George Ella Lyon


June 18, 2009 - Harrogate, Tennessee—Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) Writer-in-Residence Silas House presented Kentucky author George Ella Lyon with the Lee Smith Award during the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival at LMU last week. The prize recognizes an individual who has worked to preserve and promote Appalachian Culture. A nomination committee submits candidates, which House culls, and Smith selects the winner from the culled list.

“We think Lee Smith is the epitome of what it means to be a great representative of Appalachia,” said House. “Our hope is this award will always pay tribute to the people who follow in her footsteps and strive to not only create important and meaningful art but also to reveal the truth and dignity of this region. I’m so proud to recognize George Ella Lyon this year for the way she always exemplifies the best of Appalachia.”

Lyon has written over 30 books including picture books, poetry, fiction, plays and essays. She is known throughout the region as a teacher of the art of Appalachian writing. Her “Where I’m From” poem has evolved into a poetry exercise often used during workshops and imitated all over the world. Originally from Harlan, Ky., Lyon graduated from Centre College in Danville in 1971. Since that time, she has been widely published in various genres. She continues to travel extensively to teach writing workshops, often helping emerging writers find their own voices.

House presented Lyon with the award before the keynote address on Saturday evening. The award itself is a piece of pottery crafted from Appalachian clay. Though the award is given annually, each award crafted by artisans at the Hindman Settlement School is unique. Located at the forks of Troublesome Creek in Knott County, Ky., Hindman Settlement School has been a model center of progressive education and community service since 1902. The school has played a vital role in preserving and promoting the literary and cultural heritage of southeastern Kentucky and Central Appalachia. This year’s Lee Smith Award was created by master potter Mike Ware and featured dogwoods in the design, which House described as an unofficial symbol of Appalachia.

Best-selling author Lee Smith, the award’s name sake, is the region’s most well-known writer. Her publications include Fair and Tender Ladies, On Agate Hill, and many others. Prior recipients of the Lee Smith Award have been Earl Hamner, Jr. and Sheila Kay Adams.

Also awarded during this week’s festival was the Jean Ritchie Fellowship, believed to be the largest monetary award for emerging Appalachian writers. This year’s Jean Ritchie Fellowship went to Larry Bingham of Portland, Ore.
In its fourth year, the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival has grown every year and continues to have a positive influence on the thriving, living literature of Appalachia. The festival was created to carry on the long literary tradition that exists at LMU, which claims such literary alums as James Still, Jesse Stuart, Don West and George Scarbrough. It is the only large-scale gathering of Appalachian writers of its kind in the area and is organized by House, the author of Clay’s Quilt, A Parchment of Leaves and The Coal Tattoo. This year’s keynote address was given by one of Appalachia’s most respected and important writers, Denise Giardina.

Lincoln Memorial University is a values-based learning community dedicated to providing educational experiences in the liberal arts and professional studies. The main campus is located in Harrogate, Tennessee. For more information about the undergraduate and graduate programs available at LMU, contact the Office of Admissions at 423-869-6280 or e-mail at

CAPTION 1: Author George Ella Lyon accepts the Lee Smith Award at Lincoln Memorial University’s Mountain Heritage Literary Festival. The prize recognizes an individual who has worked to preserve and promote Appalachian Culture.

<< previous page