17th annual Mountain Heritage Literary Festival coming up

Published 5:26 pm Monday, April 17, 2023


Lincoln Memorial University’s (LMU) Mountain Heritage Literary Festival (MHLF) is coming up soon – June 9-11, 2023. The 17th annual festival will be held on the LMU main campus in Harrogate, Tennessee. This year’s keynote speaker is James Tate Hill, author of the memoir “Blind Man’s Bluff,” one of the “New York Times” best books of 2021.

“We are eager to share this year’s lineup with anyone with an urge to write. There is something for everyone, whether you are a published author or are just curious about how to begin writing poetry, fiction, or other genres,” said Patrick Wensink, MHLF director and assistant professor of creative writing at LMU.

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The three-day event provides workshops and activities for various genres. There will be fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting, young adult book writing and visual storytelling workshops. In addition, there will be speakers, book signings and readings from attendees and teachers. Past workshop leaders include notable writers such as Lee Smith, Donald Ray Pollock, George Ella Lyon and many other notable Appalachian and nationally recognized writers. Other highlights include several writing contests, keynote speeches, awards and networking opportunities.

“Our keynote speaker, James Tate Hill, promises to be hilarious and inspiring, much like his writing itself,” said Wensink. “In addition, we will be offering a new slate of workshops. In addition to fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, we are thrilled to provide children’s book writing, screenwriting, and visual storytelling classes for all experience levels.”

Founded in 2005 by best-selling author Silas House, the MHLF has grown from a small gathering of budding writers into one of the premiere literary events in the region. What sets the MHLF apart is a blend of a homecoming feel for returning attendees and a welcome, supportive environment for newcomers, all nestled among the picturesque and historic Cumberland Gap area.

The event will open Friday, June 9, with a welcome from Wensink and Grace Mahieu, MHLF assistant director. Workshop sessions will be held Friday evening and Saturday, and participants can choose the sessions and times they wish to attend. Workshop leaders slated to attend in addition to Hill are Jeff Zenter, Makalani Bandele, Arwen Donahue and Karen Salyer McElmurray.

Hill’s memoir, “Blind Man’s Bluff,” was released August 3, 2021 from W.W. Norton. In it, Hill uses both humor and heartbreak to convey the tale of losing his sight—and how he hid it from the world. At 16 years old, he was diagnosed with Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, a condition that left him legally blind. He tried to escape the stigma by pretending he could still see. Hill discloses the tricks he employed to pass for sighted. For 15 years, he hid his blindness from friends, colleagues and lovers, even convincing himself that if he stared long enough, his blurry peripheral vision would bring the world into focus. At 30, faced with a stalled writing career, a crumbling marriage and a growing fear of leaving his apartment, he began to wonder if there was a better way.

In addition to being named a “New York Times” editor’s choice, Hill’s memoir was named a favorite book of 2021 by the “Washington Independent Review of Books.” As part of that review, Kitty Kelley compared his book to the memoirs of Helen Keller, Frank McCourt, Mary Karr, Joan Didion and Maya Angelou.

These… “are among the memoirs that leave you breathless; they’re books you keep and don’t pawn off on your neighbor’s yard sale. Now comes another keeper: “Blind Man’s Bluff” by James Tate Hill,” she wrote.

Hill is the author of fiction and essays, and serves as a fiction editor and contributing editor for literary works. Born in Charleston, West Virginia, he lives in North Carolina with his wife.

“At the MHLF, we believe the best writers of the region include those who are unknown, unpublished, and maybe even unaware of their own talent,” said Wensink. “We hope to foster new writers at our annual gathering.”

The MHLF schedule is subject to change up to the time for the event. For updated information on the MHLF schedule, visit https://www.lmunet.edu/community/mountain-heritage-literary-festival/index. For questions or additional information email Mahieu at grace.mahieu@LMUnet.edu.

Lincoln Memorial University is a values-based learning community dedicated to providing educational experiences in the liberal arts and professional studies. The main campus is in Harrogate, Tennessee. For more information about the undergraduate and graduate programs available at LMU, contact the Office of Admissions at 423.869.6280 or email at admissions@LMUnet.edu.