Black Women Writers To Gather at Berea College Symposium

Noted national and regional black women authors will be presenting at the Black Women Writers Symposium: Writing the Natural World, Appalachia & Beyond, to be held Friday, October 21 at the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center on the Berea College campus. The day-long event, the first of its kind in the region, is FREE and open to the public. Refreshments will be served throughout the day.

 Crystal Wilkinson, the Appalachian Writer in Residence for Berea College who organized the symposium, says, “I know of no other literary event in the area that focuses specially on the writing of African American Women, especially those who primarily live and work in the region.”

Along with Wilkinson, featured writers who will be presenting keynote speeches, readings, and discussions include:

  • Joan Brannon
  • bell hooks
  • Carolyn Finney
  • Bianca Spriggs
  • doris davenport
  • Juyanne James
  • Kristine Yohe
  • Xandria Phillips
  • Amethyst Kiah

“Black women are often invited to the table to talk about race, to talk about feminist intersectionality, to talk about injustice, to talk about politics, but rarely are we invited to the table to discuss the importance of the landscape, nature, the mountains and what it means to our writing,” Wilkinson says. “As a Black Appalachian writer it stuns me when people are surprised that I write with an eye for nature and what it means physically and metaphorically and spiritually in Black women’s writing. And all the writers invited to the symposium are processing what place means in their writing.”

The day’s activities begin at 9:30 with conversation, coffee and pastries. Following a welcome at 10:00, Joan Brannon will speak about The Talking Drum and The Spirit of the Land. At 11:30, bell hooks and Carolyn Finney will have a Keynote Conversation. After a lunch break,  Bianca Spriggs will discuss The Natural and the Supernatural at 1:00. doris davenport will conduct a Reading and Discussion from 2:15 to 3:15 p.m., followed by readings by  Juyanne James, Crystal Wilkinson and Kristine Yohe about The Fictional Landscape, beginning at 3:30pm. The authors will sign books from 4:30 to 5:00 p.m. The Evening Keynote will be Student Readings by Xandria Phillips at 5:00pm, following by a performance by Southern Gothic, alt-country blues singer/songwriter Amethyst Kiah.

For more information call 859-985-3140 or email

Schedule: Black Women Writers Symposium: Writing the Natural World, Appalachia & Beyond

9:30 to 10 a.m. Talk, Coffee, pastries
10 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. Welcome
10: 15 to 11:15 a.m. Joan Brannon–The Talking Drum and The Spirit of the Land
11:30 a.m. to 12:30 Keynote: bell hooks& Carolyn Finney: A Conversation 
1:00 to 2 p.m. Bianca Spriggs—The Natural and the Supernatural
2:15 to 3:15 p.m. doris davenport—Reading and Discussion
3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Juyanne James, Crystal Wilkinson & Kristine Yohe –the 
Fictional Landscape, reading and conversation 
4:30 to 5:00 p.m. Book Signings
5:00 p.m. to 6 p.m. Evening Keynote: Student Readings/Xandria Phillips
7 p.m. An evening performance by Amethyst Kiah

For more information call 859-985-3140 or email

Biographical sketches of featured authors presenting at Black Women Writers Symposium: Writing the Natural World, Appalachia & Beyond

bell hooks is an acclaimed intellectual, feminist theorist, cultural critic, artist, and writer. hooks has authored over three dozen books and has published works that span several genres, including cultural criticism, personal memoirs, poetry collections, and children’s books. Her writings cover topics of gender, race, class, spirituality, teaching, and the significance of media in contemporary culture. Born Gloria Jean Watkins in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, bell hooks adopted the pen name of her maternal great-grandmother, a woman known for speaking her mind. hooks received her B.A. from Stanford University, her M.A. from the University of Wisconsin and her Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her books include, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, Where We Stand: Class Matters, and We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity. The bell hooks Institute was founded in 2014.

Carolyn Finney, Ph.D. is a writer, performer and cultural geographer. As a professor in Geography at the University of Kentucky, she is deeply interested in issues related to identity, difference, creativity, and resilience.  In particular, she explores how issues of difference impacts participation in decision-making processes designed to address environmental issues.   More broadly she likes to trouble our theoretical and methodological edges that shape knowledge production and determine whose knowledge counts. Carolyn is grounded in both artistic and intellectual ways of knowing – she pursed an acting career for eleven years, but a backpacking trip around the world and living in Nepal changed the course of her life. Motivated by these experiences, she returned to school after a 15-year absence to complete a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. The aim of her work is to develop greater cultural competency within environmental organizations and institutions, challenge media outlets on their representation of difference, and increase awareness of how privilege shapes who gets to speak to environmental issues and determine policy and action. Carolyn has appeared on the Tavis Smiley show, MSNBC, NPR and has been interviewed for numerous newspapers and magazines. Most recently an interview with Carolyn in the Boston Glove was cited as one of the top ten ideas/stories of 2014. Along with public speaking, writing and consulting, she serves on the U.S. National Parks Advisory Board that is working to assist the National Park Service in engaging in relations of reciprocity with diverse communities. Her first book, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors was released in 2014 (UNC Press).

Joan Brannon founded the drumming collectives, Sisters of the Sacred Drum and the Sacred Drum Ensemble. She is also an award-winning Documentary Filmmaker, Media Artist and Oral Historian who has produced, scripted, directed, edited and served as director of photography on numerous projects as an independent, as well as in partnership with public television, broadcast stations and with independent companies producing thought provoking films. She currently teaches drumming workshops and is also program administrator for Kentucky Foundation for Women’s Hopscotch House, a retreat and residency Center located on a farm in Ky.

Bianca Lynne Spriggs, is a writer and multidisciplinary artist from Lexington, Kentucky. She is the recipient of the 2016 Sallie Bingham Award, a 2013 Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship in Poetry, and grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. Bianca is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Call Her By Her Name (Northwestern University Press, 2016), and The Galaxy Is a Dance Floor (Argos Books, 2016), as well as the co-editor for Circe’s Lament: An Anthology of Wild Women (Accents Publishing, 2016) and Undead: Ghouls, Ghosts, and More(Apex Publications, 2017). Bianca is the Literary Arts Liaison for the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning and creator and program director for The SwallowTale Project: Creative Writing for Incarcerated Women, as well as the Managing Editor for Pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Art & Culture and Poetry Editor for Apex Magazine.

doris davenport saysAs an undergraduate, around 1968, i first wrote my name in all lower case letters, as well as the word “i.” (Both had to do with a poetic stance against egoism and the influence of the Black Arts Movement.) Similarly, at a time before time, in our magical community on a hill in Cornelia GA, i totally identified as “Affrilachian” before the wonderful creation of that term. Working against all the isms for all my life, i use caustic humor, satire and hyperbole to achieve my (artistic and activist) ends. i am a 67 year old Scholar-Educator / Writer / Performance Poet; a lesbian-feminist bi-amorous anarchist; working class iconoclast from Northeast GA; with a BA in English from Paine College and a Ph.D. (African American literature; University of Southern California). i love teaching and have taught at colleges and universities in at least 12 states, but i am presently “semi-retired.” Although i have published numerous articles and essays, one of the best known is in This Bridge Called My Back (“The Pathology of Racism”). i recently published my tenth book of poems, performance pieces and am now happily back home, in the hills of Northeast Georgia. And i am totally delighted to be a part of this conference!”

Juyanne James is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Holy Cross. She is the author of The Persimmon Trail and Other Stories (Chin Music Press, 2015), her debut collection of 17 stories in which she interprets the African American experience in Louisiana. One of 11 siblings, James grew up on a farm in southeast Louisiana, about seventy miles north of New Orleans, where she left at 17 to join the U. S. Navy. She received a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature (University of New Orleans, New Orleans, Louisiana) and later an M.F.A. in Writing (Spalding University, Louisville, Kentucky). Her stories and essays have been published in journals such as The Louisville Review, Mythium, Bayou Magazine, and Eleven Eleven, and included in the anthologies New Stories from the South: 2009 (Algonquin) and Something in the Water: 20 Louisiana Stories (Portals Press, 2011). Her essay, “Table Scraps,” was a notable essay in The Best American Essays 2014. She was commissioned to write a story for Symphony Space’s Selected Shorts Project. James has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize three times.

Crystal Wilkinson is the author of The Birds of Opulence, Water Street and Blackberries, Blackberries. Nominated for both the Orange Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, she has received recognition from The Kentucky Foundation for Women, The Kentucky Arts Council, The Mary Anderson Center for the Arts, The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and is a recipient of the Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature. Her short stories, poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including most recently in the Oxford American and the Appalachian anthology Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean.  She currently teaches at Berea College where she is the Appalachian Writer in Residence and in brief residency MFA in Writing program at Spalding University. She had her partner, poet and artist Ron Davis, own Wild Fig Books & Coffee which is located in the North Limestone neighborhood in Lexington.

Xandria Phillips is a poet from rural Ohio. She was raised on corn, and inherited her grandmother’s fear of open water. She received her BA from Oberlin College, where she studied writing and Africana Studies. Currently, Xandria is Winter Tangerine’s associate poetry editor and an MFA candidate at Virginia Tech. She has received fellowships from Cave Canem and Callaloo. Her poem “For A Burial Free Of Sharks” was selected by Lucas De Lima as the winner of the fifth annual Gigantic Sequins poetry contest.

Amythyst Kiah is a Southern Gothic, alt-country blues singer/songwriter that has found a way to fuse traditional roots music with a contemporary style that does not take away from the integrity of the original song, and transforms them into powerful, soulful renditions. Amythyst has played places such as the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival in Washington, D.C., Southern Fried Festival (Perth, Scotland), Cambridge Folk Festival (Cambridge, England), Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival (Edinburgh, Scotland), and recently played at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. She draws heavily on Old Time music (Mississippi Sheiks, Son House, Roscoe Holcombe, Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers), and is inspired by vocal stylings of R&B and Country music from the ’50s-’70s (Big Mama Thornton, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Nina Simone, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn).

Categories: News, People, Programs and Initiatives
Tags: Appalachia, bell hooks, Crystal Wilkinson, Literature

Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, focuses on learning, labor and service. The College only admits academically promising students with limited financial resources—primarily from Kentucky and Appalachia—but welcomes students from 41 states and 76 countries. Every Berea student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, which means no Berea student pays for tuition. Berea is one of nine federally recognized Work Colleges, so students work 10 hours or more weekly to earn money for books, housing and meals. The College’s motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” speaks to its inclusive Christian character.