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Gurney Fest!


A two-day celebration of Appalachian writer, documentarian, advocate, UK English Professor Emeritus, and UK Alumnus (BA '59), Gurney Norman. Norman is the author of Divine Right's Trip: A Folk-Tale (1972), Kinfolks: The Wilgus Stories (1977), One From Crazy Quilt: A Novel in Progress (1990), Ancient Creek: A Folktale (2012), and Allegiance (2019). He served as Kentucky Poet Laureate in 2009-10 and has been inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame (2019) and into the University of Kentucky College of Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame (2021).

Events include a musical performance, master class, panel discussions, film screenings, and readings of Gurney's works. The detailed program follows below. REGISTRATION IS CLOSED.

Gurney Norman at Hindman Settlement School, photo by Guy Mendes
Gurney Norman at Hindman Settlement School, photo by Guy Mendes


Friday Events

10:30am -1:30pm


Hardymon Theater in Davis Marksbury Building


Gurney Fest! kickoff and new documentary by Sean Anderson.

Hardymon Theater in Davis Marksbury Building


Musical performance by Jack Wright, brought by the Appalachian Center and Appalachia in the Bluegrass Series.

Hardymon Theater in Davis Marksbury Building


Lunch and screening of KET documentary, Time on the River.

Ballroom in King Alumni House


Morris Grubbs, "Living with Kinfolks: Gurney as a Master of the Short Story."

Ballroom in King Alumni House


Panel discussion on Teaching Gurney. Speakers include Erik Reece, Morris Grubbs, Chris Green, Leatha Kendrick, and Theresa Burriss. Moderated by Robert Gipe. 

Ballroom in King Alumni House


Student and alumni readings, Graphite Creative Writing Club.

Ballroom in King Alumni House


Film screening, The Wilgus Stories.

Ballroom in King Alumni House


Panel discussion on The Wilgus Stories Film with Director Andrew Garrison and Actors William Johnson, Robin Mullins, and Frank Hoyt Taylor.



Saturday Events


Screening of KET documentary, Wilderness Road.

Harris Ballroom in Gatton Student Center


Screening of Coal Black Voices.

Harris Ballroom in Gatton Student Center





Panel on Coal Black Voices. Speakers include Theresa Burriss, Jean Donahue, Fred Johnson, Frank X Walker, and Crystal Wilkinson.

Second Screening of New Documentary by Sean Anderson.

Harris Ballroom in Gatton Student Center

Harris Ballroom in Gatton Student Center


"Gurney’s Writing Community." Panelists include Robert Gipe, Sharon Hatfield, Chris Holbrook, George Ella Lyon, Maurice Manning, and Bobbie Ann Mason.

Harris Ballroom in Gatton Student Center


Panel on Gurney and his Homefolks. Speakers include Mandi Fugate Sheffel, Nick Smith, Pam Meade, Angelyn DeBord, Jack Wright, and Dee Davis. 

Harris Ballroom in Gatton Student Center


Screening of KET documentary, From this Valley.

Harris Ballroom in Gatton Student Center



Harris Ballroom in Gatton Student Center


Closing event with readings of Gurney's works and filmed tributes by distinguished authors.

Harris Ballroom in Gatton Student Center

The University of Kentucky College of Arts & Sciences Department of English is proud to sponsor Gurney Fest! with support from the A&S Office of Inclusive Excellence, African American and Africana Studies, Appalachian Center & Appalachian Studies Program, The Commonwealth Institute for Black Studies, The Gaines Center for the Humanities, Department of History, The Kentucky Humanities Council, Department of Linguistics, Department of Modern & Classical Languages, The Nunn Center and UK Libraries, Department of Sociology, and Department of Writing, Rhetoric and Digital Studies.


Presenter Bios

Sean Anderson is a filmmaker living in Lexington, Kentucky.  He was raised in Pikeville, Ky., and graduated from the University of Kentucky.  After a few years living in Washington, D.C., he lived in the Bay Area of Northern California  where he earned a master’s degree in documentary filmmaking from Stanford University.  Among his documentaries are:  Rock That Uke, a clinical study of the ukulele and its discontents; …damn bad oyster: The Times of William Goebel, governor, a tragicomic tale of Kentucky politics; and The People in the Room, which chronicles a year spent among fencing students and their maestro.

Theresa L. Burriss was the first scholar to publish literary criticism on the Affrilachian writers, initially focusing on Frank X Walker, Crystal Wilkinson, and Nikky Finney. Her chapter, “A Voice of Their Own: The Affrilachian Writers,” appeared in the collection, An American Vein: Critical Readings in Appalachian Literature, which Gurney co-edited with Sharon Hatfield and Danny Miller. It is not hyperbole to assert that Gurney helped launch Theresa’s academic career as she went on to publish numerous articles on the Affrilachians and was tapped as an Honorary Affrilachian. She currently serves as the Assistant VP of Community Engagement & Economic Development at Emory & Henry College in Southwest Virginia. Thanks to Gurney Norman for providing opportunity and guidance, 

Willie Edward Taylor Carver Jr. is an advocate, Kentucky Teacher of the Year, and the author of Gay Poems for Red States, a BookRiot Best Book of 2023. He writes about queer and Appalachian identity, focusing on innocence. Carver’s story has been featured on ABC, CBS, PBS, NPR, Washington Post, Le Monde, and Good Morning America. He testified before the US Congressional Committee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties about the schools’ failure to protect students. His work is published in 100 Days in Appalachia, 2RulesofWriting, Another Chicago Magazine, Largehearted Boy Blog, Smoky Blue Literary Magazine, and Good River Review.

Dee Davis is president of the Center for Rural Strategies, Whitesburg.

Angelyn DeBord grew up in the midst of multi-generations of her extended family in western North Carolina.  And it is this family that she credits for the inspiration for 40-year career as a playwright, visual artist, performing artist and workshop leader. A founding member of Appalshop’s Roadside Theater, her theater workshops have led young and old alike to successfully create and perform original material on stages throughout America and in England. Her work reflects a life-long commitment to encouraging people to honor their unique voices and heritages.  DeBord was a recipient of a Rockefeller Humanities Arts and Activism Fellowship to research and publish Telling Your Own Story, A story illumination project.  Angelyn is also a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Registered Play Therapist.

Jean Donohue’s work has been seen on BBC 2, BBC World Service, POV, national and regional public television, The Discovery and Learning Channels, Independent Focus on WNET-13-New York and film festivals around the world. Donohue was on the crew of Gurney Norman’s Wilderness Road and On the River. Her films include From the Shadows of Power, which follows women miners and British women activists as they confront the Reagan/Thatcher’s war on the working class. Her films that feature Gurney Norman are Coal Black Voices, of which she is co-producer/director; The Trail of Hope, the Building of a Ceremonial Earthwork; and Coming to Ground of which Gurney is an associate producer. Her recent film, The Last Gospel of the Pagan Babies tells the story of a 150-year unbroken history of queer Central Kentucky. Her current works-in-progress are: Under the Southern Cross, The Art and Legacy of Henry L. Faulkner, and Love Thru Darkness about jazz/hiphop artist Napoleon Maddox.  


Andrew Garrison is an independent filmmaker who works in both documentary and fiction. He lived in Kentucky for over 15 years and worked with Appalshop for more than a dozen of those years. Prior to that, he was a part of a political media collective that he co-founded with a group of friends in Dayton, OH. He has screened his movies at festivals worldwide including Sundance, SXSW, Berlin, Locarno, Rotterdam, London, and the New York Film Festival, and venues as diverse as an after-school program at a housing project in Hungary and Lincoln Center. His work has earned Guggenheim, Rockefeller, American Film Institute, and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships. He has just retired from teaching film production at The University of Texas at Austin. Working with Gurney changed his life. 


Robert Gipe met Gurney Norman in 1990 or thereabouts. They have collaborated on various summer arts programs, professional development events for teachers, fashion shows, and celebration of mountain luminaries past and present. Gipe is the author of three novels and is the founding producer of the Higher Ground community performance series in Harlan County, Kentucky, where Gipe resides. Gipe grew up near the banks of the Holston River in Kingsport, Tennessee.


Chris Green directs the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center at Berea College, where he has served as an associate professor of Appalachian Studies since 2012. Chris has lectured at the Appalachian Writers Workshop in Hindman, served as president of the Appalachian Studies Association, teaches for the New Opportunity School for Women, and has authored or edited four books, including two that Gurney blurbed (Coal: A Poetry Anthology and Rushlight: Poems) and The Social Life of Poetry: Appalachian, Race, and Radical Modernism, which won the Weatherford Award for the Best Non-Fiction Book on Appalachia. After graduating UK in 1991, his wanderings took him to three states and four degrees, ending with a Ph.D at UK.  In 2004, he joined Marshall University’s English department to teach Appalachian literature, becoming an Associate Professor of English and Gradate Humanities. As a writer/teacher, his seeks to empower people regardless of capacity or circumstance. He still misses W.Va.

Morris Grubbs has directed Graduate Student Professional Enhancement at the University of Kentucky since 2007 and has served as an Assistant Dean in the Graduate School since 2010. Before transitioning to administration, he taught literature and writing for ten years as a professor of English at Lindsey Wilson College.  He holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Kentucky, with a dissertation on Bobbie Ann Mason’s Shiloh and Other Stories. His primary research interests are the history and theory of the short story genre internationally.  He has been a frequent presenter and panelist at the International Conference on the Short Story in English and is editor of Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories (University Press of Kentucky), Conversations with Wendell Berry (University Press of Mississippi), and Every Leaf a Mirror: A Jim Wayne Miller Reader (with Mary Ellen Miller, University Press of Kentucky).

Sharon Hatfield had the pleasure of working with Gurney and the late Danny Miller to co-edit the 2005 anthology An American Vein: Critical Readings in Appalachian Literature—an effort that spanned five years and entailed numerous confabs in Ohio and Kentucky. She is the author of Never Seen the Moon: The Trials of Edith Maxwell, which received the Weatherford Award for nonfiction and the Chaffin Award in 2006. She has taught at the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop at Hindman, Kentucky, and the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival at Lincoln Memorial University. Sharon is retired from college teaching and works as an editor and manuscript coach. Her latest nonfiction work, Enchanted Ground, was released in paperback in 2022 by Swallow Press. She makes her home in Athens, Ohio, but hails from the beautiful Powell Valley in Lee County, Virginia—a wellspring of imagination and memory in Gurney’s stories.

Chris Holbrook first met Gurney Norman in 1979 as a student in Gurney’s creative writing course at the University of Kentucky. Gurney’s instruction and writing were a revelation. Reading Kinfolks Chris saw written into literature the places he had known growing up and characters who could have been his own people. After graduating from UK, Chris attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, earning an MFA in fiction writing.  He has two collections of short stories in print, Hell and Ohio: Stories of Southern Appalachia (Gnomon Press) and Upheaval (the University Press of Kentucky).  Chris currently lives in Lexington, Ky and teaches at Morehead State University where he helped establish and now coordinates MSU’s BFA in Creative Writing.


Fred Johnson is a documentary maker who has worked as teacher and a media and communications policy scholar.  Johnson's work has been transmitted and streamed in a wide range of venues including the Kentucky Public Television network, WNET-New York, the British Broadcasting Corporation’s BBC 2 and BBC World Service. His work has addressed globalization, the international arms trade, Appalachian culture, poetry, urban and public space, and relationships of communications, geography, and constructed space. As a recipient of a Fulbright Television Arts Fellowship, he was sited at the BBC's legendary Community Programmes Unit in London where he took part in early experiments in citizen engagement with social documentary, producing for their Open Space Series. He has had the privilege and astonishing good fortune to know and work with Gurney Norman – on writing projects, documentaries, symposia, and long, looping, labyrinthine conversations -- for decades.

William Johnson met Gurney Norman through his work on The Wilgus Stories.  He grew up in Letcher County, Kentucky and co-starred in Fat Monroe and Night Ride at 10 and 13 years old. He now owns and operates a pest control agency in Bagdad, KY where he resides on his farm with his wife and 2 children.

Leatha Kendrick, a long-time workshop leader at the Appalachian Writers Workshop, co-edited Crossing Troublesome – Twenty-Five Years of the Appalachian Writers Workshop in 2002. In 2022, Kendrick’s essay-review of Gurney Norman’s Allegiance: Stories, was adopted as the introduction to the second edition. Kendrick first encountered Gurney Norman’s visceral and visionary writing at the Appalachian Writers Workshop in the late 1980’s. In the decades that followed, Norman’s wide-ranging creative projects and his tireless, generous teaching at the University of Kentucky and across Appalachia inspired a generation of emerging writers, Kendrick among them. Kendrick’s poems, essays, book reviews, and memoir appear widely and have been collected in anthologies, including Listen Here – Women Writing in Appalachia; Missing Mountains; The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume 3; and What Comes Down to Us – Twenty-Five Contemporary Kentucky Poets. Kendrick is the author of five books of poetry, most recently And Luckier (2020).

George Ella Lyon worked for Gurney's Appalachian Poetry Project, which aimed to hold poetry workshops in five southern Appalachian states. Lyon's job was to find poets in the region to lead these gatherings, while Bob Henry Baber set up the workshops. Besides supporting poetry & poets, this project, like all Gurney’s work, was about building community. Through it, Lyon met some of her dearest friends. Gurney also got Lyon to Hindman’s Appalachian Writers Workshop, which continues to extend that community exponentially. Lyon would not be the writer or the person she is without Gurney’s belief in her early on, without his friendship, generosity & vision through the years. Lyon writes poetry, fiction, picture books, memoir, and assorted prose. Originally from Harlan County, Lyon served as Kentucky Poet Laureate (2015) and was recently inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.

Maurice Manning's eighth book of poetry, Snakedoctor, has just been published.  He is a former Guggenheim fellow, finalist for the Pulitzer prize, and a graduate of UK.  He is professor and writer-in-residence at Transylvania University.


Bobbie Ann Mason was raised on a dairy farm in Mayfield, Kentucky.  She earned her B.A. in English at the University of Kentucky in 1962 and her Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut in 1972. At UK she met Gurney Norman, who encouraged her to take creative writing from Robert Hazel, whose students included Wendell Berry, James Baker Hall, and Ed McClanahan. Her first short stories were published in The New Yorker, and her memoir, "Clear Springs," was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Much of her work has to do with war, and her newest novel, "Dear Ann," returns to the Vietnam War as the looming background of a love story in the turbulent sixties. She is former writer-in-residence at UK.

Pam Oldfield Meade lives in White Oak, KY near West Liberty.  Her paintings show her love and respect of nature, people, stories, and life in eastern Kentucky as well as her commitment to addressing social issues in the region as well as the wider world. She uses colored pencil and watercolor sketches; found paper and food packaging; metal; text; acrylic and oil paint along with other items to create her paintings.  She believes artists will help shape a positive future in Appalachia Kentucky and areas beyond.  She created art for two of Gurney Norman’s books: Ancient Creek and the hardback edition of Allegiance

Robin Mullins was born and raised in Wise, Virginia and now makes her home in East Tennessee with her husband, D.R. Mullins. Robin first learned about Gurney after buying Divine Right’s Trip at The Cozy Corner gift shop in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Reading the story on the bottom pages of The Whole Earth Catalog furthered the intrigue. As a high schooler at Jenkins, Kentucky, she filled many pages of a diary with poems about Gurney, who she’d never met or seen. Robin has been in many feature films and television shows since, mainly about the mountain region of her home or the south. But the highlight was getting to play Maxine in The Wilgus Stories and getting to finally meet Gurney Norman. More synchronicity occurs as she married a man named D. R.! Robin is honored to be a part of this celebration of beloved Gurney Norman who unknowingly steered her young life in such a wonderful direction. Along with  other mentors, many of them here in attendance, heartfelt thanks to you all. 

Erik Reece is the author of six books of nonfiction, including Utopia Drive and Lost Mountain, which won Columbia University's John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism. His work has appeared in Harper’s, The Oxford American, the Atlantic, The Nation, Orion, and elsewhere. He teaches writing and literature at the University of Kentucky and is the founder of Kentucky Writers and Artists for Reforestation.  

Dane Ritter is a poet and author, currently enrolled as a PhD student in the University of Kentucky's Department of English where he also received his MFA in Creative Writing. His research and poetry about Eastern Kentucky and the Appalachian Region previously received the William Hugh Jansen and the James S. Brown Graduate Awards. His creative work, featured in several publications like The Cortland Review, Still: the Journal, and Cold Mountain Review, explores the environmental devastation of mountaintop removal often understood through a queer Appalachian lens. He lives in Lexington, Kentucky with his growing family.

Mandi Fugate Sheffel was born and raised in Red Fox, Ky. A graduate of Eastern Kentucky University, she found her passion for writing and storytelling at the Appalachian Writers Workshop at the Hindman Settlement School. Her personal essays and opinion pieces can be found in Still: The Journal, Lexington-Herald Leader, and the Courier Journal. Her forthcoming personal essay collection, The Nature of Pain, will be released in 2025 through The University Press of Kentucky. She currently owns and operates, Read Spotted Newt, an independent bookstore in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky.

Nick Smith is a communist poet, farmer, and liberation activist from Knox County, Kentucky.

Frank Hoyt Taylor was born in Norton in the coalfields of southwestern Virginia. After earning a degree in English from the University of Virginia at Wise he joined the newly formed Roadside Theatre, a part of Appalachian Film Workshop. For the next ten years, and over four hundred touring performances, he was part of a three actor ensemble in an original production based on Appalachian storytelling. Venues ranged from tents, prisons, and colleges to a run at the Manhattan Theatre Club. His film career began with two notable movies, John Sayle's, Matewan, and Mark Rydell's, The River. Soon, he was enlisted to play the character of Uncle Bogg in the television series Christy. His many film credits over the years include the role of Sheriff Guidry in Joseph Sargent's, A Lesson Before Dying, which gathered an Emmy for best picture, and in 2005 director Phil Morrison brought Frank in to play the folk artist David Wark in the independent Junebug. It was a Sundance favorite and was on many of the year's ten best films lists. Diane Bell met Frank when she and Chris Byrne were visiting friends at his home at the River Farm in Virginia. They saw the bee hives, ate from the garden, and heard some great live music. Later, in conversation, she briefly mentioned a script called Obselidia she was completing. Several months later she contacted Frank to see if he had any more honey, he did, and to ask if he and bees would be in her movie. And they were, though the bees that worked on location in the desert near Death Valley turned out not to be from the River Farm, but were their California cousins. Unfortunately, they could not accompany Frank to the premiere in the knee-deep snow at Sundance. They were returned to their home in the locust groves near the foot of Mount Whitney.

Frank X Walker, multidisciplinary Artist, Educator and Activist, was a fiction student of Gurney’s over 40 years ago in the early 1980’s at UK. He also regularly rode shotgun with the Gurn into the mountains to literary and educational events at Hazel Green, Hindman, Hazard Community College, Appalshop, and even the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, Tennessee. Walker considers Gurney his “Literary Father.” His and Nyoka Hawkin’s Old Cove Press published three of Walker’s earliest poetry collections: Affrilachia, Black Box, and Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate This Ride. Walker is a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets and teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing and African American and Africana Studies program at the University of Kentucky and resides in Lexington’s East End Artists Village. 

Crystal Wilkinson, a recent fellowship recipient of the Academy of American Poets, is the award-winning author of Praisesong for the Kitchen Ghosts, a culinary memoir, Perfect Black, a collection of poems, and three works of fiction—The Birds of Opulence, Water Street and Blackberries, Blackberries. She was Poet Laureate of Kentucky from 2021 to 2023 and met Gurney in the 90s while carpooling to the Hariette Arnow Conference. Crystal was recently named the Bush-Holbrook Endowed Professor at University of Kentucky where she teaches creative writing and African-American and Appalachian literature.  

Jack Wright is a writer, storyteller and musician with work appearing on NPR, PBS, June Appal Recordings and in Hollywood films. His articles about Appalachia have appeared in Independent Spirit, Iron Mountain Review, Appalachian Journal and other publications. In 2007 he produced a book and CD anthology, Music of Coal. He is a retired professor from Ohio University Film School.