until they find just the right way to express the sentiments they feel inside. It isn’t easy. As local editor and publisher Hank Segars says,” It’s hard work, and it can be lonely.”
So why do they do it?
Philip Lee Williams says he writes because he has a powerful need to express himself. He’s been writing ever since his father gave him a blank book when he was 16 and told him to “fill it up.” After getting nine novels, three books of creative nonfiction, and a volume of poetry published, this award-winning author says, “There’s never a time I feel more like me than when I’m writing.”
While Williams composes poetry beside the creek that runs behind his home and edits his prose inside his office at the University of Georgia, another professional writer who calls Madison home finds his inspiration in crowded arenas and noisy stadiums. Sports writer Mark Schlabach, a national columnist for ESPN.com, writes because he can’t think of a better way to pay the bills. “I get paid to watch college football and basketball games every weekend of the year. It definitely beats sitting behind a desk for eight hours a day,” he says.
Whether they cover the Olympics or the local little league game, Morgan County journalists inadvertently record history. “I view writing, first and foremost, as historic preservation,” says Segars. In addition to writing seven books, Segars has helped other writers in this region self-publish.
One such writer, Alvin Richardson, published his history of the local football program, “It’s a Dawg’s Life: Sixty Years of Morgan County Football,” last summer. Richardson says he spent four years researching and interviewing people for his book. “I did it as a labor of love for our sporting community,” he says.
Dan and Hattie Mina Hicky have also published their own books over the years. Hattie Mina wrote a memoir called “As It Was Told To Me,” because she says that her “know-it-all” neighbor was always correcting her stories about Madison. She figured if she published her stories, her neighbor would no longer be able to discredit them (Hattie Mina laughs when she talks about this).
Freelance writer and poet George Williams says simply, “I write when I think I have something to say.” And freelance writer Karen Conrads Wibell says, “Writing, for me, is a form of expression in which words create visual images to tell a story.”
And, what do these writers from Morgan County write about?
Poet Marilyn Appl Walker says she is inspired by everyday situations, and she endeavors to portray them in an extraordinary way. She calls her haiku “life songs.” While Walker writes about what she observes in Madison, her ideas resonate as far and wide as Vancouver, the U.K., and Japan. In 2006, she won the Grand Prix Award for a haiku she submitted to an international competition sponsored by the Japan Tourism Center.
Dan Hicky says World War II inspired him to write his first poem, “Fighter Pilot’s Prayer,” while he was preparing for combat. “I never thought about it much again until I started going blind. I needed something to keep my mind occupied, so I started writing poetry again,” he says.
Since then, Hicky has written almost 1,000 poems, and most of them appear weekly in this newspaper. He recently published his second book of poetry, “Madisonians I Have Known,” about the many colorful personalities he has encountered throughout his life here.
Since good writers tend to write about what they know best, Segars says he writes primarily about the American South and its people. He is the author of “The Bell Irving Wiley Reader,” “Life in Dixie During the War,” and “Andersonville: The Southern Perspective.” Segars says he is inspired by “common and ordinary folk who, somehow, are able to do uncommon and extraordinary things.”
Extraordinary events often prompt unlikely writers to record their thoughts. Gertrude Brown shares her family stories about the Great Depression in a memoir, “Winter Without Shoes.” Her second memoir, “Miracles and Memories” recalls a supernatural healing of cancer.
Newspaper columnist and blogger Jamie Miles says she’s simply inspired by life and finding God in the everyday. “Every child, flower petal, every drop of rain off the roof is inspiration,” she says. Ever since she began putting her thoughts down on paper, Miles says she feels as if “some genie has been uncorked.”
Similarly, freelance journalist Meg Ferrante says that she finds inspiration in just about everything. In fact, that’s why she writes, so that she can delve into new subjects all the time. “Here in Morgan County, there isn’t a group or program or cause I’ve profiled that I haven’t wanted to join right in on,” Ferrante says. “I get a bit emotionally involved.”
While reality offers plenty of material, there are some Morgan County writers who write to escape or to provide an escape for their readers. Deidre Knight writes romance novels, while Ken Zahn crafts murder mysteries. Zahn just published his first of three mysteries, “The Grove,” a novel set on an old Florida estate. A financial planner by day, Zahn uses financial planning solutions to solve the crimes he concocts in his stories. “A flight to Los Angeles is much more enjoyable when I can lose myself in storytelling rather than worrying about the financial plight of the nation,” he says.
Williams’ novels focus on characters marginalized by age, income, race or unpopular opinion. His two Civil War novels, including “A Distant Flame,” for which he won the prestigious Michael Shaara Award, feature Southerners who were against the Confederate position, an idea that hasn’t been explored much in literature.
Why is writing important?
“Because reading is even more important,” maintains Ferrante.
George Williams agrees, “My mother was a beacon of light, because she encouraged us to read, write and memorize poetry,” he says. “She enriched our lives.”
Writing also informs. “I think journalists are still a watchdog for the public,” says Schlabach, who uncovered a diploma mill in Philadelphia while working as an investigative reporter for the sports department of the “Washington Post.” What he discovered as a journalist led to ground-breaking rule changes at the NCAA.
“Writing is important for many reasons, but I think one of the most crucial is that it is an essential job skill,” says Walker, who believes that a person’s intellect is often judged by their ability to organize thoughts on paper.
On a philosophical note, Miles explains, “Writing expresses the universal in history, yet preserves the uniqueness found in one moment in time.”
“Fine writing is a gauge of who we are and what we can be. It is a bright light into the soul, into places that can be reached no other way. It is how we communicate ideas and compassion, how we find new ways to laugh and old ways to love. It is a link with our human past that we can’t find anywhere else,” Philip Lee Williams explains.
On that note, we end with a round of applause and a salute to all of our writers who inform, enrich and entertain us.
Morgan County Writers
This list is by no means complete. Please let us know if we’ve missed anyone.
E-mail us at citizen@
Gertrude Brown, memoirist
Glen Eskew, historian
Meg Ferrante, freelance writer
Dan Hicky, poet
Hattie Mina Hicky, memoirist
Deidre Knight, novelist
Jaime Miles, freelance writer
Alvin Richardson, sports writer
Mark Schlabach, sports writer
Hank Segars, freelance writer and publisher
Belinda Walker, biographer
Marilyn Appl Walker, poet
April Wells-Hayes, poet
Karen Wibell, freelance writer
George Williams, freelance writer and poet
Philip Lee Williams, novelist and poet
Ken Zahn, novelist
Printed in the January 26, 2009 edition.