“...that is a job to live up to, the name 'Kentucky writer'. I think about it all the time. I don’t take it for granted...”
– Barbara Kingsolver
Lexington as a Literary Hub
Lexington serves as a literary hub for Central and Eastern Kentucky, attracting both accomplished and aspiring writers from across the region and around the world. The city is known as a place of literary opportunities, training, community, and audiences, and for its atmosphere of creative freedom.
Lexington’s literary history began more than 200 years ago with the founding of the first college and the first newspaper west of the Alleghenies. Ever since, Lexington has remained fertile ground for outstanding, pioneering literature:
- The first African-American novelist, William Wells Brown, was born near Lexington.
- The first million-selling American author, John Fox Jr., hailed from Central Kentucky’s Bourbon County.
- The Affrilachian Poets, a group of writers including Nikky Finney, Frank X Walker and Crystal Wilkinson working together for more than 25 years, was founded in Lexington. The term “Affrilachia” was coined by Walker to describe people of African descent from the Appalachian region and serve as a reminder of the diversity and multiculturalism of the region.
- The University of Kentucky, the state’s flagship university, has educated exceptional writers for more than a century, including A.B. Guthrie, Wendell Berry, Bobbie Ann Mason, and many from Appalachia. The university’s MFA and doctoral programs continue this tradition and connect Lexington to the world through its visiting writers series.
- The Lexington area is home to multiple Kentucky poets laureate and other award-winning artists, including recipients and nominees of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Weatherford Award, Ernest J. Gaines Award, and other literary honors.
- The Kentucky Women Writers Conference, begun in Lexington in 1979, is the nation’s oldest, continuous literary celebration of women writers and their work.
- Every year since 1948, Lexington has hosted the Kentucky Foreign Language Conference, one of the country's longest-running literary, linguistics, pedagogy, and technology conferences. The University of Kentucky conference attracts more than 750 participants from around the world. More than 85% of the presenters hold doctorates in their respective fields.
- For fifty years, Lexington’s International Book Project has promoted literacy by shipping more than six million books to libraries and schools around the globe.
- Lexington is home to an acclaimed university press and many small and independent publishers.
And the list goes on. For whatever reasons – its history of conflict, the beauty of its landscape, or something else – Kentucky has consistently produced proficient writers in all genres. And Lexington serves as a literary hub by bringing together writers and readers from the region and the world.
Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame
Lexington is also home of the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame. Since its creation in 2012, four living writers and 25 deceased writers have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Inductees included Robert Penn Warren (All the King’s Men), Harriette Arnow (The Dollmaker), Harry Caudill (Night Comes to the Cumberlands), Thomas Merton (The Seven Storey Mountain), and William Wells Brown (Clotel, the President’s Daughter).
In 2015, the Hall of Fame’s third year, Wendell Berry (The Unsettling of America, The Mad Farmer Poems) became the first living writer to be inducted. Since then, Bobbie Ann Mason (Shiloh and Other Stories), Gayl Jones (Corregidora) and Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible) have been honored. To explore the biographies of each inductee, click here.
At the 2016 ceremony, Ms. Mason emphasized that Kentuckians are introduced early and often to literature. “In Kentucky, we are brimming over with creative writers. Students all over the state can meet poets and novelists. Students can discover worlds beyond themselves and in themselves. They can imagine that they can be heroes,” she said.
Each January and February, Lexington celebrates the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame as banners with portraits of inducted members are hung in downtown Lexington. This coincides with the annual induction ceremony, a free event open to the public. Each induction ceremony is available to watch at KET.
Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning
The Carnegie Center, located in the heart of downtown Lexington, is “the mothership of the literary community,” in the words of Affrilachian Poet Bianca Spriggs. The Center, located in a 110-year-old Carnegie library, houses the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame and offers writing classes for children and adults. Its adult classes focus on poetry, fiction, nonfiction and publishing. The Carnegie Center is the venue for the Kentucky Women Writers Conference (annually since 1979) and the Carnegie Books-in-Progress Conference (since 2012).
The Center provides free space for book launches for any Kentucky writer. It also provides safe space for community conversations. In recent years, these forums have featured writers on topics such as: Should Confederate memorials remain standing in Lexington’s courthouse square? What is it like to be a Black Woman in the South?
background photo by Patrick J. Mitchell
Carnegie Center Stats (from 2016)
LexLitHub News is a free, online resource for literary events and opportunities across the state. Headquartered in Lexington, it provides up-to-date listings and a calendar of author readings, writing conferences, book launches, book-art exhibitions and other activities for readers and writers.