June Fest Celebrates Mountain Literary Heritage

The 2021 Mountain Heritage Literary Festival is on June 4-5 at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee. Undermain’s Tom Martin, host of WEKU’s Eastern Standard, talks with festival director, Patrick Wensink. (Pictured above from the 2019 festival: Darnell Arnoult, Joseph Bathanti, Jim Minick, Abigail DeWitt, Charles Dodd White)

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Tom: Hi, Patrick.

Patrick: Hi. How are you today?

Tom: Great. A quick bit of background. This festival was founded I believe by the Kentucky writer, Silas House. And Silas is your keynote speaker this year, correct?

Patrick: He is.  We’re coming full circle at the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival. Silas founded the festival 15 years ago when he was the visiting writer at Lincoln Memorial University, and so we thought it would be fitting to welcome him back as our keynote this year.

Tom: And will this year’s event be in person or is it online again?

Patrick: It will be virtual this year. Hopefully next year in 2022, it will be in person again.

Tom: Fingers crossed. 

I understand that you have a whole new mission for the festival. Tell us about that?

Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. I’m very proud of the work that the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival has done in the previous 15 years, and I see this is as an opportunity to expand and to grow and encourage a new set of voices in Appalachia.

As we all know, Appalachia is a really diverse place and those are oftentimes voices that don’t get as much encouragement as they should for creative writing, whether it’d be fiction or non-fiction or poetries. 

And so, that’s a big mission of ours is to make sure that we’re reaching out to all the different communities that make Appalachia so special and to uplift those voices and celebrate them and encourage them in every way possible. 

Tom: And will that be reflected in the agenda for this year?

Patrick: Absolutely. I think that we have a really diverse faculty that’s coming aboard and they’re bringing just a different vision to our workshops that are building on traditional storytelling and poetry writing techniques, but in unique and really exciting ways.

Tom: And, what sort of workshops and events will be available during those couple of days?

Patrick: We’ve got some, yeah, as I’ve mentioned we have fictional workshops, poetry workshops, non-fiction workshops. Some of our non-fiction workshops I think are some of our most exciting. We’ve got Cinelle Barnes, a really great memoirist; she’s talking about writing about your family. 

Emily Hilliard, who is West Virginia – is the West Virginia state folklorist. She’s teaching an oral history class and a food writing class, which I think is going to be really exciting. 

Carter Sickels, who teaches at Eastern Kentucky, actually.

Tom: Right.

Patrick: In the creative writing program there. He’s teaching a workshop on how to write really complex realistic characters in fiction. So, those are just a few of the really exciting courses that we’ve got.

Tom: Okay. Patrick, what are the dates and how can our listeners get more information? I take it there’s a registration required?

Patrick: Absolutely. Yes. Our dates are June 4th and 5th. You can go to – you can just Google Lincoln – or Mountain Heritage Literary Festival. It’s probably the best way because our website is a million miles long. [laughs] 

Or you can find us on Facebook as well. It’s $150 for the two days and you’re free to visit any of the workshops you would like. 

And we also really highly encourage folks to check out our scholarship opportunities. We have the online format that allows us to have an abundance of scholarship opportunities. 

So, if you are a person who can afford it or perhaps maybe are just curious and this is not something that’s in your usual comfort zone, I really highly encourage you to reach out and apply for a scholarship. It’s very easy and we have a lot to offer this year.

Tom: All right. That’s Patrick Wensink, Director of the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival in the Cumberland Gap, set for June 4th and 5th. Thanks, Patrick.

Patrick: Thank you. 

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The author

Tom Martin is co-publisher of UnderMain and producer/host of the weekly public radio magazine program Eastern Standard on WEKU. Tom's 50 year career in media has included network news correspondent, newspaper editor, columnist, and student media advisor.