LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 6, 2022) — The University of Kentucky is celebrating two book winners of the Weatherford Awards that were announced at the 45th annual Appalachian Studies Association (ASA) conference that took place March 17-20 at West Virginia University.
“The Girl Singer,” by Marianne Worthington, was published by the University Press of Kentucky and won in the poetry category. “The Harlan Renaissance: Stories of Black Lives in Appalachian Coal Towns” (WVU Press), authored by UK Alumnus William H. Turner, won in the nonfiction category.
Crystal Wilkinson, UK associate professor of English, was a runner-up in the poetry category for her book, “Perfect Black.” Former UK English instructor George Ella Lyon was also a runner-up in poetry for her book of hers, “Back to the Light.” Both titles are published by the University Press of Kentucky.
The Weatherford Awards are given by Berea College and the ASA each year. The awards honor books that “best illuminate the challenges, personalities and unique qualities of the Appalachian South.” Fiction, nonfiction and poetry are the three categories recognized, each receiving a $500 award. Over 40 books were nominated this year.
“The Girl Singer” by Marianne Worthington
“The Girl Singer” threads together poems about feminism, Appalachian culture and country music. It is part family history, part music and part nature walk. Worthington’s attentive eye and heart are reflected in the starkly striking and painful images she paints in the poems. Every poem, whether describing a connection with Appalachian wildlife, retelling the lyrics of a classic country tune, reflecting on the speaker’s bloodline or giving voice to famous musical figures of the past, strikes a powerful chord.
Originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, Worthington moved to southeastern Kentucky in 1990. She teaches communication studies and media writing at Berea College and often teaches poetry and nonfiction writing classes for workshops and conferences. She has received the AI Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council and the Appalachian Book of the Year Award for her book, “Larger Bodies Than Mine.” In 2009, she also co-founded “Still: The Journal,” an online literary magazine that publishes work tied to the Appalachian region.
“The University Press of Kentucky is proud to be the publisher of ‘The Girl Singer,’ which is a striking and gorgeous poetry collection,” said Brooke Raby, sales and marketing director at the University Press of Kentucky. “We’re also extremely pleased that Crystal Wilkinson and George Ella Lyon — two incredibly accomplished and renowned poets — were acknowledged for their significant Appalachian works.”
“The Harlan Renaissance: Stories of Black Lives in Appalachian Coal Towns” by William H. Turner
“The Harlan Renaissance” is an intimate remembrance of kinship and community in Eastern Kentucky’s coal towns. Turner reconstructs Black life in the company towns in and around Harlan County during coal’s final postwar boom years, which built toward an enduring bust as the children of Black miners, like the author, left the region in search of better opportunities.
Turner was born in Lynch, Kentucky, in Harlan County. I have received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the UK and a doctorate in sociology from the University of Notre Dame. He also attended the Foreign Affairs Scholars Program at Howard University and did postdoctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University. He also served as the vice president of multicultural affairs at UK. The Appalachian Studies Association honored him for a lifetime of service to the region, and he was inducted into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2007. In 2020, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of North Carolina Asheville. In 2021, he was inducted into the UK College of Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame.
Turner has spent most of his career studying and working to help marginalized communities create opportunities in the world without abandoning their cultural ties. He has produced groundbreaking research on African American communities in Appalachia. He has also studied economic systems and social structures in the urban South and burgeoning Latino communities in the Southwest. I have co-edited the textbook “Blacks in Appalachia” and thematic essays on Black Appalachians in the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture and the Encyclopedia of Appalachia.
“I attribute a goodly bit of this recognition to the longstanding relationships I have been blessed to have with fellow students, friends, teachers, staff and fellow administrators I came to know over the long period of my affiliation with the University of Kentucky,” Turner said.
History of the Weatherford Awards
The Weatherford Awards were created in 1970 to commemorate the life and achievements of WD Weatherford Sr., a pioneer and leading individual in Appalachian development, youth work and race relations. Through 2002, only one book was awarded each year. From 2003 to 2009, one award was given for non-fiction, and one was given for a work of fiction or poetry. In 2010, the poetry award was established to honor the life and work of Grace Toney Edwards, former director of the Appalachian Regional Studies Center at Radford University.