Dozens of writers gathered in Frankfort yesterday for Kentucky Writers Day. The Kentucky Arts Council and the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet invite former and current Kentucky state poets laureate to the capital’s rotunda to read their work and give remarks on the state of writing in the commonwealth.
This year’s speakers included former Kentucky poet laureate Richard Taylor, who echoed T.S. Eliot as he questioned how to live a reflective life in the fast-paced digital age.
“How much knowledge is lost in mere information? How much wisdom is lost in mere knowledge? Reading and writing poetry, living with poetry, not one month a year but every day, is one means to respond to these questions,” says Taylor.
Current poet laureate Maureen Morehead offered an encouraging portrait of her first year in the office visiting schools and community groups across the state.
“I intended to travel throughout Kentucky spreading the word that literature is crucial to us as a culture,” says Morehead. “Instead, I witnessed many Kentuckians who already know the value of the literary arts and who proudly shared their devotion.”
Writers of all stripes mingled over punch and business cards after the talks. Among the attendees is author Cynthia Ellingsen, who moved to Lexington with her Kentucky native husband from Los Angeles four years ago. She finds the smaller community well-suited to a creative life.
“The thing that’s amazing of Kentucky is that everyone’s incredibly supportive of writing and of getting your material out there and of supporting their own,” says Ellingsen.
Ellingsen’s novel “The Whole Package” was published by Penguin Group’s Berkley Books imprint last year. She says Kentucky ended up being the perfect place to write her book.
“It’s beautiful, it’s pastoral, it’s quiet,” she says.
Maybe it’s too quiet for some. Triza Cox is a playwright and performance artist pursuing a graduate degree in theater at the University of Louisville. She’s not finding it as easy as Ellingsen to create a niche in Kentucky for her work.
“So far, it’s been a little challenging trying to be a Kentucky writer,” she says. “I’ve received a little recognition, but I’m not always sure of where the resources are to help me develop and grow more in my craft.”
Cox says she plans to move to New York after she completes a teaching fellowship in Connecticut this summer. She says she likes being in a regional market like Kentucky, but knows she has to move in order to get the audience she needs to move her career to the next level.
“At my stage now it’s a lot of guerilla theater and self-producing,” she says. “A lot of times you find yourself hitting a glass ceiling, where you’re not really sure how to get to the level of a Sarah Jones and an Anna Deavere Smith, what those writers and performers have been able to achieve. It may just be where we are and a lot of this work is not understood, or maybe there’s a small market for it.”