Audrey Schulz’s last hurrah? I think not.

by Ed Lawrence, Arts Marketing Director, Kentucky Arts Council

When I put out an invitation to Kentucky Crafted artists to exhibit at the Governor’s Derby Celebration in downtown Frankfort, I quickly got a response from Audrey Schulz. She indicated that she would like to participate and it might be her last hurrah. This got me worried because I thought this wonderful artist who has been making soft-sculpture horses since the early 80s was quitting. I knew Audrey had been involved with the Kentucky Crafted program since I came to work for the Kentucky Arts Council in 1994 and had been a part of the program (formerly Department of the Arts, Crafts Division) at its inception.

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A telephone conversation with Audrey allayed all my fears and convinced me that this 84-year-old artist will probably be painting horses and creating soft-sculpture animals for another 20 years. When I told her how remarkable it is that she is still working at her age, Audrey said, “I never thought of age.” She firmly believes that creating artwork and being active are the keys to health and longevity.

Audrey made her first soft sculpture for a friend who was in the hospital. She described it as “a drunken horse with a garland of roses.” A coworker saw it and offered her $40 for it and that’s when the business idea began. She had her designs copyrighted in 1983. She credits a lot of her start-up success to then First Lady Phyllis George Brown, followed by Gov. Martha Lane Collins and current Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen, who headed up the Department of the Arts during the Collins administration. Her work was introduced at the New York International Gift Fair by Gov. Collins along with a number of other Kentucky craft artists who were being introduced to national and international wholesale markets. There is no exact count of how many horses she has made over the years but she knows it is in the thousands. Her whimsical creatures have been carried by Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus and other fine shops across the nation. Although she no longer participates in Kentucky Crafted: The Market, Audrey claims that the Market is responsible for the continued success of her business. She has established so many accounts over the years that she now gets as many orders as she can fill. www.audreyschulzhorses.com

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Every day I come to work, I am reminded of Audrey Schulz. My office is right across the way from the Kentucky Department for Travel and Tourism main reception area. Proudly displayed among a number of Kentucky crafted items is Audrey’s galloping thoroughbred ready to run in the Kentucky Derby.

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Be sure to come to the Governor’s Derby Celebration in downtown Frankfort, May 2, 2015, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Audrey Schulz will join nine other Kentucky Crafted artists in the Kentucky Arts Council’s sales tent on the Old Capitol Lawn.

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Kentucky Writers’ Day Month

By Tamara Coffey

April is Kentucky Writers’ Day Month. I know, I know, grammatically speaking, that’s just wrong, but why should we limit our celebration of Kentucky writers to only one day? After all, it is National Poetry Month, and Kentucky has been blessed with an abundance of gifted writers of all sorts—poets, playwrights, journalists, memoirists, biographers, bloggers, children’s and young adult writers and writers of creative nonfiction and literary and genre fiction (and others I’ve missed, no doubt). The literary waters in Kentucky overflow their banks more often than the Kentucky River, so why not celebrate Kentucky Writers’ Day Month?

The Kentucky Arts Council will host Kentucky Writers’ Day, a celebration of all Kentucky writers, Friday, April 24, beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern time, in the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort. Writers and other lovers of words will gather to welcome the newest Kentucky poet laureate, George Ella Lyon, a writer of poetry, fiction, nonfiction and plays. She will be joined by past Kentucky poets laureate Richard Taylor, Joe Survant, Sena Jeter Naslund, Gurney Norman, Maureen Morehead and Frank X Walker. All will read from their original work, a treat for all bibliophiles and bookworms — the chance to hear writers read their own words.

In case you’re curious, April 24 was chosen as Kentucky Writers’ Day because it is the birthday of Robert Penn Warren, a poet, novelist and literary critic from Guthrie in Todd County. Penn is the only writer to have received a Pulitzer Prize in fiction (“All the King’s Men”) and poetry (“Promises: Poems 1954-1956” and “Now and Then”). He was named the first U.S. poet laureate back in 1986. Prior to 1986 there was a Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, and guess what — Robert Penn Warren was named as the third consultant in 1944. The second consultant was Allen Tate from Winchester, Ky. Oh yeah, Kentucky literary waters run deep!

Are you ready to dip your toes into the eddy of poetry and literature? Here’s a sampling of websites that feature writings of and readings by writers from Kentucky and elsewhere to tide you over:
Kentucky Writers’ Day readings
Library of Congress readings
Library of Congress Archive of Poetry and Literature
Poetry 180
The Poetry Foundation
The Poetry Archive
Poetry Out Loud
National Poetry Month April 2015

Maybe you’ll want to wade in by taking the Kentucky Arts Council’s Writers’ Day Challenge. Simply post on Facebook that you are accepting the challenge from @KentuckyArtsCouncil, add a few lines of your own writing and include the hashtag #kywritersday.

Or just dive into Kentucky Writers’ Day by joining us in the Capitol Rotunda at 10 a.m. this Friday. Can’t make it to Frankfort? Make your own Writers’ Day celebration by inviting your friends, coworkers and others to share their original writing or excerpts of their favorite Kentucky literature and poetry. Don’t hesitate, you only have until the end of next week to be a part of Kentucky Writers’ Day Month.

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Our writing places

By Maureen Morehead

Two winters ago, when I visited Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts, I wanted to see the room in which she wrote her poems. Years before, I’d visited the homes of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Louisa May Alcott in Concord. I stood in the tower in which Hawthorne wrote, like Earnest Hemingway, standing up; and in the Alcott parlor where Emerson waited many times to engage Louisa’s father in conversation.

Dickinson’s bedroom, where she wrote her poems, is spacious but spare. The room is up a flight of stairs; it includes a small bed; three windows—two overlooking the main road, the third facing her brother’s house; a wooden floor; a dresser; and a tiny square writing desk. On the desk is a lamp, and beneath it a chair, small, befitting Emily’s small body. Someone had placed a photocopied example of one of her fascicles on the bed, which was to me the most astonishing thing in the room. Sixteen pages of poems in Emily’s handwriting, the original arranged and sewn together by the poet herself, caused me to whisper a silent thank you to her sister Lavinia for saving the poetry.

We’re interested in the places writers compose their work, especially those whose writing we’ve studied and loved. Place tells us about them in ways the writing doesn’t. We can also learn from evidence (the drafts, revisions and letters) preserved, often in libraries, and archived for scholars to study and examine. Dickinson’s sister, upon Emily’s death, found in her room a box filled with years of writing. Even though she lived in the house with Emily, she had no idea how prolific her sister had been. Lavinia could have burned the poems, as she did her sister’s correspondence and which was customary at the time, but she didn’t. What she did do is determine the poems needed to be published. When she couldn’t do it herself, she gave the poetry to T.W. Higginson, Emily’s long-time correspondent, and her brother Austin’s mistress, an educated woman with whom Emily had shared poems. In 1890 the first collection of poems by Emily Dickinson came out in print.

I’ve written often about my writing place, a family room in my house decorated with Bybee Pottery, Louisville Stoneware and colorful Ball jars used by family in eastern and western Kentucky to preserve their goods. From where I sit across from three tall windows, I have a view of leafless trees, oak and ash and walnut, native to Kentucky. Deer, squirrels, raccoons, the occasional hawk, woodpeckers, cardinals, bluejays, finches, and titmice populate the wood and gather at my feeders, especially in winter. The images around me, exterior and interior, provide the images, often used as metaphors, for my poems.

For Kentucky Writers’ Day let me emphasize the relevance of writers to save the notes, jottings and drafts along with the final copies of their writing, whatever the genre. We delete our drafts frequently as easy as it is on a word processor, denying ourselves access to our original drafts and to revisions that may be better than our final changes. Deleting works in progress, we deny access to others, students and scholars, who desire to examine our writing processes to figure out the nature of our creativity. And there is another group who may find writings invaluable. A writer’s children, friends, grandchildren and their children will learn so much about us from our writings, even if our poems, stories, plays and journal entries aren’t the quality of a Dickinson, a Robert Penn Warren or a Bobbie Ann Mason. I believe our readers will find our interests, ideas, stories, personalities and concerns in our writings. And they just might be taken to the places where their ancestors wrote their poems.

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Please join the Kentucky Arts Council on Kentucky Writers’ Day, 10 a.m. April 24 in the Capitol Rotunda for the induction of George Ella Lyon as Kentucky Poet Laureate.

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Kentucky is Literary Capital of Mid-America

By Neil Chethik

Bluegrass, bourbon, basketball … and books? Most Kentuckians readily identify with the first three on this list. Now, a growing number are waking up to our state’s literary power as well.

Wendell Berry. Barbara Kingsolver. Sue Grafton. Bobbie Ann Mason. Frank X Walker. And the incoming state poet laureate, George Ella Lyon. These are just a few of the outstanding, nationally acclaimed writers with strong Kentucky ties.

They are also the latest in a 200-year legacy of Kentucky writers whose work supports the vision of Kentucky as the Literary Capital of Mid-America.

Proclaiming Kentucky a Literary Capital may be a boast, but it is not a stretch. Consider:

  • Kentucky is the birthplace of the first African-American novelist, William Wells Brown. After escaping slavery, Brown published “Clotel, The President’s Daughter,” in 1853. It claimed that President Thomas Jefferson fathered children with a slave.
  • Kentucky is home to the first million-selling novelist, John Fox, Jr. The Bourbon County native produced a string of best-sellers between 1900 and 1910, including “The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come,” the first book to top seven figures in sales.
  • The first poet laureate of the United States, Robert Penn Warren, was a Kentuckian. A native of Guthrie, Warren – author of “All the King’s Men” – is the only writer ever to win the Pulitzer Prize in both fiction and poetry.

Kentucky also is fertile ground for new literary genres: Thomas Merton redefined spiritual autobiography in “The Seven Storey Mountain.” Harry Caudill created a unique biography of a place – Appalachia – in “Night Comes to the Cumberlands.” And Hunter S. Thompson of Louisville broke ground with “gonzo journalism” – first-person, irreverent prose, including “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.”

What is it about Kentucky that produces so many outstanding writers? Some say the inspiration is the beauty – and abuse – of the land. Others say the inspiration comes from the legacy of conflict in Kentucky: north vs. south, Hatfields vs. McCoys, rural vs. urban. Without a deep understanding of struggle, what author could write a compelling book?

I think it’s both of these factors, plus another one: Kentucky takes care of its writers. I know that was true for me 18 years ago when I first came to the Carnegie Center in Lexington for help finding my writing voice and a publisher. I found both with the help of teachers and fellow writers.

The Carnegie Center continues to champion our state’s writers. We house the Carnegie Books-in-Progress Conference every June, and the Kentucky Women’s Writers Conference each September. We have created the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame. And we continue to offer mentoring, classes and guidance for writers at every stage of development.

We invite you to check out the center’s activities and take advantage of your residence in the Literary Capital of Mid-America.

Neil Chethik, author of “FatherLoss” (Hyperion Books), “VoiceMale” (Simon & Schuster), is executive director of the Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning. Reach him at neil@carnegiecenterlex.org.

Please join the Kentucky Arts Council on Kentucky Writers’ Day, 10 a.m. April 24 in the Capitol Rotunda for the induction of George Ella Lyon as Kentucky Poet Laureate.

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‘The ability to write well is the ability to think well’

This week’s KAC Creative Commonwealth blog entry comes from Elizabeth Prather, a writing teacher from the School for the Creative and Performing Arts in Lexington, just before we celebrate Kentucky Writers’ Day and introduce our new poet laureate.

For 15 years, I worked as a traditional English teacher in a traditional high school and for the last three years, I’ve been teaching creative writing in a high school magnet program. During my career, I have taught every secondary grade level and every possible transmutation of English from freshman Title I Reading to senior AP Literature and everything in between. As a Kentucky teacher, I was also witness to the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) portfolio years and now to the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) on-demand assessments. In these roles, I’ve taught students who were National Merit Finalists and students who could barely write a sentence. I’ve taught students who went on to Ivy League degrees and students who are now serving time in jail. But no matter who I taught or what I was teaching, the central focus of my role as an English teacher has been on the skill of writing. The single skill I hope all my students left my classroom with is the facility, the freedom and the fortune of writing.

When I was a student at the University of Kentucky, I was lucky enough to be enrolled in a class taught by Kentucky writer Wendell Berry. The class was called Expository Writing for Teachers. One of the parting custodies Berry entrusted us with was “to arm your students with tools against loneliness and oppression.” Reading is certainly one of those tools, as are the skills of speaking and listening, but, by my lights, writing well is among the more powerful skills a child can possess. The heartbeat of every culture is its writing. A culture’s social, political and theological fabric is born on words. A well-crafted letter of complaint or a letter pledging faithfulness to a beloved, a powerful sermon expressing grace, a movie script defining a life story, a moving speech that calls others to action – these are the skills on which a child and a culture can thrive.

The ability to write well is the ability to think well. When we teach students to write, we are not only teaching them to write, but how to use their minds in critical and productive ways. We are tutoring them in the arts of persuasion and the nuances of a vast and evolving language. We are preparing them to be better citizens, to sort propaganda from useful reasoning and to recognize and tell the truth about themselves and their world.

Teaching writing is a messy business. There are no five easy steps or five simple paragraphs. Teaching a child to mine the ideascape of his beliefs, to artfully render a memory and to do this with honest language devoid of political doublespeak and sentimental euphemism cannot be executed with bubble sheets and a Scantron machine. Teaching a child to write is the intersection of apprenticeship and self-discovery. The lesson is as individual as the student and each student moves at his or her own pace toward mastery, a mastery which, if we are truthful, is a lifelong pursuit. Teaching a child to write honors his or her own story and arms them with those necessary skills to proclaim it.

Kentucky has always been a place where writers and poets have thrived, giving voice to their unique story. As a Kentucky writer and teacher, I am honored to take my student-writers to Frankfort on April 24 to see George Ella Lyon be inducted as Kentucky’s newest poet laureate. She has long championed literacy throughout the Commonwealth through her work as a classroom teacher, visiting poet and working writer. Generations of school children have found their own voice through her exemplary Kentucky poem, “Where I’m From,” a model used in hundreds of Kentucky classrooms as an invitation to claim and proclaim one’s roots.

Elizabeth Prather teaches writing at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts in Lexington. She produces the blog Teach Like Everyone’s Listening, where she writes about teaching creative writing. She lives in Mt. Sterling.

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