Poetry Rises to the Top with Hughes Lecture 2021

WEST LIBERTY, W.Va., April 8, 2021 — Three published poets will take the stage at West Liberty University’s Hughes Lecture on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Free and open to the public, the virtual performance gets started at 7 p.m.

West Virginia Poet Laureate Marc Harshman, Ohio Poet Laureate Kari Gunter-Seymour, and Frank X. Walker, founder of the Affrilachian Poets are the featured artists who will read from their work during the Hughes Lecture. Questions and answers will follow.

“Like most institutions, the arrival of COVID-19 last spring resulted in cancellations and we had to cancel our 2020 lecture so we are pleased to have the Hughes Lecture back this spring,” said Dr. William Scott Hanna, WLU English professor and chair of the Hughes Lecture committee.

The date for the lecture honors both the celebration of National Poetry Month and the April birthday of William Shakespeare.

To attend the virtual lecture presented on Zoom, audience members must register on the WLU Foundation website to receive the secure link via email. This is easy to do via the link: wlufoundation.org/hughes.

Appointed in 2012, Harshman is the seventh poet laureate of West Virginia. A native of Randolph County, Indiana, Harshman began to write as a high school student and published his first poem while a student at Yale.

His fourteenth children’s book, “Fallingwater,” co-written with Anna Smucker, was published by Roaring Brook/Macmillan in 2017 and has been an Amazon Book of the Month choice, as well as a Junior Library Guild selection.

His latest collection of poems, “Woman In Red Anorak,” won the 2017 Blue Lynx Prize and was published by Lynx House/University of Washington Press in 2018.

His poetry collection, “Believe What You Can,” published in 2016 by West Virginia University Press, won the Weatherford Award from the Appalachian Studies Association. It was also named the Appalachian Book of the Year by the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival in Tennessee.

He is co-winner of the 2019 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award for this poem, “Poet in the Schools” and his Thanksgiving poem, “Dispatch from the Mountain State,” was recently printed in the New York Times.

Harshman holds degrees from Bethany College, Yale Divinity School, and the University of Pittsburgh. In the spring of 2016, he was an invited reader at the Greenwich Book Festival in London and has performed with Doug Van Gundy a show titled, Running with Whiskey, highlighting poetry, music, and storytelling at the Red House Arts Centre in Wales.

In 2014, Harshman received an honorary doctoral degree from WLU. Harshman’s newest collection of poems, “The Shadow Testimonies,” has just been scheduled for publication by Salmon Press in the Republic of Ireland.

Gunter-Seymour is a ninth-generation Appalachian and is the first woman and first Appalachian to be selected to serve as Poet Laureate of Ohio.

Her current collection, winner of the 2020 Ohio Poet of the Year Award, “A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen,” is available from Sheila-Na Gig Editions.

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She is the founder and executive director of the Women of Appalachia Project, an arts organization that addresses discrimination directed at women from the Appalachian region and is the editor of the anthology series, “Women Speak,” volumes 1-6 as well as “Essentially Athens Ohio,” a collection focused on landmarks, tales and experiences of those living in or deeply connected to Athens county.

Gunter-Seymour has provided poetry workshops to incarcerated teens and adults and women in recovery as well as teaching virtual monthly generative writing workshops to the general public.

She holds a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design and a master in commercial photography degrees, and is a retired instructor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. Her award-winning photography has been published nationally.

A poem she wrote in 2020 in support of families living in poverty in Athens County, Ohio went viral and has been seen by over 100,000 people, resulting in thousands of dollars donated to her local food pantry.

Her work was selected by former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey to be included in the PBS American Portrait crowdsourced poem, “Remix: For My People.”

Walker is a native of Danville, Ky., a graduate of the University of Kentucky, and completed an MFA in writing at Spalding University in May 2003. He has lectured, conducted workshops, read poetry and exhibited at over 300 national conferences and universities.

A founding member of the Affrilachian Poets, he is the editor of “America! What’s My Name? The “Other” Poets Unfurl the Flag” (Wind Publications, 2007) and “Eclipsing a Nappy New Millennium.”

He is the author of four poetry collections: “When Winter Come: the Ascension of York” (University Press of Kentucky, 2008); “Black Box” (Old Cove Press, 2005); “Buffalo Dance: the Journey of York” (University Press of Kentucky, 2003), winner of the 35th Annual Lillian Smith Book Award; and “Affrilachia” (Old Cove Press, 2000).

A Kentucky Arts Council Al Smith Fellowship recipient, his poems have been converted into a stage production by the University of Kentucky (UK).

His visual art is in the private collections of Spike Lee, Opal Palmer Adisa, Morris FX Jeff, and Bill and Camille Cosby. Walker has served as founder/executive director of the Bluegrass Black Arts Consortium, the program coordinator of the University of Kentucky’s King Cultural Center and the assistant director of Purdue University’s Black Cultural Center.

The University of Kentucky awarded him an honorary doctoral degree in 2001 and he is the recipient of the 2006 Thomas D. Clark Literary Award for Excellence, Actors Theatre’s Keeper of the Chronicle Award and is a 2005 Recipient of a $75,000 Lannan Literary Fellowship in Poetry.

Walker now serves as associate professor at UK; and is the editor and publisher of “PLUCK!,” the Journal of Affrilachian Art & Culture.

The Hughes Lecture Series began in the 1970s and is named after Dr. Raymond Grove Hughes, a beloved teacher who joined West Liberty in 1931. His generous endowment gift established a fund managed by the WLU Foundation.

For more info contact the WLU Foundation at 304.336.5635 or to sign up for the virtual lecture, please visit the WLU Foundation website.