POETIC JUSTICE

Noted writer with WCU ties named to the N.C. Literary Hall of Fame

By BILL STUDENC MPA ’10

Western Carolina University’s former poet-in residence is among three noted writers inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame during a ceremony in October at the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines. Kathryn Stripling Byer, the former N.C. poet laureate who still makes her home in Cullowhee, was among a 2012 class of inductees that also included best-selling poet and memoirist Maya Angelou and 18th-century explorer and naturalist John Lawson.

Byer served as the state’s poet laureate – the first woman to hold that role – from 2005 to 2009. She has published six books of poetry, with a seventh due from the Louisiana State University Press this fall. In addition to her time at WCU, she was previously poet-in-residence at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Lenoir-Rhyne University.

A native of Georgia, Byer sets most of her poems in the mountains of Western North Carolina. She lives near campus with her husband, Jim, retired faculty member and former head of the WCU Department of English.

Even after her time as WCU poet-in-residence, Byer has remained active and engaged in literary activities at the university, said Brian Gastle, head of the Department of English. “It is extremely fitting that Kay receive this recognition, since – more than virtually any poet I know – she gives voice and language to these mountains and this region. Hers is a vision at once regional and global, personal and universal, and she was an exemplary poet laureate for North Carolina. We were extremely fortunate to have had her as a poet-in-residence in the 1990s, and we have continued to benefit from having her as a neighbor and friend of the department for so many years.”

Byer has been instrumental in the university’s annual Spring Literary Festival and in providing support for the university, including mentorship of emerging authors, he said. “Her weblogs, ‘Here, Where I Am’ and ‘My Laureate’s Lasso,’ have brought attention and exposure to many N.C. authors,” Gastle said. “Kay has earned this honor not only for being ‘the preeminent mountain poet,’ as the N.C. Writers’ Network calls her, but for being a truly superb
poet – period.”

Byer’s poetry, prose and fiction have appeared widely, including publication in the Hudson Review, Poetry, The Atlantic, Georgia Review, Shenandoah and Southern Poetry Review. Her first book of poetry, “The Girl in the Midst of the Harvest,” was published in the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award Series in 1986, followed by the Lamont (now Laughlin) prize-winning “Wildwood Flower,” from LSU Press. Her subsequent collections have been published in the LSU Press Poetry Series and received various awards, including the Hanes Poetry Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Poetry Award and the Roanoke-Chowan Award.

The NCLHOF was founded in 1996 under the leadership of poet laureate Sam Ragan and is a program of the North Carolina Writers’ Network.