Renowned Kentucky author, former poet laureate honor the late James Hall Baker

By: Lauren Conrad

Acclaimed Kentucky authors Erik Reece and Maureen Morehead spoke Thursday evening during the third Writer’s Series installment, presented by the Student Activities Board and the College of Arts and Sciences.

The Writer’s Series was created in honor of the late James Baker Hall, who was a renowned Kentucky poet, novelist, film writer and long-standing UK faculty member. Both Reece and Morehead mentioned Hall as an influence on their own creative work.

In addition to Hall’s work, Reece, who was born in Louisville, and Morehead, who moved to Lexington in the fifth grade, share the environment and history of Kentucky as inspiration to their work.

“In this series we are trying to have a focus on their background in Kentucky and how that has influenced their writing,” said Shannon Ruhl, Cultural Arts Director for SAB.

Reece, a UK graduate who is now a senior lecturer here as well, is the author of two books, “Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness: Radical Strip Mining and the Devastation of Appalachia” and “An American Gospel: On Family, History, and The Kingdom of God.” Reece has also published articles in Harper’s Magazine, The Nation and Orion Magazine.

Reece read the chapter, “Coal: An Autobiography,” from “Lost Mountain” during tonight’s series. He cited his experience working in a coal plant as a young man as what made him decide to go back to college, subsequently enrolling at UK.

During this time, upon exploring Kentucky’s rivers and forests in an old canoe he purchased from his grandfather’s friend, Reece had abandoned his “grandfather’s faith and had replaced his white-washed sanctuary with the rivers, unroofed church and the forests’ primitive icons.”

Years later, while evaluating Kentucky’s landscapes in a small plane, Reece realized that his “grandfather’s religion was wrong on another score. It doesn’t take a whole lot of faith to move mountains. It takes about ten minutes and a company called Caterpillar.”

“I had quit coal back then in its stage of conversion in energy,” Reece read. “But now I found myself once more drawn back into its complicated whole over my home state; this time, at the source of its extraction.”

This experience inspired Reece to create a collection of poems that celebrated the landscape of the mountains in the eastern U.S., and that features one of Hall’s poems. Reece is an advocate for preserving Appalachia and the traditions of Kentucky.

Morehead, the Kentucky Poet Laureate through 2012, has published three collections of poetry: “In a Yellow Room,” A Sense of Time Left” and “The Melancholy Teacher,” and has collaborated with Pat Carr on the book “Our Brothers’ War,” which is a collection of poems and stories based on Kentucky women during the Civil War.

Morehead’s work has also been featured in “The Kentucky Anthology: Two Hundred Years of Writing in the Bluegrass State” (University Press of Kentucky, 2005), “Conversations with Kentucky Writers II” (University Press of Kentucky, 1999) and “Kentucky Voices: A Bicentennial Celebration of Kentucky Writing” (Kentucky Arts Council, 1992).

Morehead read several poems from her latest collection, “The Melancholy Teacher.”

“I think the [title of the] book tries to argue with the idea that all life is vanity,” Morehead said. “I think the book says that in the end, there are some pretty important things worth living for.

“I don’t think my poetry would be if it weren’t anchored in this place. Had my family stayed in central Illinois, where I lived until the fifth grade, surely the flat, flat fields of the corn and soy beans and the elm trees and the small red house would serve as metaphors for what I have in my mind and my heart.”

Folk rock musician Warren Byron, who was also creatively inspired by Hall, was also at Thursday’s Writer’s Series. Byron shared his performance by singing –and playing on the guitar – a musical piece influenced by Hall’s poem, “That First Kite.”

The Writer’s Series has two more installments this semester, on October 27 and November 8. The calendar can be viewed at