Thomas Robinson Prize

Ron Rash
Ron Rash

Mercer University’s Spencer B. King, Jr. Center for Southern Studies will award the 2020 Thomas Robinson Prize for Southern Literature to poet, short story writer and novelist Ron Rash.

Rash was born in Chester, South Carolina, and earned his undergraduate degree from Gardner-Webb University and master’s degree from Clemson University. He serves as John Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Studies in the English Department at Western Carolina University.

Rash is the author of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction finalist and New York Times bestseller Serena and Above the Waterfall, in addition to four prizewinning novels, including The CoveOne Foot in EdenSaints at the River and The World Made Straight.

He has also authored four collections of poems and six collections of stories, among them Burning Bright, which won the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and Chemistry and Other Stories, which was a finalist for the 2007 PEN/Faulkner Award. He is a two-time recipient of the O. Henry Prize given annually to short stories of exceptional merit.

About the prize

The Thomas Robinson Prize, previously known as the Sidney Lanier Prize, was first awarded in 2012. The prize is awarded to writers who have engaged and extended the long, often complicated, tradition of writing about the South.

The selection committee for the Thomas Robinson Prize includes Mercer University professors, eminent scholars of Southern literature, and members of the Macon community. In addition to Dr. David A. Davis, the committee includes:

  • Bob Brinkmeyer, Emily Brown Jefferies Professor of English at the University of South Carolina
  • Sharon Colley, professor of English at Middle Georgia State University
  • Sarah Gardner, Distinguished University Professor of history at Mercer University
  • Trudier Harris, Distinguished Research Professor of English at the University of Alabama
  • Barbara Ladd, professor of English at Emory University
  • John Wharton Lowe, Barbara Methvin Professor of English at the University of Georgia
  • Judson Mitcham, former Georgia Poet Laureate
  • Chelsea Rathburn, Georgia Poet Laureate
  • Pam Thomasson, past president of Historic Macon Foundation

Dr. Joe Sam Robinson Jr., a widely respected neurosurgeon, and his wife, Betsy, of Macon, made a gift to assist Mercer in meeting a National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant during the 2016-17 reporting year. Their financial commitment created a new endowment, the Thomas McRae Hamilton Robinson Endowment, within the Spencer B. King, Jr. Center for Southern Studies that supports a public reading by the Thomas Robinson Prize winner at the annual presentation of the prize. The endowment honors the memory of their son, Tommy Robinson, and significantly enhances literary programming in Middle Georgia by underwriting the event.

Past winners

  • 2019 — Fred Chappell
  • 2018 — Natasha Trethewey
  • 2017 — Ellen Gilchrist
  • 2016 — Wendell Berry
  • 2015 — Yusef Komunyakaa
  • 2014 — Elizabeth Spencer
  • 2013 — Lee Smith
  • 2012 — Ernest Gaines

Spencer B. King, Jr., Creative Writing Scholarships

Mercer also awards the Spencer B. King, Jr., Creative Writing Scholarships. High school juniors with high aptitude for writing may compete for the scholarships, and winners will receive up to $2,000 per year toward the cost of tuition at Mercer. To be eligible, students must complete an application and submit either a work of short fiction of no more than 700 words or two poems totaling no more than 700 words. For more information, contact the Office of Admissions at