HAZARD – April is National Poetry Month, and Perry County’s premier literary events will round out the month with a poetry reading, writer’s conference, and the release of the college’s annual literary magazine.
Hazard Community and Technical College Professor Scott Lucero is busy organizing the events, one of which is the annual Evening With Poets which will include readings from Makalani Bandele, a Louisville native and member of the Affrilachian Poets.
Bandele is an award-wining poet who has seen his work published in several literary magazines, and his first full-length volume of poetry was published in 2011. He is also the latest in a long line of celebrated writers to appear for Evening With Poets. Past poets include Nikky Finney, a recent winner of the National Book Award.
This year marks the 19th that HCTC will host Evening With Poets in conjunction with the spring writer’s conference, and it is the relationships that organizers have maintained with these writers that Lucero credits with the events’ continued success. He noted that he takes recommendations from poets who have previously appeared as to which writers may be good to invite and lead sessions at future workshops and readings.
“Not all writers are good at that. Writing is a solitary art,” Lucero noted. “A lot of writers get used to working on their craft alone. So we find the right folks to do the job we need them to do. And we let them do their jobs. We give them the freedom to be themselves, and that freedom allows for stronger workshops and for stronger ties to the coterie of writers we work with.”
Eastern Kentucky has a strong literary heritage, with writers like the late James Still and Albert Stewart blazing the path for today’s authors and poets. And interest in this tight-knit community of artists is shared by those writers who attend the poetry reading in Hazard, as well as the writer’s conference. That, in turn, helps this area remain a strong draw for those talented writers.
“Those poets then feel a stronger tie to the region,” Lucero said, adding that since Nikky Finney’s appearance in Hazard, she has created The Twenty, a group of writers between the ages of 18 and 23 who meet at the settlement school in Hindman for a week-long retreat. “She sees the region as ripe with talent, and has created an opportunity to bring folks to this region because of the ties she now feels with it.”
Also reading at Evening With Poets will be a few of those whose work will appear in HCTC’s annual literary magazine, Kudzu, the release of which annually coincides with the poetry reading and writer’s conference. This will be a good opportunity for these poets, Lucero noted, and while some are experienced in reading in front of a group, others may have yet to do so at an event which draws up to 200 people each year.
“One of the things I want those newer poets to see is that they are writers, that they are poets,” he remarked, adding that if they can stand with artists like Nikky Finney, Frank X. Walker and Wendell Berry, that’s an assuring feeling that they are in the same group, or family, of artists. “We writers are a complicated bunch, you know. And we’re told from early on by lots of folks that we’re dreamers, that writing is no way to earn a living, that we ought to be practical. And this reading, I like to think anyway, says, ‘Keep dreaming and keep writing; you’ve made the right choice.’”
The poetry reading will be held on Thursday, April 26, with the annual writer’s conference taking place the following day on Friday, April 27. The conference consists of three separate writers workshops, with Bandele hosting sessions on poetry, and author Amy Greene leading sessions on long fiction. Greene is the author of the novel Bloodroot, and her second novel, Long Man, is forthcoming.
Also hosting a session on short fiction is former Poet Laureate Gurney Norman, who currently teaches creative writing at the University of Kentucky. Norman was raised in Hazard, and comes back to Perry County each year to attend the conference. His presence is a boon to those writers attending these sessions, Lucero said, as he called Norman’s participation “an integral part” of the conference.
“It’s a real honor to have writers of this caliber come all the way down to Hazard and to share their experience and knowledge with all of us,” Lucero added. “And, like the reading, it helps the participants feel part of a larger community, to feel like writers.”
An Evening With Poets begins in the Stephens Library on the Hazard campus of HCTC at 6:30 p.m. on April 26. Sessions for the Spring Writers Conference will begin that Friday at 10 a.m., and it is free of charge with no advance registration needed.
For more information contact Lucero at 606 487-3200 or 800 246-7521, ext. 73200 or email Scott.Lucero@kctcs.edu .