George Ella Lyon often returns to her native Harlan County when she writes.
“It’s my voice place. [It holds] the voices in my family, the stories I heard,” she said during a visit to Harlan County High School last week. It’s where the roots of my voice was born.”
Lyon told students of her background, her writing techniques and many inspirations withheld in each piece. Throughout the program she read her recently published children’s book, “Which Side Are You On?”
During the look into her book, “Which Side Are You On?” Lyon told students her story was about a song that was written in 1931 by Florence Reece in a rain of bullets as part of one of many labor disputes in the mining industry. The children were hiding under the bed, Pa wasn’t home and Ma (Florence Reece) decided what they needed was a song; and just like that, “Which Side Are You On” was born.
The song is about standing up for yourself and your rights. In Lyon’s book, Reece’s stance was for the union. Back then, you were either a union man or a thug for J.H. Blair, according to Lyon’s book. Reece had no idea the impact her song would one day have. Today, the song is performed by people fighting for their rights all over the world.
Throughout the program, Lyon reminded students just how important writing really is and how it is a way to express feelings onto paper. She gave students the advice to “write as much as you can, read as much as you can, and meet as many authors as you can.”
Lyon said she didn’t intend to write most that she had, but was not afraid to try. She said her many personal experiences link back to her stories. Lyon said almost all her books can go back to something that has touched her heart in some way, and her passion to write isn’t left on her notepad.
“Writing is a way to get in touch with who you are,” she said. “Our lives are made of stories; we’ve all got lots of stories.”
“It was a pleasure to have Mrs. Lyon come speak to us,” said Harlan County High School teacher Emmanuel Anama, who hosted the event. “I’m certain that the students able to attend gained valuable insight into her work as an author and poet laureate.”
Gov. Steve Beshear appointed Lyon as the Kentucky poet laureate for 2015-16, the Kentucky Arts Council announced last March.
“From her immense collection of poetry to her work as a teacher, George Ella Lyon’s work is a portrait of Kentucky heritage and tradition,” said Beshear in a press release. “The Commonwealth is fortunate to have a writer like George Ella Lyon living and teaching within our borders, and I am proud to name her the Commonwealth’s next poet laureate.”
Katie Smith is a staff writer for Bear Tracks, the electronic school newspaper at Harlan County High School.