/For writing literature mostly on newsprint, Watkins to receive Richard Wright award

For writing literature mostly on newsprint, Watkins to receive Richard Wright award

At Saturday’s ceremonies in Natchez, Billy Watkins will be presented with the Richard Wright Award of Literary Excellence. Watkins makes writing seem effortless like breathing fresh air. Watkins is a 64-year old country boy from Gholson, rural Noxubee County. He will be receiving the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence at ceremonies Saturday in Natchez. Watkins says, “I read those names and it was really difficult for me to understand it and feel comfortable with it.” Wright Award winners receive recognition for their literary work. They must be exceptional, living writers with strong Mississippi connections. Watkins is Mississippi’s blues, catfish, and stone ground grits. For 36 years, he has been writing literature multiple times per week in The Clarion-Ledger. It is the state’s biggest newspaper. He is also the author of two books. Watkins’ friend suggests that Watkins accept the award as he has earned it. Watkins shrugs. “Aw, man. Not like those on that list. People like Larry Brown and Willie Morris are writers to me. Me? That’s all I know. “I do enjoy telling stories.” Watkins has been sharing poignant stories on newsprint about ordinary Mississippians for more time than most of his readers have lived. He writes beautifully and persuasively about human experience: living, loving, joy and sorrow, as well as the human experience of dying. He encourages people to open up and share their hearts with him. He then writes the stories in an easy-to-read, straight-forward, economical style that makes even his longest stories seem shorter. Watkins shares a story about his early days at The Meridian Star as a sports journalist. He was riding in the country with Mac Gordon, who was his mentor and editor. They passed Dekalb, passing by an elderly man in overalls who sat on a bench and watched the world go by. Gordon asked, “See that man over here?” Watkins replied, “Yeah,” Gordon stated, “That’s who your writing for.” “Remember that. Use words that he doesn’t understand.” Watkins says, “That’s what has stuck with me all these decades.” Billy Watkins, the youngest of the two sons of Jimmy and Margaret Watkins, is still writing with the old man at the back of mine. Jimmy Watkins was a rural mail carrier and played in a band that sang country music. He died at the age of seven. His older brother, W.G. Watkins was 12. W.G. Watkins, a Jackson-based lawyer and successful businessman, says that the death of his father had a profound impact on their lives. He “forced us to escape reality into our imaginations and minds.” Watkins claims that Gholson and his brother could only watch two channels on their family TV. It was all that was available. The need for imagination was a constant. W.G. says that Billy was a sweet child with a big temper. He also had a great imagination. says. “In our yard we played Augusta National and roamed centrefield at Yankee Stadium. We scored on the last play at Tiger Stadium.” The brothers also managed to escape into music and books. “W.G. “W.G. “Like our daddy we both played guitar and were in bands.” Billy, who was 11 years old, says that his family, which included Bubba Hailey, opened 50 yards from their home a country shop. This 20-foot-by-20-foot shop sold everything, from aspirin to pigs feet to tire patches. W.G. and Billy were the proprietors during summers. They were the sole proprietors, more or less. W.G. W.G. Customers would purchase a coke, some baloney, cheese, crackers, and then sit down in the shop and tell stories as they ate lunch. It helps me understand why Billy makes you feel like you have known him for a long time when you first meet him. W.G. was a teenager when he developed that friendly smile, easy banter and cheerful demeanour from that store. Watkins knew exactly what he wanted. He attended Ole Miss, and later earned a law degree. Billy was not so sure. He attended junior college in East Mississippi in Scooba. Then he went on to Mississippi State, and then Ole Miss, where his brother was enrolled in law school. Billy was one semester away from earning a degree both in insurance and real estate. He was terrified of the business-oriented classes and fell asleep every so often. On Super Bowl Sunday 1975, he was watching the Minnesota Vikings beat the Pittsburgh Steelers at the old Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. He thought, “Man, this is what I want to write about.” The next day, he visited S. Gale Denley, then-Ole Miss journalism chief, to find out how long it would take to get a journalism degree. He was required to take a lot of journalism classes during the spring semester, as well as both the summer and fall sessions. That’s what he did: he wrote for The Daily Mississippian, and he was a freelance correspondent for The Meridian Star. Billy said, “I loved it. I absolutely loved it.” W.G. says that “he found his passion.” After nearly four years of preparation for another career, Billy recalls telling his mother the big change. He says that his mother was happy because she could see me happy. “Of course she was happy because she could see I was happy,” he says. Watkins was interested. Orley Hood, a great writer and editor who loved good writing, hired Watkins as the Mississippi State beat reporter. Watkins covered the Bulldog legends Jeff Malone and Will Clark for five years. Later, he started writing sports columns. He says, “I loved it, it was just my passion.” He didn’t enjoy the time he spent away from Susan and their young sons. Watkins said, “I was missing birthdays and Little League games, Easters and other holidays.” “I can recall covering the Super Bowl in San Diego. My youngest was just a week old. “I’m in San Diego, where every sports journalist would love to live, but the only place that I want to be is home,” he said. A few years later, a job in the features department opened up. Watkins applied and was granted the job. Since then, he has been writing columns and features. You should know some things about Billy Watkins. He is deeply religious. He is a huge fan of all kinds of music. He was a great youth sports coach. He doesn’t like green food. Mandy is his daughter from his first marriage. She is one of his closest friends. His two grandchildren enchant him. He is most likely in church if you don’t see him wearing a baseball cap. He considers himself a “space geek” and his first book, “Apollo Moon Missions : The Unsung Heroes”, was ranked by British Broadcasting Company among the top 10 books about space travel. This is what he thought: Seventeen years ago, Billy believed he was dying. W.G. Watkins believes that two events have shaped the life of his brother and his writing. The first was the death their father. Five days after 9/11, Billy was diagnosed as having chronic myelogenous lymphoma and told that he likely wouldn’t live long. Billy said, “Knocked my for a loop.” “I wasn’t feeling well, but that was not what I expected.” He missed work one day and only told his family and close friends. The long story is short: Ten months after his initial treatment, his doctor prescribed a new experimental medication. It worked, and it has continued to work. He says, “I have been blessed beyond what anyone deserves.” His brother believed the same thing, and this writer believes as well. Since then, Billy has written some of his most extraordinary writing. W.G. W.G. He is able to express his emotions more clearly. You can’t believe you haven’t had a year and then you blink and realize you have 17 years. Writing is humbling. W.G. said, “I told him God touched him with his ability to touch lives and make people feel good about themselves.” continued. He said that while we all have problems and pains, joy and love can always come out of them. “Faulkner stated that a writer’s duty is to report on the human condition and the ability of man to triumph. “Billy fulfills this duty better than anyone that I know.” _x000D