Tag Archives: Carnegie Center for the Literary Arts

Arts

Writers Hall of Fame Honors, Encourages

I arrived fifteen minutes early before the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame induction ceremony began. The annual event was held at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington. It was first held at the Center in 2012 and this was my first time attending. As I glanced around the room, I observed that the mood of this night was convivial and one of joy. Attendees smiled and hugged each other as they sipped on wine and snacked on hors d’oeuvres. This was to be a celebration of the craft of writing that has distinguished Kentucky and put it unmistakably on the literary map.

As a writer and poet, I was impressed that so many had come to pay homage to some of the state’s finest writers. I was later told later that 225 people were in attendance.

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(Photo by Doug Begley) – Left to right: poet Maurice Manning, author Silas House and Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Tom Eblen

“The Writers Hall of Fame was initiated as a way to support established writers and encourage young writers to take up the craft,” explained Neil Chethik, the executive director of the Carnegie Center and the evening’s emcee. “It has served as a rallying point for Kentucky writers, and has brought added attention to the great legacy of writing that we have in Kentucky. I think writers feel more respected, and some feel more motivated knowing that the Hall of Fame exists. I’ve heard numerous young writers say, ‘my goal is to be in this hall one day,’” he added.

The room filled quickly and I was grateful that the Carnegie Center had reserved a seat for me. After introductory remarks, some of Kentucky’s most well known writers, including the present and past state poet laureates, came forward and read excerpts from the inductees’ work. The fondness for the craft of writing was clearly evident as the hushed crowd listened to the readings.     

The first writer to be inducted was James Lane Allen (1849 – 1925) who was born in Lexington. 

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Allen has been called Kentucky’s first important novelist and his work garnered international appeal. He had a successful career writing fiction, travel writing, and drama spanning 34 years.  Allen published 20 books and contributed to some of the most prominent magazines of his era.

Next was Harlan Hubbard (1900 – 1988). He was born in Bellevue in northern Kentucky and lived at Payne Hollow in Trimble County. Hubbard was well-known for living on the river in Thoreau-like simplicity removed from modern times.

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Hubbard published 12 books, including journals, travel essays, and various woodcuts and paintings. Louisville-based producer Morgan Atkinson documented the Hubbards’ life in the film, Wonder, featuring passages voiced by author Wendell Berry. Only last year, Berry himself was honored as the first living author inducted into the Hall of Fame. 

Alice Hegan Rice (1870  – 1942) was inducted next. Famous for her bestselling novel, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, Rice lived her entire life in Louisville.

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Rice was inspired to write the book after her involvement with Louisville’s underprivileged children in the slum area known as the Cabbage Patch district. The novel has been translated into many languages, and was the basis for many stage, radio, and film versions. Rice published over 20 books in her lifetime.

The following inductee was Jean Ritchie (1922 – 2015).The youngest of 14 children — 10 of them girls – she was born in Viper, Kentucky, and is the first singer to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.  She was an iconic figure in American folk music who performed at such venues as Carnegie Hall and at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

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Ritchie‘s songs have been recorded by such artists as Johnny Cash, Emmy Lou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and Judy Collins. She recorded 33 albums and published 10 books.

The final writer and only living one to be inducted into the 2016 Hall of Fame was Bobbie Ann Mason (1940). Mason was born on a dairy farm outside of Mayfield in western Kentucky. She has published 5 novels, 7 short fiction collections, a memoir, a biography, and 2 works of literary criticism.  She has been published by Harper and Row, HarperCollins and Random House.

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Mason’s first collection of short stories, Shiloh and Other Stories (1982), brought critical acclaim, and she has been lauded as a master of the short story. Her stories have appeared in such magazines as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Paris Review. In 1985 she wrote her first novel, In Country, which was made into a Hollywood film. Mason professed to be inadequate as a speaker, but proved to be eloquent as she addressed the crowd. Her demeanor was one of utter humility—graciously thanking those who were assembled, and she proclaimed the importance of fiction readers.   

I asked Bobbie Ann if she has a writing goal she has yet to accomplish and she replied, ”A new book of stories! I’m experimenting a little with flash fiction, and I’d like to gather up some of those and see what happens.”

Mason’s major awards include the PEN/Hemingway Award, National Book Award finalist, The Pushcart Prize, O. Henry Award, The National Endowment for the Arts Award, Pulitzer Prize finalist in biography, and Southern Book Award for fiction.

I asked Bobbie Ann, given her many prestigious accolades, which she was most proud to have received. She replied, “I would have to say the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame is tops.” 

"The End" message typed by vintage typewriter.

  

Arts

AUTHOR PROFILE: Charles L. Roe

Charles L. Roe is a prolific Appalachian writer, having penned nine novels and one short story collection set in eastern Kentucky. He was born in 1934 in Harrison County, Kentucky. He worked as a cryptanalyst for the FBI from 1953 to 1957 where he broke diplomatic codes. He worked at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory from 1957 to 2000 as a project manager for U.S. Navy and NATO programs where he worked on combat issues. Mr. Roe lived in Washington D.C. from 1953 to 2000 before he retired and returned to Kentucky. Mr. Roe and I are friends, belonging to the same writers’ group, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to ask him about his writing career.

“Charlie Roe practices a subtle magic in his work, writing with a direct style that creates a natural sense of immediacy. The reader feels present in his stories, firmly located amid unfolding characters and events, which generates a sympathy that reflects the deep current of compassion found in all his writing.” – Jennifer Barricklow, Lexington editor and poet.

UM: Given your extensive writing about Appalachia, what was your initial inspiration for writing novels based in eastern Kentucky? You are from central Kentucky. Do you have any family there?

CR: Being away from Kentucky (Washington DC) I was a little homesick and read the stories of Jesse Stuart and John Fox Jr. who set their stories in eastern Kentucky. The eastern Kentucky feuds, mountain schoolteachers, Frontier Nursing Service, mountain moonshining, etc. caught my fancy. And those people didn’t seem much removed from the people I grew up around. I consider myself to be primarily a writer of Appalachian fiction.

UM: What Kentucky writers, if any, have been an influence on you? What specific books by these writers have influenced you the most?

CR: John Fox Jr. “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine”, “The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come”, and “Heart of the Hills”; Elizabeth Maddox Roberts “The Time of Man” and “The Great Meadow”; Robert Penn Warren “All the King’s Men” and “World Enough and Time”; and Jesse Stuart “Taps for Private Tussie”, “Men of the Mountains”, and “Daughter of the Legend.”

UM: Have you traveled extensively to eastern Kentucky to do research for your work? When and where have you traveled?

CR: I have been up into eastern Kentucky many times. But prior to publication, when I was still working on “A Season for Healing” in 2009, I paid a couple of visits to the Frontier Nursing Headquarters in Hyden and visited some of the nursing outposts.

UM: Are there any current Kentucky authors whose work you read and admire?

CR: Silas House and Barbara Kingsolver who is from my home county of Nicholas. I also admire Sharyn McCrumb, an Appalachian mystery writer who lives over in Virginia.

UM: You recently chose to break away from using Appalachia as a setting. Will this be a permanent break from Appalachian writing for you?

CR: No, I have those books off my chest and will return to Appalachian fiction.

UM: I’d like to find out about your working methods as a writer. Since you’re a novelist, do you like to work from an outline, or do you have a good idea where a story is headed when you begin writing and let it develop?

CR: I think you have to have a good detailed outline before you start with a good idea of where the story will take you. I usually take seven or eight months researching the idea and putting together an outline. With everything in hand I can usually sit down and write it in three or four months.

UM: Some prominent Kentucky writers like Bobbie Ann Mason and Silas House have come out against mountain top removal. Another perennial issue is the state of education in eastern Kentucky. Do you have an opinion you would like to share about these subjects? Are there any other topics concerning eastern Kentucky you would like to comment on?

CR: Anyone who has flown over the eastern Kentucky mountains and seen the destruction of those imposing peaks must be outraged at mountaintop removal. And much of the wealth never goes into the pockets of Kentuckians. As far as educating the children, I wish we could convince them to forego drugs and tobacco.

UM: What education would you recommend for the aspiring writer? Do you have any advice for someone who has chosen writing as a career?

CR: I don’t think you can educate a writer. It has to be something burning inside you. I had a 47 year career with the FBI and Johns Hopkins U. Applied Physics Laboratory, but I never gave up the urge to write. I was surprised that with my best writing years behind me when I retired that I could still create. And my writing has improved even into my seventies and eighties.

UM: The publishing world has changed dramatically in your lifetime with the popularity of self-publishing and the advent of e-books. What is your opinion on this?

CR: When I was younger I despaired of ever getting published. Now with self-publishing it is easy to do. It is getting a bad name as more and more people who have a few hundred dollars to indulge themselves are putting some bad books up for sale. But be selective. There are a lot of good things getting into print that wouldn’t have during the days before computer- aided publishing.

UM: Are you currently writing another book? What future projects do you have in mind?

CR: I am preparing a second memoir covering my early years in Washington D.C. I will entitle it, “A Town on the Potomac.” After that I plan to collect all my short stories (about 60 in all) under the title, “The Place Your Heart Calls Home.”

 Most of these stories were written when the world was a happier place. When I could pause from a day at work in another town and remember the folks at home and in the mountains and reflect back on tales I had heard or that maybe I had misheard and embroidered a bit. The lives of these eastern Kentucky people seemed important and vital even if it was mostly to keep me running level and to remind me that the world where I was (mostly Washington, D.C.) was not where the real people lived.

I have always felt that a man will fall back on his blood and background. Of the stories in this volume I wrote most of them when I was far from the locale of their happening. Maybe I was homesick and wanted to cheer myself up, and in the telling I was finding a bit of home.

The people of eastern Kentucky and my own home counties of Nicholas and Bourbon and Fayette are very wonderful. They may drink a bit too much and smoke too much and I regret these tendencies, not because they offend me in any way, but because they are detrimental to the health of many that I love and cherish. Life in the hills is hard and many of the children of these “hillbillies” are leaving. The day of the rugged and sturdy mountaineer is rapidly passing – maybe is gone already. But I hope to have captured some of their best virtues (courage, patience, truthfulness, steadfastness, and humor) in these stories.

“No one likes to write, but everyone loves to have written,” I read somewhere. Putting these stories down on paper never seemed like an onerous chore to me. For a few hours I stole away from my sterile office and fished with my brother beside a Quiet Shaded Lake, watched Hemp Wagoner run off a batch of moonshine Under the Juniper Tree, and celebrated Old Christmas on a snowy night in the mountains. Enjoy.

            –  an excerpt from the Charles Roe’s short story collection.

The following are books by Charles L. Roe in the order they were published.

Moonbeams and Mistflowers (2005), Cumberland (2006), My Native Home (short stories (2006), Thistles (2007), Barren River (2008), Adrift (memoir – 2009), A Fort on the Chenoa (2010), Greenup Time (2010), A Season for Healing (2011), Big Sandy River (2012), Bourbon County (2013), Death on the Zurich Express (locked room mystery – 2014), A Little Gray Spy (spy novel – 2015) All of Charles Roe’s books are available on Amazon.com. Several are also available locally at Joseph-Beth Booksellers.