Last month, Andy Paul, a religious studies major and recent Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College graduate, was named a Portz Scholar by the National Collegiate Honors Council. Paul composed his winning work, a collection of short stories, as his senior thesis for the honors college. He became the fourth Portz Scholar produced by the honors college since 2002. Each spring, one honors thesis is selected and sent to the NCHC as a contender for the Portz. Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, dean of the honors college, said the honors college has to choose one thesis from the 100 or more submitted. “Andy Paul’s popped up as a very promising thesis, and his professor, Jack Pendarvis, wrote a very startling recommendation,” Sullivan-Gonzalez said. The winning piece, “The River Thief: A Collection of Short Fiction,” was written by Paul over the course of a year and a half, beginning in spring 2011. The collection began as a single story, “The River Thief,” and was eventually built into an entire volume. Paul will present his winning work at the NCHC Conference in Boston in November. Because of the creative nature of his work, the presentation will differ from the presentations given by the two other Portz recipients. “All of the other winners wrote pretty heavy academic papers,” Paul said. “It’s going to be story time when I get up there. I’ll give some background on the piece and then start reading.” Paul cites his long-standing interest in religion and his childhood experiences as inspirations for the content of his stories. “I’ve been fascinated with religion my whole life; my father converted to Judaism when I was in fifth grade, and my mother was raised Jewish,” he said. “It was kind of alienating to be that kid in Clinton, Mississippi. I was the only Jewish kid anyone knew.” Paul said he began writing in high school and came to Oxford with the intention to write. At Ole Miss, Paul seized opportunities to attend writing workshops with local writers, including Tom Franklin and Jack Pendarvis. He also wrote regular columns for The Daily Mississippian. “I lucked out around here, being allowed to work with people like that as an undergraduate, and received one-on-one advice,” Paul said. He said his personal literary style has been influenced by fellow Mississippi writers Barry Hannah and Lewis Nordan. Paul is currently working on two other collections of fiction and is aiming to have his winning collection published.
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