In 1983, American playwright and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Tennessee Williams left the residual portion of his estate to the University of the South as a memorial to his grandfather, the Reverend Walter E. Dakin, who studied at Sewanee’s School of Theology in 1895. Mr. Williams directed in his will that a fund be established solely to encourage creative writing.
University administration asked poet and English professor Wyatt Prunty how these funds might best be used to support creative writers. Prunty advised starting a writers’ conference and was named director. In 1990, he invited Ellen Douglas, Marianne Gingher, Emily Grosholz, Wendy Hammond, Tina Howe, Charles Martin, Howard Nemerov, Tim O’Brien, Robert Stone, and Mona Van Duyn to serve on the inaugural faculty.
In addition to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Walter E. Dakin Memorial Fund also supports the Tennessee Williams Writer-in-Residence program and the Sewanee Writers’ Series. The fund also supported the construction of the Tennessee Williams Performing Arts Center in Sewanee in 1998, which memorializes Mr. Williams’s art and is home to the University’s Theatre Department.
In 2019, Wyatt Prunty stepped down after serving as director for thirty years. Leah Stewart, a longtime staff member, author of six novels, and current chair of the English Department at the University of Cincinnati, was hired as the new director. Some of the exciting initiatives she has brought to the Conference include adding nonfiction, master classes, increased meetings with editors and agents for participants, and further commitments to diversity, inclusion, and sustainability.