The Slowdown, KyWomenWriters2019, & Lists Galore!

January 25, 2019

Have you heard Tracy K. Smith’s podcast, “TheSlowdown”? It’s the best new thing on the radio. Each 5-minute episode features the U.S. Poet Laureate reading aloud and interpreting a poem of her choosing. We were fortunate to host Tracy in 2014, and she in turn has featured some of our past presenters’ work on the podcast: Tarfia Faizullah (episode 11), Patricia Smith (19), Ada Limón (27), and Franny Choi (32).
Mark your calendars: KyWomenWriters2019 will take place on September 19–22, and registration will begin on April 1, 2019. Since we’re not ready to unveil our roster of conference presenters, however, it seems like a fine time to look back at what some past presenters have accomplished in the years since they came to our conference. See below. I know I’m leaving out a lot, so please consult the full list of KyWomenWriters presenters since 1979 here and reply to me with additions. We rarely invite authors back for a repeat visit—unless they’re Kentucky authors, or unless they’re Sonia Sanchez (!)—so you’re unlikely see these women again at our conference. Let that be motivation not to miss future conferences!
Finally, our Board of Advisors undertook two new projects in 2018: first, documenting presenters' recommended reading. That list is attached, and it's one of the coolest things about being around great writers: hearing their off-the-cuff remarks about who you really should be reading. Second, our board redoubled efforts to obtain feedback, resulting in an astounding 50% response rate from last year's registrants. We received some constructive criticism, for example, how to better serve registrants not enrolled in workshops, and are giving those comments careful consideration. But the feedback was overwhelming positive, and my favorite comments are now posted on our website here.
Past Presenters with News
Poet Elizabeth Alexander (KWWC2009) published a memoir, The Light of the World (2015), reflecting on the beauty of her married life, the trauma of her husband's sudden death, and the solace of caring for her two teenage sons. Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Sarah Combs (KWWC2014) published The Light Fantastic (2016), a young adult novel of seven intertwined narratives exploring the pain and pathos of teenagers on the brink.
Playwright Kia Corthron (KWWC2013) won the Windham-Campbell Prize in 2014 ($165,000) and published her epic novel, The Castle Cross The Magnet Carter, in 2016, which traces the lives of four men in mid-century America whose journey culminates in an explosive encounter between two families. Winner of the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize.
Claire Dederer (KWWC2013) published the bestselling memoir, Love and Trouble (2017), about trying to reconcile her wayward yearnings as a happily married mother of two with her promiscuous past.
Camille Dungy (KWWC2017)’s Guidebook to Relative Strangers (2017), essays exploring race, motherhood, and environmental history, was named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Safia Elhillo (KWWC2018), almost immediately after our last conference, won the 2018 Arab American Book Award for The January Children and won a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation ($28,500).
Poet Honorée Fanonne Jeffers (KWWC2009) has a first novel forthcoming, The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois, which follows one contemporary woman’s coming-of-age intertwined with the extraordinary history of slaves who lived on a Georgian plantation.
Karen Joy Fowler (KWWC2014) won the Pen/Faulkner for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2013), about a chimpanzee and a loving but fallible family whose well-intentioned actions lead to heartbreaking consequences.
Jennifer Haigh (KWWC2013) published Heat and Light (2016), a novel about the impact of fracking on the fictional town of Bakerton, PA. A New York Times Best Book of the Year.
Rebecca Gayle Howell (KWWC2012) was just named a South Arts 2019 Fellow ($50,000). Her most recent book is American Purgatory (2016), a working class dystopia set in a near-future United States marked by severe drought, herbicidal warfare, and a totalitarian climate of poverty. Winner of the Sexton Prize for Poetry.
Leslie Jamison (KWWC2014) published The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath (2018), chronicling her own recovery as well as a larger history of the American recovery movement.
Julia Johnson (KWWC2012) published a new collection, Subsidence (2016), poems that speak on personal, geological, and metaphysical levels about subsidence, both as a concept and as a fact of the slowly dissolving American Gulf Coast. She was also the editor of a posthumous collection of a beloved Kentucky poet, The New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry (2017).
Mary Karr (KWWC2015) published a new poetry collection, Tropic of Squalor (2018), with poems about the “squalor” of meaninglessness that sits at the core of human suffering, with which every thoughtful person wrestles.
Ada Limón (KWWC2013) published two new collections, Bright Dead Things (2015), a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and The Carrying (2018), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Kelly Link (KWWC2014) was named a 2018 MacArthur Fellow, the “genius” grant that awards $625,000 over five years. The grant cited her for “pushing the boundaries of literary fiction in works that combine the surreal and fantastical with the concerns and emotional realism of contemporary life.”
Martyna Majok (KWWC2017) won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Cost of Living, which she read from at our conference, a play that delves into the chasm between abundance and need and explores the space where bodies—abled and disabled, rich and poor—meet each other. 
Rebecca Makkai (KWWC2014) published The Great Believers (2018), set in the art world of 1980s Chicago and Paris as the AIDS epidemic emerges. Finalist for the National Book Award and named one of the New York Times’s 10 best books of the year.
Bobbie Ann Mason (KWWC2016) published Patchwork:a Bobbie Ann Mason Reader, with an introduction by George Saunders (2018).
C. E. Morgan (KWWC2010) published her epic novel, The Sport of Kings (2016), about a horse and two families: one white, a Southern dynasty whose forefathers were among the founders of Kentucky; the other African-American, the descendants of their slaves. Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Stella Parks (KWWC2012) won the most prestigious prize for cookbooks, The James Beard Award, for BraveTart: Iconic America Deserts (2017).
Kiki Petrosino (KWWC2013) published Witch Wife (2017), a collection of sestinas, villanelles, hallucinogenic prose poems and free verse summoning history’s ghosts—the ancestors that reside in her blood and craft. A New York Times Best Book of the Year.
Hannah Pittard (KWWC2015) published Listen to Me (2016), a page-turning modern gothic about a marriage and road trip gone hauntingly awry, and Visible Empire (2018), an epic novel based on true events of charting a single sweltering summer in 1960s Atlanta.
Sonia Sanchez (KWWC2005, ’07, and ’15) won the $100,000 Wallace Stevens Prize from the Academy of American Poets in 2018.
Tracy K. Smith (KWWC2014) published Ordinary Light (2016), a coming-of-age memoir about the meaning of home against a complex backdrop of race, faith, and the unbreakable bond between a mother and daughter, named a National Book Award Finalist. Her newest poetry collection is Wade in the Water (2018), shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize. She is the current U.S. Poet Laureate.
Danzy Senna (KWWC2011) published her novel New People (2017) about a young biracial Brooklyn couple, containing her signature mordant observations on race, class, and identity.
Natasha Trethewey (KWWC2009) served as U.S. Poet Laureate in 2012–14 and has a collection forthcoming in 2019, Monuments: New and Selected Poems.
Best wishes & happy reading, Julie Wrinn, director