Kentucky author, Lee Pennington’s 20th book, Appalachian Newground has recently been nominated for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.
Pennington, who grew up in Greenup County, Kentucky, is the author of nine other books of poetry including: Scenes from a Southern Road, April Poems, Songs of Bloody Harlan, I Knew a Woman and Thigmotropism.
Appalachian Newground was released in April of this year and was entered for nomination for the Pulitzer by the publisher.
This is Pennington’s third nomination for the prize in poetry as his I Knew a Woman and Thigmotropism were previously nominated for the Pulitzer in 1977 and 1993.
Pennington’s life-long love-affair with writing all started in a one-room schoolhouse with the Farnham family and a row of strawberries.
“When I was in the fourth grade, I went to school out in a little one-room schoolhouse on White Oak,” said Pennington. “We had this history book, it was structured like a historical novel. It was about the Farnham family and it went from the settlement of the country until the late 1800s. I was disappointed that this family wasn’t brought into the 20th century, so I wrote about 80 pages, adding two or three more generations to bring them up to the time that I was in school, that’s the first writing I remember doing.”
And he never stopped.
“I was in high school at McKell in 1957, the same time that Jesse Stuart was principal. Jesse came over to the Portsmouth Times and said, ‘why don’t you let one of our high school students report McKell news?’ and they said they’d be happy to if he had someone in mind. So Jesse came back to school and said to me, ‘you’re our reporter.’”
Pennington wrote various articles for the Daily Times, primarily sports, during his junior and senior years of high school, earning himself $3 per article.
“My mother and father had a little farm, and one of the things that we raised were strawberries. My parents always gave me a row and the money that came in from that row was mine to keep,” explained Lee. “When I got my first check from the Times, I went to Jesse all excited because the writing made me more money than my row of strawberries. So I told Jesse, ‘I’ve made more money writing than I have farming,’ so I’ve decided to become a writer rather than a farmer.”
After graduating from high school, Pennington attended Berea College and went on to graduate school at the University of Iowa.
In 1984, State Legislature named him the Poet Laureate of Kentucky.
Pennington was a professor of English at the University of Kentucky Jefferson Community College, teaching creative writing and English for 34 years until he retired in 1999. He also taught at several other schools and universities including poetry at the Jesse Stuart Creative Writing Workshop at Murray State University for 10 summers.
“This book is my attempt to honor the land and the maturation that I had growing up in Appalachia,” explained Pennington. “Everything in it focuses on my experiences living in Appalachia, the good, the bad and everything between. I’m just trying to honor the land of my birth.”
Kentucky author, Roberta Simpson Brown said in her review of the book, “There is something for each reader that will illuminate the mind, warm the heart, and touch the soul forever.”
The Pulitzer Prize is sponsored by Columbia University and the Pulitzer Board is in charge of selecting the finalists and winners of the prestigious prize. The Pulitzer Board for 2015-2016 consists of: Paul Gigot, chair; Mike Pride, administrator; J. Diaz, R. Blau, K. Willey, P. Gigot, M. Pride, J. Dehli, G. Collins, N. Brown, K. Boo, J. Daniszewski, R. Beck, E. Robinson, S. Engelberg, A. Marquez, T. Shelby, S. Hahn, S. Coll and L. Bollinger.
“I won’t know until December whether or not the book is going to be a finalist, but I just feel awfully lucky to be nominated. The third time’s the charm right?,” Pennington joked.
In addition to writing, he is also a widely known film maker, having produced 24 documentaries, 23 with his late wife Joy. His films include: In Search of the Mudmen, Petroglyphs of Polynesia, Eyes That Look at the Sky: the Mystery of Easter Island, Bosnian Pyramids Hidden History and Room to Fly: Anne Caudill’s Album.
Appalachian Newground is available for purchase on Amazon, and other major bookstore retailers.
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