SAB’s Writer Series ends with reunion for renowned poets

By Joy Priest

Silas House, Crystal Wilkinson, Maurice Manning and Frank X Walker — some of the best of Kentucky’s writers all in one room, reading their work, was the scene on Tuesday night to commemorate the late Kentucky writer James Baker Hall in the final installment of the Student Activities Board’s Writer Series.

“It has been a lot of hard work with me and my committee, but it’s all paid off,” said Shannon Ruhl, director of SAB’s Cultural Arts Committee, which organized the series this semester. “I felt tonight was very special, especially with these four writers on stage.”

Adam Ross, a writer and biology junior, opened for the four veteran writers with a poem of his own before introducing Walker, who led off the group.

“I was extremely honored,” Ross said. “Definitely nervous, but mostly honored to be among such great writers of the dark and bloody ground.”

Ross said the only poet he had heard read live of the four features on Tuesday night was Wilkinson.

“Silas was probably my favorite; the way he entranced you with his Southern accent,” Ross said. “Frank was good, too, but I’ve read him before.”

Walker, who teaches a poetry course at UK, often uses poems to tell the stories of historical figures. He read from a new collection of unreleased poems about Medgar Evers — a man whose death began a string of assassinations of leaders in the civil rights movement, he said.

Wilkinson, who co-founded the “Affrilachian Poets,” along with Walker and a few others at UK in the early 1990s, read what she called “a work in progress.” For her, Tuesday’s last Writer Series was a gathering of old friends.

“I worked with Maurice when I worked at Indiana University,” Wilkinson said. “We’re all friends, so it felt like a family reunion of sorts. Maurice was just talking about how him and me and Frank all grew up within 15 minutes of each other … course we didn’t know each other then.”

Manning chose to read two of Hall’s poems, “With Deer” and “Names,” before reading 10 selections from his own work, which he described as “informed by the nonstandard realms of reality, a kind of poetic reality.”

House closed out the award-winning group with portions from a short story, in his distinct Eastern Kentucky accent.

Ruhl said she thought the Series really honored Hall as an event not only in the Lexington community, “but an event at UK where he taught.”

“Something he really capitalized on was censorship and the honesty of a writer’s work,” Ruhl said. “This series has really let writers say what they want to say, and in the way that they want to say it.”