The Kentucky State Fair should recognize our state’s writers and poets

Published 1:30 am Friday, October 8, 2021

By Bill McCann

It’s fall, not summer. But in a state that has produced Grammy winning songwriters, Oscar and Emmy winning screenwriters, Obie and Tony winning playwrights, Pulitzer Prize winning writers, playwrights, and journalists, winners of the National Book Award … why does one of summer’s great events–the Kentucky State Fair– not recognize our state’s best poets, playwrights, journalists, historians, novelists, short story writers and other creative and non-fiction writers?

I like that the Kentucky Arts Council has established a Poet Laureate recognition program, that it sponsors a Poetry Out Loud program for students and that it recognizes our state’s best professional poets and writers with the Al Smith Fellowship awards.

It is nice that Kentucky Humanities Council sponsors the Kentucky Chautauqua program, and hosts a week-long Book Fair that features opportunities for the state’s published writers and book lovers to mix, mingle, and appreciate each other.

It is terrific that we have the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame, sponsored by the Carnegie Center  (Lexington) and the Kentucky Motion Picture & Television Hall of Fame, sponsored by the Lancaster Grand Theatre to recognize the successful who are or have lived among us.

But where is support and encouragement for those who are not professionals, for those who perhaps have only written a single short story, or even a four- line one stanza poem, who need to be encouraged to write a second poem or a seventeenth unpublished short story?

Yes, I get that the Kentucky State Fair is primarily intended to show off the state’s agricultural traditions, crops, and animals for the purpose of appreciating and encouraging our farmers—of this generation and the next. But it already goes well beyond just highlighting our state’s agricultural successes: there are concerts, a horse show, and a midway of shows, food vendors and rides; there is a talent show, mock trials, and cooking and rooster crowing contests; there are exhibits of photography, antiques, quilts, honey, baked goods, wine and beer, fish-filled aquariums, and sculpture; there are  sheep dog trials, and, of course, there are displays highlighting every county in the state. It’s impossible to try and list everything there is to do and see at a Kentucky State Fair.

So why not include literary arts? Why not have a poetry reading? Why not an open mic night where anyone can read from their creative works. Wendell Berry or Frank X Walker, Crystal Wilkinson or Sena Jeter Naslund might be prevailed upon to be master of ceremonies.

Yes, the Fair is not an ideal venue for such events. Being heard in the South Wing’s ‘airplane hanger’ is impossible without a microphone, and challenging with one. The acoustics are awful. But the reason for such events is recognition and encouragement, not the awarding of a publishing contract.

This an idea that likely will meet with resistance. When I proposed that the Kentucky Arts Council support efforts to do play readings at the Fair the judges actually laughed out loud at the very idea! The project wasn’t funded. But the University of Kentucky’s Department of Theatre did provide initial support. Later, Kentucky Playwrights Workshop took over the effort and for six more years (2014- 2019) Kentucky playwrights had new 10-minute plays performed at the Fair; altogether 37 new works were read at the Fair.

The idea of literary arts being included at the Kentucky State Fair will not have to be created out of whole cloth as the Kenton County Fair and Horse Show already recognizes and awards ribbons and premium payments in the Creative Writing categories of Poetry, Non-fiction, Fiction, Inspirational, and Personal Narrative in a variety of age groupings for both children and adults. A little recognition, a little praise can go a longways to encouraging writers of all ages to work at developing their crafts. Perhaps a few English majors will be found among the winners.

Finally, if there are too many problems associated with producing yet one more event at the Fair, perhaps the winning writings could be displayed at local libraries around the state or posted online. After all the idea is to encourage our state’s student and amateur writers so that Kentucky continues to develop and inspire future award winning and published poets, playwrights, novelists, and inspirational writers.

Interested in making this happen? Probably the best thing to do is write those who can make it happen: Kentucky Arts Council at kyarts@ky.gov,  the Kentucky State Fair Board at https://kystatefair.org/contact-us/ or local legislators Senator Alvarado at Ralph.Alvarado@lrc.ky.gov  or Representative Dotson at Ryan.Dotson@lrc.ky.gov Write now so that local writers can have their talents recognized, perhaps as soon as  August 2022.