Join the Ky Women Writers Online to Turn “Lament and Upheaval” into Art

August 14, 2020
Our local newspaper, the Lexington Herald-Leader, graciously offered space for me to share my thoughts about what it means to hold the conference during these unusual times. You will recognize the lede from an earlier blog post here! What follows is the text of my op-ed from August 14, 2020, also available at this link:
Uncertainty is a fact of life, but I’m not sure it has ever governed our day-to-day existence to the extent it has in 2020. It’s disturbing not knowing what the next three, six, or nine months will look like. The poet John Keats used the term “negative capability” to describe an ease in living with mystery and doubt, a quality he felt was essential for artists. The idea of a pandemic-induced negative capability may seem strange, but remember that Keats spent much of his life witnessing family members die of tuberculosis before succumbing to it himself at age 25. The fragile uncertainty of life surely influenced his aesthetics and didn’t inhibit him from penning poems for the ages.
Last spring the Kentucky Women Writers Conference Board of Directors and I demonstrated our negative capability by voting to move this fall’s conference online. As solitary pursuits, reading and writing would seem ideal occupations for a quarantine, and some stalwart souls have indeed experienced these days as a bonanza for ambitious projects. Three winners of our Betty Gabehart Prizes— Marci Cornett of Morehead, KY, Amanda Hawkins of Woodland, CA, and Lisa Kent of Columbia, MO—didn’t let a pandemic prevent them from submitting powerful works that captivated our judges. But for many, both the coronavirus and the deeply distressing realities of racial injustice and violence have made this a time of grief and anxiety, lament and upheaval, economic distress and bewilderment about how to respond.
Even in lament, however, many women writers are seeing possibility from the uprisings for racial justice that have drawn the largest participation of any protests in U.S. history. One writer appearing at our fall conference, Bridgett M. Davis, said to me, “Being African-American in this moment is about balancing anguish with great expectations, which is both exhausting and exhilarating.” Our hope is that many others who are impassioned to use their talents to write about social justice and other urgent topics will make the Kentucky Women Writers Conference their artistic home.
Bridgett is one of many celebrated authors who will lead workshops and read from their own work at our conference. Her memoir, “The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers,” gives an indelible portrait of a woman who supported her family in 1960s Detroit through a successful home lottery operation. On last month’s Kentucky Women Writers Radio Hour on 91.3 WUKY, Bridgett said, “I essentially attempted to write a book about one woman that would put a human face on all the myriad obstacles that have been put in front of Black folks’ lives.” The world created by Fanny Davis for her family is so vividly portrayed by her daughter that it becomes an enthralling place for the reader to inhabit too, with all its challenges, triumphs, sense of community, and love.
Because this year’s conference will be online, and because we know that many are watching their expenses, we are reducing all admission fees. Yet we still promise excellence. Thanks to support from LexArts, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, University of Kentucky Libraries, and individual donors, this program of the UK College of Arts & Sciences offers signature events that are still free, such as the Wild Women of Poetry Showcase and many others.
In these days of uncertainty, consider turning your isolation into a time for working on your own skills. It’s a decision that has led many others to attend the Kentucky Women Writers Conference and become published authors or just enjoy the company of others who love the written word. To those who have already signed up, thank you for your willingness to bring your words, ideas, and friendship to this virtual gathering. To those on uncertainty’s fence, jump off. Join us. Hear from truly great women writers and nurture your own writing talents. We look forward to seeing you with us online on September 10–13, 2020. To register, please visit or phone 859-257-2874.