By ANGIE CARNATHAN
Michael Kardos and Catherine Pierce of Starkville are making their mark in the literary world. The married couple, who both teach at Mississippi State University and co-direct the creative writing program there, have each recently been published. Kardos has been named the recipient of a top honor from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters — the 2012 winner of the organization's annual award in fiction.
According to a release, Pierce is the author of two books of poetry, “The Girls of Peculiar” and “Famous Last Words.” Her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry, Slate, Boston Review, Ploughshares, FIELD, The Cincinnati Review, Ninth Letter, Crab Orchard Review, Indiana Review and Blackbird. Catherine grew up in Delaware, then earned her bachelor’s degree from Susquehanna University, her master’s degree from Ohio State University, and her doctorate from the University of Missouri.
Kardos is the author of the story collection “One Last Good Time” and the novel “The Three-Day Affair.” His short stories have appeared in The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, Pleiades, PRISM international and were cited as notable stories in the 2009 and 2010 editions of Best American Short Stories. Michael grew up on the Jersey Shore, received a degree in music from Princeton University, and played drums professionally for a number of years. He has an master’s degree in fiction from Ohio State University and a doctorate from the University of Missouri. Kardos also serves as editor of the literary journal Jabberwock Review.
Kardos said he is thrilled and humbled to have won the award.
“It feels wonderful to have my work embraced by Mississippi in this way — especially a book set on the Jersey Shore,” Kardos said. “More specifically, the book traces the thirty year rise-and-fall of a fictional Jersey Shore town, giving glimpses into key moments in the lives of several of its citizens. In that way, the book’s scope resembles works like Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio or — more recently — Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge.”
Kardos said he is happy his novel “The Three-Day Affair” is finally finished, edited, copy-edited and out of his hands.
“It’s scheduled for release on Sept. 4,” Kardos said. “‘The Three-Day Affair’ begins with three longtime friends, ordinary guys, who commit an accidental crime — a kidnapping, actually — which they then try to undo rather than turn themselves in.”
Pierce said her book of poetry “The Girls of Peculiar” deals with the complexities of adolescence and the ways that nostalgia impacts and distorts the ways we remember the past.
“I’m fascinated by that age after childhood but before what’s generally recognized as true adulthood,” Pierce said. “During it, it’s possible to recognize that you’re young, and yet, at the same time, to feel entirely adult, even world-weary. Some poems are written from the perspective of a young adult; others take the voice of someone older, someone with a bit of narrative perspective, and, perhaps, a little rattled by nostalgia’s power.”
Pierce will be reading from “The Girls of Peculiar” on Thursday, April 5, at 8 p.m. on the MSU campus, in McCool Hall, Room 100 (Rogers Auditorium).
“After the reading, there will be a short Q-and-A, and then I’ll be signing books,” Pierce said.
Kardos said the couple both grew up on the East Coast, but their transition to a small Southern town has been a smooth one.
“We love a lot of things about living here — the friendliness of the people and the sense of community that Starkville and Mississippi State both foster,” Kardos said. “We also love the delicious food, the warm weather and, of course, our students and colleagues at MSU.”
Pierce said the couple met during their first year of graduate school, which is to say they never knew each other before we were writers.
“Part of the way we encourage each other is the simple acknowledgment that A) the work matters, and B) doing that work takes time,” Pierce said. “So we help each other out by reading each other’s material and offering feedback and encouragement, but also by reminding each other that what’s most important is simply doing the work, and that anything that comes after — publication, reviews, whatever — is secondary.”
As much as the couple supports one another, they have yet to collaborate, although it’s an idea they say they keep in the back of their minds.
“On long car trips talk always returns to our non-existent screenplay called ‘Golden Years’ about a kid who pretends to be a senior citizen so he can move into a retirement home and win the ping pong tournament,” Kardos said. “You can see now why we don’t write together.”
Pierce said the couple has a son, Sam, who is 15 months old.
“He keeps us busy and constantly entertained,” Pierce said.
Now in its 33rd year, the Jackson-based Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters works to recognize the creative efforts and accomplishments of the state's artists, musicians and writers. For more information, visit http://www.ms-arts-letters.org .