WKU Hosts 24th Annual Mary Ellen & Jim Wayne Miller Celebration of Writing
- Joseph Shoulders
- Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
On Sunday, October 25, the WKU Department of English and the African American Studies Program hosted the 24th Annual Mary Ellen & Jim Wayne Miller Celebration of Writing via Zoom. This event serves to honor the legacies of the renowned writers and beloved WKU professors Mary Ellen and Jim Wayne Miller through a writing contest and a guest reading. All undergraduate English majors/minors, African American Studies minors, and students currently enrolled in a Creative Writing or African American Studies class were eligible to enter the poetry contest. This year’s guest was poet Joy Priest.
Priest judged and announced the winners of the poetry contest. Ella Corder placed first with her poem “Self-Conscious Dante: In the Middle of the Journey of Our Life, I Came to Myself in a Dark Wood.” Eli Edens’s “I Have My Mother’s Handwriting” placed second. Nia Queen Douglas’s “Red Bird” placed third.
Before the celebration, Priest conducted a workshop with the winners and the other finalists—Summer Gary, Faith Harris, Kelly Lingen, Abigial Raley, Chloe Skeese, Kayla Spears, and Gabby Wilson. The finalists enjoyed the workshop as they learned more about writing and encouraged each other. When asked about the experience, Ella Corder said, “Joy Priest was brilliant. She cracked us open like pistachios. [She] saw things in our poems that I couldn't have dreamed.”
At 2 p.m., students, faculty, alumni, and Miller family members joined the celebration. Dr. Rob Hale introduced the event and raised a toast to the lives of Mary Ellen and Jim Wayne Miller. Jim Wayne Miller was a professor of Literature and German language at WKU for 33 years. He was a figurehead of Appalachian literature and contributed to the studies of the region. Mary Ellen Miller was a professor of Literature and Creative Writing at WKU for 53 years. She was appointed as the first WKU Poet Laurette, and she championed the development of WKU’s Creative Writing major and MFA program.
Dr. Alison Langdon then introduced the guest poet and judge Joy Priest. Priest grew up in Louisville, KY and has written and published many award-winning poems and essays. Priest read a selection of poetry from her debut book Horsepower, which was selected by U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey as the winner of the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry. The collection, like all her work, is deeply rooted in place as the poems reflect her experiences living across the street from Churchill Downs in the racially-divided city of Louisville. Priest’s reading awed the attendees and sparked a discussion of personal experiences and writing.
Learn more about Joy Priest and Horsepower at her website www.joypriest.com. If you missed the celebration, watch a recording of the event here. The three winning poems will be posted to the WKU English Department website later this week.