Name a Kentucky tradition

If you were playing Family Feud and the category was Kentucky traditions, what would you say into the immovable podium microphone?

Maybe you would spout out something like: Horseracing! Bourbon! Coalmining! Bluegrass music! Fried chicken! Basketball!

Wearing fashionable, color-coordinated outfits, members of your immediate family would jump and clap as they watch a gigantic mechanical wall where checker-patterned rectangles flip over to reveal your exact words. The cyclical melody of the show’s theme music strikes up as you pump your fists in the air. Your opponents, the McCoys, shake their heads in despair, wishing they had thought of those traditions.

What constitutes a Kentucky tradition? All the ones you said when you were on the popular TV game show are fine examples. Quilting? That is another great one. What about a dance tradition that comes from India, or string music from China? Could those be considered Kentucky traditions?

That is a question we will explore with anyone visiting the wonderful Boone County Public Library in Burlington this summer. The Kentucky Arts Council’s traveling exhibit, The Makings of a Master, will be on display through June, July and August, showcasing some of Kentucky’s most beloved tradition bearers and the apprentices they teach.

The exhibit includes pictures, quotes, artifacts and videos you can view anytime the library is open. There will also be programs for you to attend for free. Here are details:

Friday, July 27, 6:30-7:30 p.m.

Lakshmi Sriraman

Lakshmi Sriraman

Lakshmi Sriraman of Lexington is a master of Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance form. She performs and teaches this centuries-old art form, fulfilling a strong demand in her central Kentucky community. Lakshmi and her apprentice Vasundhara Parameswaran will perform and answer questions about this living tradition and its cultural meaning, costumes and music.

Thursday, August 16, 6:30-7:30 p.m.

Hong Shao

Hong Shao

Hong Shao of Nicholasville is master of the pipa, a Chinese stringed instrument that has been around for at least two thousand years. Hong and her apprentice Leah Werking of Paris, Kentucky, will perform and discuss the intricate techniques of playing this instrument, and the stories and culture surrounding its characteristic sound.

Throughout Kentucky’s history, from the first Native Americans to Daniel Boone to today, everyone who has ever moved here brought their most treasured art forms and cultural traditions with them. Whether your family has been here for generations, or if you just arrived, you are part of Kentucky culture.

The arts council supports master tradition bearers from all kinds of Kentucky communities through its Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant. We have collected these artists’ stories in an effort to document their role in Kentucky’s living, ever-changing cultural landscape.

I hope you will join us in learning about and celebrating these amazing Kentucky traditions, no matter what the survey says!

Mark Brown
Folk and Traditional Arts Director, Kentucky Arts Council

Categories: Other

State Poetry Out Loud champ talks about D.C. experience


Kiara Jones in the Poetry Out Loud national semifinals April 24 in Washington, D.C.

On April 24, Elizabethtown High School senior Kiara Jones became the first Kentucky student to advance to the final round of the Poetry Out Loud National Finals since 2011, but competition was the last thing on her mind in the annual poetry recitation contest.

“You go there and you perform. There’s no bitterness or rudeness from anyone going into the competition,” she said. “I felt really appreciated after my recitations.”

The atmosphere at the host site, George Washington University in Washington, D.C., was congenial, she said, with champions from the 50 states and three United States territories easily forming friendships.

“We clicked,” she said. “I got a chance to talk to almost everyone there. It was a good experience.”

With a little free time between competition rounds, Kiara was able to see Washington, D.C., visiting monuments and museums. She met with her representative in the U.S. Congress, Brett Guthrie, and heard French President Emmanuel Macron speak during his recent diplomatic visit to the U.S.

Though she did not finish among the top three in the finals, Kiara was not disappointed by the experience. Among the important lessons she learned was the importance of building up others.

“I learned that encouraging other people helped me to be encouraged and put together,” she said. “When I told others how well they did, they sent that same energy back to me.”

With graduation near, Kiara has her sights set on college. She was just offered, and accepted, a Presidential Fellowship from Murray State University, where she will start in the fall, majoring in pre-veterinary medicine.

The Kentucky Arts Council is proud of Kiara’s performance in the Poetry Out Loud National Finals. She is an exemplary ambassador for our state, and we wish her well as she navigates the road ahead.

Categories: Other

The joy of finding a writing community

Deanna-MascleMt. Sterling writer and writing teacher Deanna Mascle is not a Kentucky native, but in her more than two decades living in the bluegrass state, she has found a community of writers that inspires her. This blog post is part of a celebration of Kentucky Writers’ Day, 6-7 p.m. April 24 at Spalding University Library in Louisville.

I am a writer. That’s my superpower. Through the magic of writing my ideas are transported across space and time and through the alchemy of writing, my words change the world by inspiring thoughts and deeds. Even before I recognized writing as a superpower that connects us to ourselves, to others, and to our world, all I ever wanted to be was a writer which is why my professional career has moved from journalist to editor, from novelist to writing teacher, and, yet, in every incarnation it has been a celebration of the written word, because first and last I am a writer.

From B.A. to Ph.D., my entire education has centered around the study and production of the art and practice of writing and my entire professional career has been devoted to writing. Both have taught me three essential truths about being a writer:

  1. To be a writer one needs to write
  2. To be a better writer one needs to read as well as write
  3. To be the best writer one can be requires both writing and reading within a community of writers

My life, my education, and my career began in a small upstate New York farming community, but it has been in Kentucky where I have found my writing home. I have found members of my writing family at the Kentucky Romance Writers of America, the Kentucky Press Association, the Kentucky Philological Association and the Kentucky Council of Teachers of English. However, it was my introduction to the Morehead Writing Project (an affiliate of the Kentucky Writing Project in case you thought I broke the pattern), that allowed me to truly find my people. It has been through National Writing Project work at home in Morehead and at Kentucky Writing Project events as well as national events (held both in person and virtually) where I have found inspiration and voice. The Morehead Writing Project has made me a better writer and the Morehead Writing Project has made me a better teacher of writers. Even more essential it has brought an active, vibrant community of writers into my life to share their gifts.

I am one of the lucky few who get to live their dream. I spend my days with other writers. Even as I write these words I am preparing to meet with 100 teen writers on the campus of Morehead State to spend the day writing and sharing our words. Yesterday I worked with teachers to plan our summer programs to support young writers from kindergarten through high school. Next week I will gather with adult writers at the Kentucky Folk Art Center for a writing retreat. Every day I work with Morehead State University students using writing to grow as professionals and humans. While often my days are filled with administrivia and the drudgery of paperwork, I am sustained by the joy of the writing community I found in eastern Kentucky. While that community has expanded to span the globe, it remains firmly rooted in the hills. I am a writer. I have always been a writer, but it is my writing community that made me the writer I am today.

Deanna Mascle teaches writers and writing teachers both in person and online, directs the Morehead Writing Project, and runs the Writing Studio at Morehead State University. She writes about and researches writing pedagogy and teaching with technology. She Tweets, blogs and posts to Google+ about all these things (as well as posts memes on these topics to Instagram). You can check out her curated collections on ScoopIt to learn more about what interests her about writing and learning.


Categories: Other

Writing Rooms

The following blog post was published on the Spalding University MFA in Creative Writing blog in March 2015. It is being republished  here with the permission of the writer, Maureen Morehead.

For 20 years I have written in the first floor family room of my house. I have an office on the second. It’s a spacious room with manila-colored walls, a vaulted ceiling, a large palladium window, an antique desk, a trestle table with baskets and writing magazines, a magnifying mirror, two red chairs, a filing cabinet, a printer, and a black three-drawer bow-front dresser in which I store paper and envelopes, folders, paper clips, staples, rubber bands—the stuff of a writer. I like the room, but even though I could sit at the desk and look out at a full red maple whose buds are already visible this cold, snowy March afternoon, I do not write in this room.  It’s too quiet. So I keep the ironing board set up in a corner, and I visit my office each morning when I iron a shirt for my husband to wear to work.

In the family room, where I write on one of two sofas with my Macbook charged and a fleece blanket over my legs and under the computer, I can sit for hours, lost in revision. The room temperature is consistent year round. I keep the thermostat down in winter and up in summer and often have no use for it in spring or fall. The room has a fireplace with a white wooden surround and mantle fastened onto a chimney that looks like salvaged old brick, but it’s not. Since I had a screen placed over the smoke stack, I no longer hear trapped birds fluttering in the darkness of the chimney, which was the one noise that made writing impossible. An impressionistic painting of a basket of apples I’ve had for 40 years sits atop the mantle. When the power goes out, I light candles and place them there. On the wall with three floor-to-ceiling windows and a glass-paned door is a print of a painting of Andrew Wyeth’s “Writing Chair.” I’ve looked at it many times and written about it, imagining the Windsor chair with tray extended from one arm and a green jacket tossed over the other, to be mine. For some reason, I think the room with its thick walls and high window and that extraordinary chair could be another place I’d write.  It is, in fact, the only hint in the room, besides me sitting for hours on the sofa with blanket and laptop (and I could be playing computer games), that this room has anything to do with writing.

When I was young, I romanticized poets and their writing spaces. Poets were mysterious beings who loved solitude and had an edge on wisdom. Their bedrooms had books in every corner, three or four on the bedside table beside elaborate iron beds. Poets wore clothing you might buy at Anthropologie today, bohemian-looking dresses, pretty fabrics, long skirts and boots, hoop earrings, multiple bracelets clicking on their arms as they walked. When I visited Emily Dickinson’s home a couple of years ago, her writing room was spacious but spare. The room with its small bed, three windows, two overlooking the road at the side of the house, a wooden floor, a dresser, and a tiny square writing desk is where she wrote her poems. Someone had placed on the bed a photocopied example of one of her fascicles, which was to me the most astonishing thing in the room. Sixteen pages of poems in Emily’s handwriting, arranged and sewn together by the poet herself, caused me to whisper a silent thank you to her sister Lavinia for saving the poetry. Emily’s famous white everyday dress had been fitted onto a mannequin and placed at the top of a stairway in a plexiglass box just outside Emily’s room.

If you were to analyze the room in which I write, I wonder what you’d make of the bird paraphernalia, the collection of colorful pottery, and other miscellany I’ve gathered there. On either side of the fireplace are large bookcases, sans books (but one). The shelves hold, instead, carved wooden birds, a walnut pintail and a mahogany mallard, bought at a street fair in Ann Arbor; two sharp-beaked boxes; a small Louisville Stoneware ceramic bird house I gave to my father one Christmas and he gave back to me the next; and two painted handmade houses, a small white church with a green roof and a large red barn with steeples, two curved doors, suggesting Churchill Downs and that it should be miniature horses, not birds, who’d nest there. Also on the shelves are old Ball jars, a pink one and the more familiar aqua, both with bubbles in the glass indicating their age, and several pieces of local Bybee pottery, three bowls, two pitchers, a casserole dish, and a cookie jar. I have a landline, so on one of the shelves is a telephone plugged into the wall, and on another, three yoga DVD’s, one about wolves in Yellowstone, and The Sibley Guide to Birds.

Elsewhere in the room: lamps, too few of them, tables, glass doors opening to the living room, an muted floral dhurrie, a heavy, old mirror positioned to reflect the trees through the windows, two prints of trees photographed in Bernheim Forest, and a television, small by today’s standards, that is off now, but is usually on because I don’t need or want silence as I write. The furnace just came on, ice dropped into the bucket in the freezer, and something clicked inside a wall. If it weren’t cold and the door were open to the outside, I’d hear a wind-chime because I can see the few remaining leaves on oak trees in the narrow woods behind my house fluttering as if about to take wing, and I can see the golden tops of cedars bending, snow dropping from their upper branches and melting off the iron furniture beyond the three windows I am facing now.

In “The Writing Life,” Annie Dillard describes composing Pilgrim at Tinker Creek facing a window shade so she wouldn’t have to look at a roof and parking lot outside Hollins Library. She had observed Tinker Creek as if through a magnifying glass, taken copious notes, and she didn’t need to be in sight of it to write about it. I don’t find anything about this room or what I see in it or from it distracting, though I’ve stood at the windows so many times, I have memorized what I might see should I look out now. Early this morning, six deer poked their noses into the snow under the bird feeder, scavenging for seed kicked to the ground by the squirrels who’ve figured out how to get up there. Cardinals, male and female, doves, titmice, sparrows, wrens, and blackbirds don’t seem too bothered by the squirrels; there’s cooperation among them as they dig and peck at the ground or wait their turn at the feeder. Yesterday, however, I watched a young male deer with knobs where his antlers will be, kick at his sister as she approached him, expecting him to share the seed he was pecking, and the blackbirds attempted, to no avail, to scare the yellow-bellied sapsuckers, downy, and pileated woodpeckers away from their suet feeder. Raucous as bluejays are blackbirds, but not as effective.

Since it is late winter, I can watch the sun rise through cross-hatched tree branches when I look toward the east. I’ve written its colors almost as many times as I’ve seen them. This morning’s sunrise began with deep-rose, slipped into burnt orange, then shimmering pink to bands of purple, rafters of lavender, gray-blue, yellow-blue, a tinge of green, strands of light moving in unison with the movement of the earth and the steadfastness of the sun. Inviolable.

A woman came to interview me a couple of years ago and wanted to see where I write. I don’t know what she expected, but I think she was disappointed. I do have a designated room, I told her, with a desk and a chair facing a red maple tree and, in summer, a cottage garden of daylilies and roses, iris, Russian sage, black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers I can see from the window in that room. I also have a wall of bookcases and books in the living room and I’ve taken over the bookcases in my son’s room, considering he’s living in California and no longer needs them, but I don’t write with books around me. I don’t write anymore with a yellow pad and pencil or at 3 o’clock in the morning before I take my shower, dress and drive to work. I can write just about anywhere, though: a classroom of seventh graders, an airplane, the waiting room at Sam Swope’s Autos, but ordinarily I write in a family room without a family but with a television tuned to CNN, sometimes to gory detective shows, lots of good vs. evil where the good usually wins, and I always have a woods of old growth trees just outside to shield me, and a small herd of deer to keep me company.

Maureen Morehead was Kentucky Poet Laureate for 2011 and 2012. She is a faculty member in Spalding’s MFA in Creative Writing Program, and a recipient of the Kentucky Arts Council’s Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship in Literary Arts.

Morehead will be one of three Kentucky Poets Laureate, including current poet laureate Frederick Smock and poet laureate for 2003 and 2004 Joe Survant, reading at the Kentucky Writers’ Day celebration, 6 p.m. April 24 at the Spalding University Library, 853 Library Lane in Louisville. After the readings, each of the poets laureate will participate in a discussion about literature and Kentucky’s literary legacy, moderated by poet Lynell Edwards, Spalding’s MFA in Creative Writing Program associate director.

For more information on Kentucky Writers’ Day, visit the Kentucky Arts Council’s website.

Categories: Other

Reflecting on a year as Poet Laureate

Fred Smock

Kentucky Poet Laureate Frederick Smock

During this first year of my laureateship, I have traveled to Henderson, Bedford, Shelbyville, Frankfort, Lexington, Madison (Ind.), Berea, Bowling Green, Maysville, Richmond, Georgetown, Newcastle and Glasgow, as well as a few venues in my hometown of Louisville. And I look to significantly expand that geography in the coming year.

As well, I have found occasion to share the stage with many wonderful poets – Trina Pfeffer, Gurney Norman, Maurice Manning, Rebecca Gayle Howell, Wendell Berry, the U.S. poet laureate Tracy Smith and others.

Tooling around the Commonwealth, I have been reminded of what a beautiful place we inhabit. The palisades of the Kentucky River. The green veldts around Bowling Green. The Bluegrass of Lexington and Georgetown. And I have been inspired, like many of my fellow poets, by the natural beauty of this special place.

Kentucky is a “writerly state,” as Jim Wayne Miller used to say. James Baker Hall said his New York agent wondered aloud about how there are so many good writers in Kentucky. I think Jim responded by saying that it has to do with the blue grass, the limestone and the distilleries.

My first literary enthusiasm was the Appalachian writer Jesse Stuart. Whenever a new book of his came out, my mother drove to Stewart’s department store, where we found him squeezed in behind a folding table. In middle school, I wrote a report on him, and we corresponded a bit. In his last letter to me, he wrote, “You tell your teacher I am very much interested in whether you make an A or not.” Naturally, I included that letter in my report.

The Kentucky literary tradition goes way back, at least to the first poem, a kind of backwoods haiku, written west of the Cumberland Gap – “D. Boon kilt a bar on this tree, 1760.”

It is a real pleasure and honor to follow in this tradition.

Please join me for Kentucky Writers Day on Thursday, April 24, at the Spalding University Library in Louisville. We’ll begin the program at 6 p.m. EDT. I will be joined by former poets laureate Maureen Morehead (2011-2012) and Joe Survant (2003-2004) for readings of our respective work. Lynnell Edwards, poet and Spalding University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program associate program director, will moderate a discussion following the readings.

I look forward to seeing you there.


Categories: Other

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