Home Grown: A Writing Program Puts Down Roots

by Elizabeth Lutyens, Editor in Chief

Crowd gathers for a Great Smokies Writers at Home reading at Malaprop’s Bookstore/ Café in Asheville

Photo by Michael Mauney

The Great Smokies Writing Program, the mothership of this publication, is now in its twenty-first year. Many gallons of complimentary ink have flowed in the Program’s direction as it has grown, and flourished. Therefore, those of us who have been along for the whole long ride seek fresh ways to talk about it.

In search of a refurbished perspective, I went to Janet Moore, Guest Editor for this issue, after a comment in her Editor’s Choice essay grabbed my attention. “Great Smokies,” she wrote, “provides an incubator for our work and the means to hone our craft. There is simply nothing quite like it in North Carolina (or elsewhere, I suspect).” I asked her to explain that assured-sounding differentiation. Hewing true to her marketing background, it took her only a few minutes to come up with a surefire list:

  1. Its University home: the Program is a joint effort of the UNC Asheville departments of English, Creative Writing, and the Asheville Graduate Center.
  2. Skilled, gifted, generous instructors.
  3. Craft-focused classes that would be hard to find outside of an MFA program.
  4. Available to beginning, intermediate, and advanced writers, which makes it possible for novice writers to “move up through the ranks.”
  5. Ongoing collaboration with Malaprop’s, Asheville’s well-loved independent bookstore, hosting weekly Writers at Home readings by the Great Smokies community.
  6. The Great Smokies Review, which publishes writing by Program faculty and students.
  7. Community support. It’s not just friends and family who turn out for GSWP Malaprop’s readings. (See photo above.)
  8. Asheville. Creativity is in this city’s DNA. A program like this wouldn’t work in a city that’s more about business and tends to import its artists rather than grow its own.

I shamelessly allow Janet, a long-time GSWP student, her prejudices. In turn, she gives me her whole-hearted permission to add one item to her list: legacy. The Program was shaped and nourished for all of its years by its recently retired Executive Director, Tommy Hays. In this issue, we feature Tommy here. If the Great Smokies Writing Program is like no other, that’s because it grew out of Tommy’s uniquely balanced blend of art, humility, and humanity. Deep roots, high branches: his gift.

Elizabeth Lutyens teaches the Prose Master Class in the Great Smokies Writing Program. For more about her, go to www.elizabethlutyenseditor.com