Each episode features an established writer and an emerging writer, sharing their wisdom to help you free your own story. “Words for the People” is hosted by Crystal Wilkinson, Kentucky’s Poet Laureate.
Episode 7: The Mutuality of Country People
We’re more alike than we are different. That can sound like a platitude in the wrong hands, dangerously close to “I don’t see color.”
But spun out over the course of a winding conversation between Crystal Wilkinson and her guest, Wendell Berry, it becomes a nuanced exploration of the language, experience, struggle and heritage of being a Kentucky writer.
“You and I are probably as opposite as people can get,” Berry says. “We’re not supposed to have things in common, but we do.”
In our season finale, recorded live at the 41st annual Kentucky Book Festival, we invite you to come along as two Kentucky writers connect and uplift each other, the craft of writing, and the commonwealth that made them both what they are.
Episode 6: Writing to Heal
At a time when our whole world seems to be in need of healing, this remarkable episode of Words For The People features Kentucky Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson discussing the restorative power of bringing our words into the light with Ada Limón and Silas House.
“I think healing is central to what I want out of writing,” U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón says. “If it helps others, then more power to the work!” Crystal and Ada discuss how writing is like finding a container that can uniquely hold a range of emotions we may need to experience and lay down.
Many times when these stories are excavated and released into the world, they can be a powerful mirror that echoes our common humanity and helps us understand each other in a new way. That empathy, Crystal notes, is central to our own healing.
Ada also shares some of her award-winning poems, how Kentucky has been good for her writing, and what her time as the 24th U.S. Poet Laureate might look like.
Next Crystal talks with nationally bestselling Kentucky author Silas House, who shares his own experience with the healing capacity of words. “The only way I’ve ever gotten through anything – survived any hardship – is through writing,” Silas says.
Silas talks about the importance of finding the trouble when writing and reads excerpts from his new book, “Lark Ascending.”
This episode also includes submissions from emerging Kentucky writers Carolyn Martin, John E. Campbell and Avery Guess.
Episode 5: The power of the pause
This episode begins with Kentucky Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson and guest author Hannah Drake sharing a powerful conversation about their journeys with
resilience. They discuss the perpetuation of the “strong Black woman” stereotype that has included the burden of taking care of families, working for social justice in communities, and laboring to fix a broken country.
This has come at a cost.
“We’re tired of being resilient all the time,” explains Hannah as she speaks to the necessity of taking care of oneself and not just others. For the sake of health and sanity, we all need to learn to sit with silence, although it may be uncomfortable. In fact, there is no growth, healing, or truth telling without this space to listen.
They share the simple advice, “go lay down.” And they shout The Nap Ministry, which declares “rest is resistance.” Crystal and Hannah also encourage listeners to actively create a space that renews you, be it a garden, a prayer room, or just a place to take off your cape for a while.
In these acts of radical self-care, they find that endurance and liberation are possible. Hannah also shares her extraordinary poem, “Fix It Black Girl,” and explains why she speaks and writes about this topic. “I really want black women to be free.”
Crystal then considers what a resilient life looks like with emerging Affrilachian poet Danni Quintos. Danni admits she processes a lot through her writing, although it may not go out into the world.
“If it’s something that helps you heal, then it’s doing its job,” Danni reminds us.
When it comes to the constant hustle writers face to publish, she believes we must give ourselves “the grace to not be productive.” Danni, who met Crystal almost 20 years ago through the Governor’s School for the Arts, also speaks of the restorative nature of her literary community and the Kentucky writers of color who encouraged her to write about the things she came from. During the conversation, she shares poems “Self-Portrait as Manananggal” and “Ode To Country Dips” from her award-winning book Two Brown Dots.
- Read more at danniquintos.com.
Also on this episode, listener Leigh Claire Schmidli shares her poem, "Whale Bones." To share your own work with "Words for the People," visit our submission page.
Episode 4: Reclaiming joy
If we turn joy inside out, what do we find?
On this episode, Kentucky Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson peers underneath deep joy to expose roots of heartache and struggle. Author Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggitts, who grew up in Louisville, reveals that “grief and trauma live in the same place as joy.” Her most recent publication is the critically-acclaimed book, “Black Joy: Stories of Resistance, Resilience, and Restoration,” about how joy has evolved in the midst of hardship in her own life story.
During the conversation, Tracey recalls a time when she did not know what joy felt like in her own body. “If you would’ve told me five years ago that I would be writing about joy…I would’ve laughed,” Tracey admits. However, it was within her grief that she found eyes to more clearly see the gifts around her. Now Tracey hosts a Black Joy Happy Hour on social media and helps others reclaim moments of joy.
This episode's emerging author is our youngest guest yet! Ten-year-old King El-Amin is a creative writer and artist from Lexington who shares how he experiences joy from his family, wet kisses from his amazing dog, and wearing a fabulous crown. “It gives me a boost of confidence,” he explains, and that helps him boost everyone around him. You won't want to miss King reading his award-winning poem, "Black Boy Joy!"
As always, there is exceptional writing advice woven into the conversations. Tracey summons her Grandmother’s wisdom to “take the meat and spit out the bones,” and addresses the important process of managing distractions when so much is competing for our energy. King speaks with wisdom beyond his years about the elusive nature of recognition for art-makers. “Even if I didn’t win the contest, I knew that I liked it and I knew that was all that mattered.” King also tells Crystal about the writing camp he designed for his classmates that has transformed bullies into buddies.
Whether you are 10 or 110, Tracey and King offer compelling ideas to reclaim joy in an exhausted, hurting world. Sometimes you just gotta get up and groove or put on a sparkly crown to counter the persistent anxieties we absorb. However you find it, joy has the power to stabilize and sustain us in the days we are living!
Episode 3: You want somethin' to eat?
The offer to share food with someone can represent acceptance, comfort, and community. In this episode of “Words For The People,” Kentucky Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson goes into the kitchen to explore how food works its way out into every part of our lives.
Award-winning author Robert Gipe talks with Crystal about a character from his latest book “Pop,” who cooks a whole pack of bacon for his niece because it’s the only way he knew how to convey comfort in her pain. Robert also reminds us of the simple joy and deep connection found in naming food with others and recollects the speech pattern of “calling the names of the candy bars” with his friends while growing up in Tennessee.
“It’s one of the main ways that I think about and remember my mother,” author Marianne Worthington explains to Crystal as they discuss how we search for memories in our favorite foods. Marianne also reads selections from “The Girl Singer,” her recent book which won the Weatherford award for Poetry.
In this episode both Robert and Marianne reference the power of taking risks on the page. Marianne encourages writers to surprise people. “There’s enough nostalgia in the world. There’s enough preciousness in the world. The riskier you are, the better.” Both guests also have dual citizenship in Kentucky and Tennessee and share the distinctions of these identities and how it has impacted their writing journey.
And on this episode, listener Mackenzie Berry shares her poem, “Hot Brown.”
Episode 2: Where do you call home?
In this episode, Kentucky Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson explores the many sides of home and invites us to listen for the deeper stories that made us who we are today.
George Ella Lyon, former Kentucky Poet Laureate and author of the acclaimed poem “Where I’m From,” recalls the shame she experienced being from the hills of Kentucky. “As a young writer, I tried very hard not to sound like where I was from.”
George Ella eventually found pride in the place where she’s from, and her writing encourages others to do the same. From kindergarteners to senior citizens, her “Where I’m From” poem has resonated with people all over the world because it captures a sense of place, of home.
“Place is sort of a head word, but home and the idea of where you’re from involves the gut and the heart,” Crystal concludes during their conversation.
This episodes emerging writer is NitaJade. As she does with each guest, Crystal asks NitaJade how being a Kentuckian has informed their writing: “I know that I didn’t realize I was Appalachian before I got to Kentucky. So without being a Kentuckian and moving here, I wouldn’t recognize a whole part of my identity that now I claim proudly: Affrilachian.”
NitaJade, currently a second-year MFA Poetry candidate at the University of Kentucky, lived in many different places growing up. They write poems that transcend the physicality of place, and speak powerfully to our connection to family. “Wherever my Mama goes, that’s where I’m calling home.”
NitaJade has written for the stage and the page. You can find more here.
On this episode we hear writing submissions from Lubrina Burton and Sarah Disney, on the theme of where we’re from. This month’s prompt is about food. Listen for details at the end of the episode and submit your writing here!
Episode 1: Lost and Found
"How does being a Kentuckian inform your writing?"
That's the first question Kentucky Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson asks former Poet Laureate Frank X Walker, and he counters with, "how does it not?"
His grandparents were farmers, but Walker describes growing up feeling removed from the land itself. "I was raised in a housing project," he says, "but we coveted other people's land, and we got a kind of way about us when we had a chance to be outdoors and in the wild, or on a farm, like my grandparents' space."
Walker says every word he writes deals with family, place and identity. "I don't know how to take that out."
Later in the conversation, he shares some advice with aspiring writers: listen to other people read and talk about their craft. "There's no substitute for reading," he says. And here are some of his recommendations:
- "Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir" by Deborah Miranda
- "Moon Witch, Spider King" by Marlon James
- "The Girl Singer" by Marianne Worthington
This episode's emerging writer is Zakia Holland, who performed her poem "Imagine Peace" on Woodsongs last year.
Holland is 21 and says she's from "all over Kentucky." You can find more on her TikTok.
Check out the trailer: