Former Poet Laureate Gurney Norman was joined by writers Makalani Bandele and Amy Greene for the annual Spring Writers Conference at Hazard Community and Technical College last week, as they each led classes aimed at helping aspiring writers develop their work.
The Spring Writers Conference was started 19 years ago by HCTC Professor Scott Lucero. It began as the companion to the Evening with Poets.
Lucero said that the conference and Evening with Poets started as a way for him to bring several writer friends to the area to foster a transfer of ideas.
“Originally, I wanted to bring friends of mine that are writers in to town and have fun with them,” said Lucero. “We started it like that with a couple of writers from Lexington, and they came down and we had fun, but then the crowd began to get bigger. And the bigger the crowd got the bigger the budget got. The bigger the budget got the bigger writer names that I could get.”
This year the three writers have all been honored with several awards and are all well-known in their fields. One of them, Gurney Norman, started his writing career at the Hazard Herald in the late 1950’s. He worked for the paper during the summers while he was in college, but since then has gone on to publish Divine Right’s Trip and the critically acclaimed Kinfolks. He is also a professor at UK and a former Kentucky Poet Laureate.
Lucero said that it is good to have such an accomplished writer from the area come back home and show that a career in literature can be a reality.
“That is one of the reasons I wanted to bring Gurney in from the very beginning,” said Lucero. “People can say, ‘I could be like Gurney.’ If they read his books, he grew up in Happy, he knows the area and he knows the people and they know him.”
Norman, who was born in Virginia but raised in Perry County, said that for him the reason for coming is a bit different, as he continues to draw inspiration from the mountains, and HCTC provides a perfect setting to help other writers.
“This college is forward-looking and always fosters a creative climate,” said Norman. “I love to, for one thing, come home to Hazard, but to be in this environment at this college is very stimulating.”
As for the other writers and attendees of the conference, Lucero said that the small, intimate setting is conducive to good discussion and truly helpful workshops.
“Particularly in conferences this size, you get so few people you really get more of an intense attention,” said Lucero. “If you are a burgeoning writer, then you can sit down with somebody like Gurney or Amy or Makalani, and they can say, ‘Here is what you should do, here is what is good, here is where you should put that focus,’ and it really reinforces the idea that you are a writer.”
Lucero said that as a writer he has often been told he would never be able to work. This is a problem many people in creative fields face, but having a conference like that helps those that write see that it is possible to make it as a writer.
“Jobs find you, that is what I want people to get out of this workshop,” said Lucero. “If you see these writers, people told them they couldn’t do it, too.”
The workshops were run as three concurrent session with each writer hosting the same session three times. Lucero said that they average between 70 and 90 attendees at the conference each year.