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The Clark Medallion Book Award, which includes $1,000 and a public event honoring the author, is given annually to a University Press of Kentucky (UPK) book that exemplifies the high scholarly and literary standards championed by the late historian Thomas D. Clark.

Each year a committee of The Thomas D. Clark Foundation carefully reviews and discusses books selected by the UPK’s staff and determines an award winner.

The winners are listed below.

2023: “An Introduction to Black Studies” by Eric R. Jackson

In An Introduction to Black Studies, Eric R. Jackson demonstrates the continuing need for Black studies, also known as African American studies, in university curricula. Jackson connects the growth and impact of Black studies to the broader context of social justice movements, emphasizing the historical and contemporary demand for the discipline. This book features seventeen chapters that focus on the primary eight disciplines of Black studies: history, sociology, psychology, religion, feminism, education, political science, and the arts. Each chapter includes a biographical vignette of an important figure in African American history, such as Frederick Douglass, Louis Armstrong, and Madam C. J. Walker, as well as student learning objectives that provide a starting point for educators.

Jackson affirms the intellectual, spiritual, artistic, and cultural diversity as well as the innovation and genius of Black folks, in ways that honor them. This book is remarkably balanced and amplifies marginal voices and perspectives often ignored in other texts. The real merit of An Introduction to Black Studies, though, is that it draws a direct connection between previous historical eras and the modern Black experience in the United States, underscoring the continuity of thought and action and resilience across generations.

~Nikki M. Taylor, Chair, Department of History, Howard University

A compelling, brilliant treatment of the history of Black studies in the United States. Eric Jackson has accomplished what few scholars achieve in such a work: a concisely crafted historical narrative that incorporates clear context and powerful analysis for each historical period in the Black studies movement. Appealing to a broad academic audience, An Introduction to Black Studies is essential for emergent and established scholars alike.

~Nathan Long, President, Saybrook University

2022: “The Gospel of Freedom: Black Evangelicals and the Underground Railroad” by Alicestyne Turley

Wilbur H. Siebert published his landmark study of the Underground Railroad in 1898, revealing a secret system of assisted slave escapes. A product of his time, Siebert based his research on the accounts of northern white male abolitionists. While useful in understanding the northern boundaries of the slaves’ journey, Siebert’s account leaves out the complicated narrative of assistance below the Mason-Dixon Line. In The Gospel of Freedom: Black Evangelicals and the Underground Railroad, author Alicestyne Turley positions Kentucky as a crucial “pass through” territory for escaping slaves and addresses the important contributions of white and black antislavery southerners who united to form organized networks to assist slaves in the Deep South. Drawing on family history and lore as well as a large range of primary sources, Turley shows how free and enslaved African Americans directly influenced efforts to physically and spiritually resist slavery and how slaves successfully developed their own systems to help others who were enslaved below the Mason-Dixon Line. Illuminating the roles of these black freedom fighters, Turley questions the validity of long-held conclusions based on Siebert’s original work and suggests new areas of inquiry for further exploration. The Gospel of Freedom seeks to fill the historical gaps and promote the lost voices of the Underground Railroad.

The Gospel of Freedom is well-written, engaging and lively. Alicestyne Turley has meticulously combed the archives and other records of the period to bring crucial new evidence to bear. She has produced a compelling work that tells and documents a remarkable story of African American historical agency and achievement.
~ Keith P. Griffler, author of Front Line of Freedom: African Americans and the Forging of the Underground Railroad in the Ohio Valley

Alicestyne Turley’s deeply engaging, powerfully written, and well-researched book, The Gospel of Freedom, is a must-read for anyone interested in the impact of the Second Great Awakening on the motives and goals of those engaged in Underground Railroad activities below the Mason-Dixon Line. Also crucial to this book is the author’s potent discussions of African American and Kentucky history during the antebellum period. For these points alone, the author should be congratulated and praised.
~ Eric R. Jackson, editor of Let Freedom Ring For Everyone: The Diversity of Our Nation

This is a very welcome addition to the literature of slavery in Kentucky and the Underground Railroad generally. Alicestyne Turley has been the leader in research on both topics for some time and The Gospel of Freedom is a monument to her extensive research and command of both the sources and the literature. It will reshape how we understand slavery in Kentucky, but more importantly brings fresh perspective to the battle against slavery. Religious zeal, Black agency in claiming freedom are blended in a narrative by a historian with deep knowledge and passion equal to her subject.
~ William H. Mulligan, Jr., PhD, Professor of History Emeritus, Murray State University

In The Gospel of Freedom, Alicestyne Turley provides a timely reinterpretation of the Underground Railroad as part of Black America’s long struggle for civil rights. Continuing the work of James B. Hudson, Turley recenters the narrative of the Underground Railroad away from a romanticized interpretation that championed white Northern abolitionists. In its place, she shifts the narrative below the Mason-Dixon Line, deftly unpacking the confluence of religious ideas, institutions, and biracial alliances that led Black men, women, and children to undermine the institution of slavery and seek their own freedom.
~ Charles R. Welsko, Kentucky Historical Society, Project Director, Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Documentary Edition

This is a story of courageous actions, mostly by men and women of color, slave and free, who worked hard and long to make this world better for their followers and to prepare them for the next world. By stressing afresh the religious roots of the struggle for freedom, especially with regard to the Underground Railroad, Alicestyne Turley does full credit to the people in this account of faith, persistence, and real heroism. Here is a clearly written and well-illustrated work that deserves wide attention.
~ James C. Klotter, the State Historian of Kentucky and professor emeritus of history at Georgetown College

2021: “Perfect Black” by Crystal Wilkinson

Crystal Wilkinson combines a deep love for her rural roots with a passion for language and storytelling in this compelling collection of poetry and prose about girlhood, racism, and political awakening, imbued with vivid imagery of growing up in Southern Appalachia. In Perfect Black, the acclaimed writer muses on such topics as motherhood, the politics of her Black body, lost fathers, mental illness, sexual abuse, and religion. It is a captivating conversation about life, love, loss, and pain, interwoven with striking illustrations by her long-time partner, Ronald W. Davis.

Crystal Wilkinson’s Perfect Black is powerful witch-work. In these cascading lyrics, Wilkinson casts her glittering net of protection over the bodies and hearts of every Black girl. The poet’s past self, ‘a girl, not yet trouble,’ is a dreamer whose desires—for love and intellectual play, for spiritual radiance and sexual empowerment—still carry sweet potency. Here, Black Rapunzel lets down her miraculous ladders of wisdom and vision, while Black grandmothers and church ladies transform into sailboats, safe harbors. Read this book and swerve, in Wilkinson’s ‘perfect cursive,’ along paths ancestral and deliciously strange.

~Kiki Petrosino, author of White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia

“I can read time by my own shadow,” Wilkinson writes, and she conjures these heart piercing, authentic poems from the very ground of her life, from the water, from the mountains, from history and memory. It is in every sense a very particular woman we meet in Perfect Black, and it takes the artistry of this very particular poet to also give voice to her forbears, challenge injustice, and offer us a vision of what is possible. Wilkinson’s range is astonishing: lyrics, narratives, laments, prayers, reminiscences, and more. Equal parts light and heat, these poems are incandescent.

~Richard Hoffman, author of Noon until Night

If we are Black it should be Perfect. Crystal has shared a wonderful book. Curl up with a cup of soul and enjoy it.

~Nikki Giovanni, Poet

In the beautifully illustrated Perfect Black, when Silas, a water witching grandfather, does anything but read and when Crystal Wilkinson finds a familiar ache in Prince’s wildness, you know just how married she is to everything country especially her people and you learn quickly that being country ain’t a compliment nor an insult. It’s a warning and a promise that has everything to do with folk ways. With the earth. And with truth—no matter how much it hurts. With the same authentic voices that anchor her fiction and twice the personal risks, these poems will hand wash you in the creek and leave you on the line to dry. Utilizing evocative cinematic images that walk right off the page so easily you can taste the seasonings, smell the honeysuckle, feel the blades of grass beneath your bare feet and hear Crystal’s allegiance to mountains, creeks and people the color of tobacco from the very first line.

~Frank X Walker, author of Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York

There is an ambience in Crystal Wilkinson’s Perfect Black that captures the nostalgic sentiment of place with all its complexities. Wilkinson’s inner ear is prominent and pronounced, and within this poetry collection lies the embodiment of women who know the ‘creek’ and the ‘looking-glass’ and we, the reader, are innocuous within the words. Imagistically, we are shown what it means to grow up country, girl and Black behind the backdrop of Appalachia. I cannot think of a more authentic voice from the ‘holla’ than what Wilkinson gives us in Perfect Black.

~Randall Horton author of {#289-128}: Poems

Crystal Wilkinson is Black woman chameleon. Perfect Black proves its joyous heart and weight in devastating truth. Needle-like lines and language thread the Black tradition and southern resilience. This hip strong poetry moves within the spirits of mothers and grandmothers, and a woman’s evolution takes center stage and gravity. Wilkinson has long shapeshifted between the literary worlds of prose and poetry. Fiction has reaped her brilliance long enough. It’s poetry’s turn!

~Parneshia Jones, author of Vessel

Perfect Black is the long-awaited first poetry volume from the acclaimed Affrilachian novelist, Crystal Wilkinson. Collecting poems that were written across two decades, Perfect Black tells the story of one woman’s Kentucky life, a hymn to how Wilkinson emerged from a rural girlhood to build a transformative legacy of activism and artistry. As the poet remembers and survives traumas like sexual assault, mother-loss, and racism, she also reminds the reader that by staying close to her roots, and the land in which they grow, a woman can learn how to do more than survive—she can come out singing, she can thrive. Perfect Black is not just a compelling book of poetry, it is the inspiring memoir-in-verse of the writer who became the Commonwealth’s first African-American woman to be named Poet Laureate.

~Rebecca Gayle Howell, author of American Purgatory

‘Sometimes the dead appear in my kitchen,’ Wilkinson writes in this collection, which mines her Kentucky girlhood for lyrics (illustrated by her partner, Ronald W. Davis) about family and heritage.

~The New York Times

The narrative poems in Perfect Black by Crystal Wilkinson invoke a world with the imagistic and geographic precision of Jean Toomer’s Cane; the witty invitation of Lucille Clifton; and the rolling panoramas of Black life explored in the work of Gwendolyn Brooks…. When Wilkinson grasps at the limitations of what we can control or know, she is deeply funny and cutting.

~The Poetry Foundation

I read this, and I’m sent back in time to my own grandmother’s kitchen on a North Carolina summer day on the tobacco farm, the smell of corn bread frying in the cast-iron skillet, her cotton dress soaked in sweat, and the heat seemingly never less than 100 degrees. Crystal Wilkinson’s first poetry collection, and fourth book,  Perfect Black, does this to readers.

~The Southern Review of Books

Perfect Black… reads like the collection of a seasoned writer who knows just what she wants to say and how she wants to say it, a rare quality in poets of any age.

2020: “Writing Appalachia: An Anthology” edited by Katherine Ledford and Teresa Lloyd

Despite the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding Appalachia, the region has nurtured and inspired some of the nation’s finest writers. Featuring dozens of authors born into or adopted by the region over the past two centuries, Writing Appalachia showcases for the first time the nuances and contradictions that place Appalachia at the heart of American history.
This comprehensive anthology covers an exceedingly diverse range of subjects, genres, and time periods, beginning with early Native American oral traditions and concluding with twenty-first-century writers such as Wendell Berry, bell hooks, Silas House, Barbara Kingsolver, and Frank X Walker. Slave narratives, local color writing, folklore, work songs, modernist prose—each piece explores unique Appalachian struggles, questions, and values. The collection also celebrates the significant contributions of women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community to the region’s history and culture. Alongside Southern and Central Appalachian voices, the anthology features northern authors and selections that reflect the urban characteristics of the region. As one text gives way to the next, a more complete picture of Appalachia emerges—a landscape of contrasting visions and possibilities.

“Ledford and Lloyd have found the gateway to a region of literary riches, at once beautiful and sublime, by turns abundant and despoiled, and too often misrepresented and misunderstood. Hearing the chorus of clear and powerful voices represented here will surely help lift a veil that has for so long obscured many truths about the region. At last Appalachia is revealed in its full panorama. The collective story is both triumphant and heartrending.”

~Morris Grubbs, editor of Every Leaf a Mirror: A Jim Wayne Miller Reader

As one text gives way to the next, a more complete picture of Appalachia emerges—a literary landscape of contrasting visions and possibilities….
A seminal work of outstanding literary scholarship.

~Midwest Book Review

Every movement for change has to have a vision of where it’s going and a community well-grounded in its self-definition. Literature and stories are an integral and inspirational part of that journey. Writing Appalachia is a great volume showing how one region has fought and is fighting back against being cast as ‘other.’

~Daily Yonder

I recommend this book for everybody, regardless of whether they give a hoot about Appalachia, because of the quality of the writing and the issues confronted and the way these writings illuminate the human condition.

~Appalachian Mountain Books

The voices heard in Writing Appalachia represent a multitude. Beyond the usual stereotypes and misconceptions, they capture a vibrant and varied landscape with compelling and sometimes contrasting visions of the region’s past, present, and future…. Every time I pick it up, there is something new to discover—and appreciate—about the unique writing of Appalachia.

~KY Forward

Compiled by two North Carolina natives — Katherine Ledford, professor of Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University, and Theresa Lloyd, professor emerita of English at East Tennessee State University — the volume was born out of a shared desire for a comprehensive collection to teach in the classroom. But ultimately, Lloyd says, ‘we just really wanted this book to be a darn good read.’ And it is. The anthology captures the many ways that Appalachia has been viewed by writers from both inside and outside the region.

~Our State Magazine

In their new anthology, editors Katherine Ledford (Professor of Appalachian studies at Appalachian State University) and Theresa Lloyd (Professor emerita, East Tennessee State University) present a well-curated collection of writings chosen to showcase the ‘historical depth and range of Appalachian literature, from Cherokee oral narratives to fiction and drama about mountaintop removal and prescription drug abuse, that contemporary readers and scholars seek’ (introduction, p. xvii). While other well-regarded anthologies of Appalachian literature exist, none are as up to date or as broadly inclusive as this one. The editors have purposely sought out and included a diverse range of significant voices from every time period covered in the anthology to create a fuller, more accurate picture of Appalachian literature. This enables the anthology to celebrate a truly wide range of Appalachian life experiences, showcasing the complexity of the Appalachian experience from its earliest days to the present and avoiding any adherence to stereotyped expectations of what such a volume should or should not contain.

~The Southeastern Librarian

Writing Appalachia… makes a powerful and emphatic statement: the literature of Appalachia, like Appalachia itself, ‘is complicated, and this rich complexity is worth celebrating and studying.’ Spanning nearly 750 pages, this single-volume work successfully accomplishes what many former anthologies of Appalachian literature have attempted, but have failed to do—provide a comprehensive look at  Appalachia through the varying lenses of what constitutes the numerous, and sometimes arbitrary, ‘boundaries’ of the region, include the works of the all-too-often marginalized groups and communities and individuals within those moving borders, eventually culminating in a genre-rich collection of voices which, when taken all together, simultaneously and comprehensively defines both Appalachia and its literature.

~Southern Literary Review

2019: “Slaves, Slaveholders, and a Kentucky Community’s Struggle Toward Freedom” by Elizabeth Leonard

Countless lives were transformed by the war that split the nation, and many stories are yet to be revealed about how the Civil War and the Reconstruction era affected Kentuckians. One such narrative is that of Sandy Holt, who, in the summer of 1864, joined tens of thousands of former slaves and enlisted in the United States Colored Troops. He put his life on the line to secure the Union’s survival and the end of slavery. Hundreds of miles away in a federal office, Sandy Holt’s former owner, Joseph Holt, worked to achieve the same goals. No one could have predicted before the Civil War that these two very different but interconnected Kentuckians would be crucial participants in the Union war effort. Joseph Holt’s radical transformation and the contributions of black Kentuckians in the United States Colored Troops have long been underestimated.
In Slaves, Slaveholders, and a Kentucky Community’s Struggle toward Freedom, author Elizabeth D. Leonard examines a community of black and white Kentuckians whose lives were intertwined throughout the Civil War era. Bringing new insights into the life and legacy of Breckinridge County native Joseph Holt, Leonard exposes the origins of Holt’s evolution from slave owner to member of Lincoln’s War Department, where he became a powerful advocate for the abolition of slavery and the enlistment of former bondsmen. Digging deep into Holt’s past, Leonard explores the lives of Holt’s extended family members and also traces the experiences and efforts of Sandy Holt and other slaves-turned-soldiers from Breckinridge County and its periphery. Many ran from bondage to fight for freedom in the Union army and returned, hoping to claim the promises of Emancipation. The interwoven stories of Joseph and Sandy Holt, and their shared Kentucky community during and after the war, show how a small corner of this border state experienced one of the most defining conflicts in American history.
“Elizabeth Leonard presents an unusual and insightful account of slaveholding Unionist Joseph Holt and the enslaved people of Holt’s Bottom, Kentucky. Holt’s evolution from Jacksonian Democrat to wartime Judge Advocate General and emancipationist is neatly paired with the story of African Americans in Kentucky and specifically soldiers in the 118th USCT. A deeply contextualized story with great appeal for scholars and general readers alike.”

~George C. Rable, author of Damn Yankees! Demonization and Defiance in the Confederate South

“Elizabeth Leonard draws on her vast familiarity with Joseph Holt, his extended family, and Kentucky’s slaveholding society to offer a compelling study of slavery and freedom during the Civil War era. Black military service, emancipation, struggles for equality, and the reluctance of most white Kentuckians to accept the conflict’s transformative effects provide major themes in a complex story.”

~Gary W. Gallagher, author of The Union War

“In this eye-opening book based on impressive research, Elizabeth D. Leonard weaves together the stories of Kentucky slaveholder Joseph Holt, who as Lincoln’s judge advocate general became a powerful supporter of emancipation and equal rights, and one of his former slaves, Sandy Holt, whose service as a soldier in the 118th US Colored Infantry was emblematic of the significant contributions of black troops to the same causes.”

~James McPherson, author of The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters

“In clear, crisp prose and drawing on remarkable micro-historical research, Leonard unveils how Joseph Holt, who served as President Abraham Lincoln’s judge advocate general, evolved from a slaveholder who defended white supremacy to a staunch proponent of the Union, an opponent of the Confederacy, a defender of emancipation and the use of African American soldiers, and black Americans’ freedom and rights. Sandy Holt, who fled slavery to join the 118th US Colored Troops, emerged from the war as a free man and played a role in helping to suppress the Confederate rebellion and emancipating his fellow persons of African descent. Leonard’s well-argued book underscores the power of race and white supremacy in turbulent postwar Kentucky as well as the promise of change leading to the advancement of African American civil, human, and political rights. An excellent book, one that offers hope of racial reconciliation in our own day.”

~John David Smith, author of Lincoln and the US Colored Troops

“This is a really good book. With the eye of an intrepid researcher and the touch of a splendid story teller, Elizabeth Leonard reveals how two men named Holt—Joseph, the judge-advocate general of the United States, and Sandy, his property for twenty years—worked, each in his own way, to save the Union and abolish slavery. A marvelous blend of community and personal history that intertwines the worlds of slavery and freedom.”

~Daniel Sutherland, University of Arkansas

“Some time in the late 1830s Joseph Holt, a Kentucky Democrat and prominent lawyer, purchased an enslaved man from Virginia, named Sandy. Roughly a quarter century later, Holt was Abraham Lincoln’s Judge Advocate General, and fully dedicated to supporting emancipation and protecting African Americans, both in and out of uniform. In the summer of 1864, Sandy Holt escaped from slavery and enlisted in Company A of the 118th United States Colored Troops. About three decades later, both men died not far from each other in Kentucky. In this fascinating short volume, Elizabeth Leonard unravels the intertwined lives of these two fascinating men. The story reveals much about race and geography in Civil War era Kentucky. Along the way, Leonard provides students and general readers with a wonderful tutorial about how to uncover the lives of the famous and anonymous, and how to tell their stories.”

~Matth Gallman, University of Florida

 “Leonard’s illuminative new book investigates the revolutionary impact brought by emancipation and black military service during the Civil War on the black and white members of the prominent Holt family of Breckinridge County, Kentucky. Her exploration both captivates and enlightens the reader in the complicated, dispiriting, but occasionally inspiring narrative of how freedom shaped the postwar American landscape.”
~Joan Waugh, coauthor of The American War: A History of the Civil War Era

2018: “Elkhorn: Evolution of a Kentucky Landscape” by Richard Taylor

When former Kentucky Poet Laureate Richard Taylor took a job at Kentucky State University in 1975, he purchased a fixer-upper—in need of a roof, a paint job, city water, and central heating—that became known to his friends as “Taylor’s Folly.” The historic Giltner-Holt House, which was built in 1859 and sits close by the Elkhorn Creek a few miles outside of Frankfort, became the poet’s entrance into the area’s history and culture, and the Elkhorn became a source of inspiration for his writing.
Driven by topophilia (love of place), Taylor focuses on the eight-mile stretch of the creek from the Forks of the Elkhorn to Knight’s Bridge to provide a glimpse into the economic, social, and cultural transformation of Kentucky from wilderness to its current landscape. He explores both the natural history of the region and the formation of the Forks community. Taylor recounts the Elkhorn Valley’s inhabitants from the earliest surveyors and settlers to artist Paul Sawyier, who memorably documented the creek in watercolors, oils, and pastels. Interspersed with photographs and illustrations—contemporary and historic—and intermixed with short vignettes about historical figures of the region, Elkhorn: Evolution of a Kentucky Landscape delivers a history that is by turns a vibrant and meditative personal response to the creek and its many wonders.
Flowing across four counties in central Kentucky, Elkhorn Creek is the second largest tributary of the Kentucky River. Known for its beauty and recreational opportunities, Elkhorn Creek has become an increasingly popular location for canoeing, kayaking, and camping and is one of the state’s best-known streams for smallmouth bass, bluegills, and crawfish. Like Walden Pond for Henry David Thoreau, the Elkhorn has been a touchstone for Taylor. A beautiful blend of creative storytelling and historical exploration of one of the state’s beloved waterways, Elkhorn celebrates a gem in the heart of central Kentucky.
The poet and philosopher in Taylor emerges in the text often, lending an esoteric quality and depth rarely found in local histories. This deep, richly researched book gives readers a powerful understanding of Elkhorn Creek’s history, geology and place in central Kentucky society.

~Kentucky Afield

The book is a gentle trip down a calm stretch of the river, stopping here and there to talk about what has happened in its vicinity. Interspersed with the history are loving descriptions of the region which has happened to avoid the worst of urban sprawl. Elkhorn is the kind of local history that every county and region needs, but few have. The book is a joy to read.

~Me, You, and Books

Taylor’s newest book is a passionate meditation on the history of Elkhorn Creek, and the author’s home within the surrounding landscape. A… thoroughly researched piece of creative nonfiction, Taylor’s work truly earns the Thomas D. Clark Medallion, an award reserved for books concerning Kentucky history and culture.

~The Rambler

Thanks to a remarkable attention to detail that could only be the result of exhaustive research on the topic, [Taylor’s] descriptions of the people and events that have shaped the region throughout its history make it easy for readers to paint a vivid mental picture. His passion for the subject is evident as he walks us, step-by-step, through a storied, and at times violent, past.

~Corbin News Journal

A work of sociocultural ecology, Elkhorn provides the reader with a beautifully written introduction to this rural hub in Kentucky.


“Richard Taylor’s rich prose and 40 years of personal experience while living near and floating the Elkhorn offers readers a superb, diverse portrait of this beloved region.”

~Ron Ellis, editor of Of Woods and Waters: A Kentucky Outdoors Reader

“Richard Taylor’s Elkhorn: Evolution of a Kentucky Landscape—a rather unique blend of artful writing, personal anecdote, historical research, and narrative vignette—will bring a new audience (and level of appreciation) to Kentucky’s lively past.”

~Valerie Askren, author of Hike the Bluegrass and Beyond

“What a pleasure it is as a Kentuckian to know that Richard Taylor dwells among us. I can’t imagine a better guide to the rivers and streams of our state. With a poet’s eye and an historian’s curiosity, he takes us deep into the ancient story of Elkhorn Creek, a tale as richly layered as the stratified limestone along its banks.”

~Erik Reece, author of Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness

 “I have lived in the beautiful Elkhorn Creek valley for over 30 years and thought I knew a lot about it. But when I read Richard Taylor’s new book, my eyes were opened by its colorful and fascinating history and major impact it had on the development of modern Kentucky. Taylor takes the reader on a wonderful journey through both the natural and cultural history of Elkhorn Creek, weaving in the physical, psychological, philosophical and sometimes spiritual, impact Elkhorn Creek had, and still has, on its inhabitants.”

~Marc Evans, board chair of the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust

2017: “New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry,” edited by Julia Johnson

• Winner of the Appalachian Book of the Year for Poetry Award
Jane Gentry (1941–2014) possessed an uncanny ability to spin quietly expansive and wise verses from small details, objects, and remembered moments. The hallmarks of her work are insight into nature, faith, the quotidian, and—perhaps most prominently—the grounding of her home and family in the state of Kentucky. This innovative poet and critic was for many years one of the animating spirits of literary life in the region.
Gentry and her daughters collaborated with editor Julia Johnson to organize this definitive collection. The result is an important literary anthology that assembles Gentry’s most celebrated poems alongside new, previously unpublished works. Johnson uses Gentry’s own methodology to arrange the poems in sequences comparable to those found in her previous collections. This organization showcases the range of the poet’s work and the flexibility of her style, which is sometimes ironic and humorous; sometimes poignant; but always clear, intelligent, and revelatory.
This volume includes two full-length collections of poetry in their entirety—A Garden in Kentucky and Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig. The final section features Gentry’s unpublished work, bringing together her early poems, verses written for loved ones, and a large group of more recent work that may have been intended for future collections. Alternately startling and heart-wrenching, The New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry offers a valuable retrospective of the celebrated poet’s work.
“Poetry is obliged to prove again and again that beauty may arrive from moments that are not pretty, just as grief may lead us to discover profound love. These are truths I’ve always taken from Jane Gentry’s poetry, and now, in this final collection of her work, one sees her long effort has been one of discovery and candor, to push through ordinary loss and the stinging shortness of life, in order to find the moments that endure or flash-out trying to endure. Here, without decoration or fanfare, is a gorgeous body of work wholly integrated to tell it like it is, without—and this is the heart-rending grace note—complaint. As Jane Gentry observes in one of the Late Poems in this collection, ‘A poem is a bird that flies on many wings.’ She’s right about that, and here is a lovely book filled with many birds and their poignant flights. What a treasure this is.”

~Maurice Manning, author of One Man’s Dark and The Common Man, a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry

“I love these poems. Their quiet beauty is thrilling. They are steady, true, and very brave. There is a heartbreaking but delightful originality in the late poems. So poignant, how they bring her alive again.”

~Bobbie Ann Mason, author of Shiloh and In Country

“The poems of Jane Gentry, so honest, so clear, take a close look at and never look away from life, from death, from the things that occupy us and move us between and among those mysteries. They are written with a poetic craft so subtle that its complexity is almost invisible. To have her collected poems all together, thanks to the editorial skill of Julia Johnson, is a gift beyond our deserving but for which we should be deeply grateful.”

~R. H. W. Dillard

“Like Elizabeth Bishop, Jane Gentry is a poet of houses and family history; like Muriel Rukeyser, she is a poet of the body and the body politic. At once earthy and learned, wild and restrained, she is a poet of the whole self. Her work draws strength and subject from its Kentucky roots: Her family arrived in the time of Daniel Boone. Along with their stories, she writes of Abraham Lincoln whom she called ‘perhaps the greatest native Kentucky writer.’ In her address as the state’s Poet Laureate, she tells us, ‘Stories generate soul.’ Never sentimental, Gentry writes of the body as house, as garden, as dirt. In that garden, ‘Our hunger itself is the fruit.’ She sings of birth and grief, aging and exultation. Her figure for the artist is a white pig. ‘What other/brutes’ she asks, ‘could translate this bright dirt?’”

~George Ella Lyon, Kentucky Poet Laureate (2015–2016) and author of Many-Storied House: Poems

“In poem after poem in this rich and important collection, Jane Gentry commemorates her personal history through the lens of poetry—family, friends, the seasons, the flora and fauna she moves through. This book is a love song to Kentucky.”

~Jeff Worley, author of What Comes Down to Us: 25 Contemporary Kentucky Poets

“Reading through her collected poems, I am again reminded that Jane Gentry was not only a master poet—but also a master teacher. The poems here, each sophisticated, precise, carefully composed, teach us how to be in the world, no matter if walking among Kentucky flowers or the fountains of Jardin du Luxembourg. In this collection, Jane continues to hold the lantern, leading us to dark well of the past, urging us to look down so that we may see our authentic lives shimmering on the water’s surface.”

~Kathleen Driskell, author of Next Door to the Dead: Poems

“Jane Gentry was a poet of uncommon grace and intelligence. To sit with these collected poems is to spend a lifetime in her gentle company. From the garden of her heart she brings us the most exquisite blooms—flowers for the living. I read and reread these poems with gratitude and deep pleasure.”
~Frederick Smock, Bellarmine University

Reading through the poems provides the reader with a sense of presence in Gentry’s life as she documents time and place, seasons of change, and a strong connection to her Kentucky home. At times stark and realistic, at times wistful and sentimental, but always observant. It is clear that Gentry took pleasure in documenting memories, noticing the small details and connecting past to present.

~Kentucky Living

The New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry is an homage to a Kentucky wordsmith who dedicated her life and work to cultivating her heritage and nurturing the literary talent of apprentices across the state.

~Kentucky Humanities

Darkness pulses and punctures even as the poems shine with the radiant lights of stars and mornings and blossoms in The New and Collected Poems of Jane Gentry creating in the body of her work a deft and affecting chiaroscuro. But more than a poet of place, or a poet of domesticity, rural life, ritual, or simply Kentucky, Jane Gentry’s work is deeply ecological. It argues for a primal and symbiotic history of a landscape and its people, their joys and despairs, the wheeling cycle of death and life.

~The Hollins Critic

 Perhaps the greatest legacy Jane Gentry (1941-2014) left to the state of Kentucky is that she imparted, eternally, a craftiness in verse to her appreciative students over her 40 years as an English professor at the University of Kentucky. Those students are now ambassadors of her creativity. With the help of Julia Johnson, Gentry’s most important work is now in the form of an important book. Kudos to Johnson for her efforts in facilitating such an enlightened treasure from Gentry, a true and abiding gift.
~Kentucky Monthly

2016: “Kentucky and the Great War: World War I on the Home Front” by David J. Bettez

• Kentucky History Award
From five thousand children marching in a parade, singing, “Johnnie get your hoe…. Mary dig your row,” to communities banding together to observe Meatless Tuesdays and Wheatless Wednesdays, Kentuckians were loyal supporters of their country during the First World War. Kentucky had one of the lowest rates of draft dodging in the nation, and the state increased its coal production by 50 percent during the war years. Overwhelmingly, the people of the Commonwealth set aside partisan interests and worked together to help the nation achieve victory in Europe.
David J. Bettez provides the first comprehensive analysis of the impact of the Great War on Bluegrass society, politics, economy, and culture, contextualizing the state’s involvement within the national experience. His exhaustively researched study examines the Kentucky Council of Defense—which sponsored local war-effort activities—military mobilization and preparation, opposition and dissent, and the role of religion and higher education in shaping the state’s response to the war. It also describes the efforts of Kentuckians who served abroad in military and civilian capacities, and postwar memorialization of their contributions.
Kentucky and the Great War explores the impact of the conflict on women’s suffrage, child labor, and African American life. In particular, Bettez investigates how black citizens were urged to support a war to make the world “safe for democracy” even as their civil rights and freedoms were violated in the Jim Crow South. This engaging and timely social history offers new perspectives on an overlooked aspect of World War I.
This book is a thorough study of World War I and its impact on Kentucky and Kentuckians. The book will have a great appeal to historians and those interested in the history of our wars.

~William E. Ellis, professor emeritus at Eastern Kentucky University and author of A History of Education in Kentucky

Path breaking, detailed, and thoroughly researched, this first book on Kentucky in World War I will stand as the definitive study.

~James A. Ramage, author of Gray Ghost: The Life of Col. John Singleton Mosby

David Bettez has crafted an excellent account of how World War I impacted Kentucky socially, economically, and politically.

~Journal of America’s Military Past

Bettez has taken the formidable task of researching and writing about how the men, women and children of the commonwealth participated in one of the greatest conflicts in history. Not only did he meet the challenges of condensing Kentucky’s contributions to the allied victory in World War I into fewer than 500 pages, he produced a superior work of history on Kentucky during the period leading up to, and throughout, America’s involvement in one of the most important wars of our time. Rarely does a book come along that can be honestly hailed as a definitive work. Kentucky and the Great War is without a doubt such a work.

~Kentucky Gazette

An excellent state history of the war years, Bettez’s work will prove insightful for historians examining the late Progressive Era in Kentucky and beyond.

~Ohio Valley History

Well-researched with detailed endnotes, this book examines an often-overlooked era in our history.

~Kentucky Monthly

Kentucky in the Great War details the workings of a population undergoing economic and social change. It shows us that history is not necessarily a straight line. It zigs and zags with setbacks and great achievements. The author shines in his effective use of evidence, and traverses the complexities of the story with ease. I predict that historians will use this study for years to come as the standard for a state history during the Great War.

~Roads to the Great War

 Bettez’s overview of World War I and the domestic front in Kentucky has all the hallmarks of a major work covering over ten topics in 304 pages, not counting an up-to-date bibliography, solid index, and in-depth endnote citations. His work is broad ranging, covering such varied topics as the Kentucky Council of Defense, opposition to the war, women and children, the economy, religion, African Americans, and the impact on food and fuel.

~H-Net Reviews

2015: “The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia,” edited by Gerald L. Smith, Karen Cotton McDaniel, and John A. Hardin

The story of African Americans in Kentucky is as diverse and vibrant as the state’s general history. The work of more than 150 writers, The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia is an essential guide to the black experience in the Commonwealth.
The encyclopedia includes biographical sketches of politicians and community leaders as well as pioneers in art, science, and industry. Kentucky’s impact on the national scene is registered in an array of notable figures, such as writers William Wells Brown and bell hooks, reformers Bessie Lucas Allen and Shelby Lanier Jr., sports icons Muhammad Ali and Isaac Murphy, civil rights leaders Whitney Young Jr. and Georgia Powers, and entertainers Ernest Hogan, Helen Humes, and the Nappy Roots. Featuring entries on the individuals, events, places, organizations, movements, and institutions that have shaped the state’s history since its origins, the volume also includes topical essays on the civil rights movement, Eastern Kentucky coalfields, business, education, and women.
For researchers, students, and all who cherish local history, The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia is an indispensable reference that highlights the diversity of the state’s culture and history.
The roles of African Americans may often have been underplayed in history books about Kentucky, but a six-year effort to offset that has produced the first in-depth look at the state’s key African Americans and events. The encyclopedia, which has more than 1,000 entries, is intended not only as a wide-ranging historical guidebook for the public but also as a comprehensive new resource for teachers.

~Louisville Courier-Journal

Kentucky’s impact on the national scene is registered in an array of notable figures.


Filled with the long-undertold parts of Kentucky’s rich history. Any lover of Kentucky history would be well-served by sitting down for an afternoon to peruse this book, then to keep it nearby for regular consultation.


This encyclopedia makes clear that the rich history of African Americans, like so much of the black experience, remains to be told. As more of these stories are readily available in Kentucky, perhaps this work will inspire those in other states to do the same.

~Kentucky Forward

This is an incredibly comprehensive collection of narratives revolving around black Kentuckians of the commonwealth, featuring contributions by over 150 writers.

~Chevy Chaser

Comprehensive and scholarly in scope, this tome is a model for future single-volume reference works about African Americans…. This work will be the standard on the subject and deserves consideration not only in Kentucky libraries but also in any setting where there is interest about African American history.

~Library Journal

This is a welcomed addition to the general references for the Commonwealth and will reveal much hitherto unknown facts…. There is a fascinating (and often disturbing) story on every page on the triumphs and tragedies of Kentucky’s African Americans.

~Northern Kentucky Heritage

A work that reaches beyond the traditional to capture forgotten and hidden stories of people who helped shape the state and the nation forever.

~Kentucky Living

You can learn a lot just by thumbing through this encyclopedia.

~Kentucky Monthly

Drawing inspiration from an African American teacher in Logan County, KY, who when called upon to teach a Kentucky history class in the 1930s lamented that not one of the textbooks referenced the contributions of African Americans, series editors Smith, Karen Cotton McDaniel, and John A. Hardin spent over a decade bringing this rich collection to print…. This is an important reference source that other states should emulate.

~Library Journal Best Print Reference

The book is the story of a resilient people, who were long denied access to equal education and endured economic deprivation and racial prejudice. Hopefully it will inspire future generations. To quote the motto of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, “Be Great; Do Great Things.”

~Bowling Green Daily News

This unique and groundbreaking source will be indispensable for any library collection.

~Kentucky Library Association

Rarely has a reference book brought to light for the first time such a corpus of unknown details about historic events, individuals, or places pertaining to people of color associated with one state from its frontier origins until today…. It provides a rich and invaluable reference guide to the history of Kentuckians of color over time and across the commonwealth—chronicling their discrimination, their diversity, and their determination to live free, equal, and healthy lives.

~Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

[The authors] have certainly made an important contribution to fill in a state and local historical record that too often overlooks the contributions of African Americans.

~Journal of the Jackson Purchase Historical Society

This brilliant compilation treats the “other” Kentucky—those people, stories, and institutions largely missing from mainstream histories…. The work is unique in its scope and the detail in which it chronicles black lives in one of the oldest states in the US.


The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia is an important work that captures forgotten and oftentimes overlooked experiences of African Americans critical to the diverse history of Kentucky and the United States.

~Arkansas Review

2014: “Violence against Women in Kentucky: A History of U.S. and State Legislative Reform,” by Carol E. Jordan

For more than two centuries, Kentucky women have fought for the right to vote, own property, control their wages, and be safe at home and in the workplace. Tragically, many of these women’s voices have been silenced by abuse and violence. In Violence against Women in Kentucky: A History of U.S. and State Legislative Reform, Carol E. Jordan chronicles the stories of those who have led the legislative fight for the last four decades to protect women from domestic violence, rape, stalking, and related crimes.

The story of Kentucky’s legislative reforms is a history of substantial toil, optimism, advocacy, and personal sacrifice by those who proposed the change. This compelling narrative illustrates, through their own points of view, the stories of survivors who serve as inspiration for change. Jordan analyzes national legislative reforms as well as the strategies that have been used to enact and enforce legislation addressing rape and domestic violence at a local level.

Violence against Women in Kentucky is the first book to look at the history of domestic violence and rape in a state that consistently falls at the bottom of women’s rights rankings, as told by the activists and survivors who fought for change. Detailing the successes and failures of reforms and outlining the work that is still to be done, this volume reflects on the future of women’s rights legislation in Kentucky.

Jordan situates legislation on violence against women in the larger political context and brings together the issues of rape, stalking, and intimate partner abuse, which are too frequently discussed in isolation. This interesting and informative book provides an overview of the research on domestic violence and catalogues the legislative accomplishments of activists in Kentucky over the last forty years.

~Leigh Goodmark, author of A Troubled Marriage: Domestic Violence and the Legal System

Violence Against Women in Kentucky is a beautifully written, meticulously researched history of violence against women social policy at the state and national level. Ms. Jordan deftly weaves together the stories of grassroots efforts and legislative reforms to show how the people of Kentucky and the nation have come together to address this public health epidemic and criminal justice system crisis.

~Rebecca Campbell, professor of psychology, Michigan State University

Jordan, who calls on her knowledge and experience in the field, presents a well-researched look at legislative progress and more.

~Kentucky Monthly

For those who work with or study the victims and/or offenders of these crimes in Kentucky, this book is an indispensable resource that will provide them with a clear understanding of how we got to where we are.

~Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

[The book] succeeds admirably in its goal of chronicling the laws and legislative changes that are its focus. […] [Jordan] gives a nice overview of the unintended consequences of some of the earliest reforms in those arenas, such as mandatory arrest laws in cases of domestic violence. In general, the book will be very useful as a sourcebook to other Kentucky activists on these issues.

~Journal of Southern History

Carol E. Jordan’s study of domestic violence, rape, and stalking reforms in Kentucky is a timely book that addresses the struggles encountered by grassroots and formal advocacy groups in achieving legislative victories.

~West Virginia History
Jordan brings together discussions of domestic violence, stalking, rape, sexual abuse and harassment, murder, and psychological and emotional abuse. Using records from both the Kentucky House and Senate and personal interviews with activists, legislators, and victims of violence, Jordan has assembled an impressive chronicle of legislative changes over the past forty years. […] This is the greatest strength of the book. Jordan’s chronicle of legislative reforms in Kentucky is thorough and detailed.

~Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

2013: “Kentucky Government, Politics, and Public Policy,” edited by James C. Clinger and Michael W. Hail

The cornerstone of the American republic is an educated, active, and engaged citizenry; however, the multifaceted inner workings of government and the political forces that shape it are incredibly complex. Kentucky Government, Politics, and Public Policy is the first book in nearly three decades to provide a comprehensive overview of the commonwealth’s major governing and political institutions and the public policy issues that profoundly affect Kentuckians’ daily lives. In this groundbreaking volume, editors James C. Clinger and Michael W. Hail have assembled respected scholars from across the state to inform citizens about their governing institutions, the consequences of their policy choices, and the intricacies of the political process. They provide clear and authoritative information on Kentucky’s government and explain significant trends and patterns, exploring the legacy of the state’s political history and illuminating the contributions of influential Kentucky politicians such as Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln, and Jefferson Davis. The contributors also address essential topics such as the structure and function of the three branches of government, the constitution, and federalism and intergovernmental relations, as well as administration, budgeting, and finance. They analyze key issues in education policy, economic and community development, and health care in great detail, explaining persistently controversial topics such as campaign finance, the cost of elections, ethics, and the oversight of regulatory agencies. From the executive branch to the legislature, from the court system to political parties, there is no better primer on government in the commonwealth.

With a blend of interviews of current political players, historical information, and hard data, Taking Kentucky Politics Seriously should serve as the go-to text in the library of any student, journalist, scholar or engaged citizen who yearns to understand how Kentucky’s government works—or doesn’t.

~Ryan Alessi, managing editor of Time Warner Cable’s cn2 political coverage

The book will be a valuable reference for those who follow politics and public-policy debates.

~The Courier-Journal
The book is overdue because there has been no such comprehensive volume about Kentucky government and politics since the state Senate went Republican 14 years ago…

~Kentucky Standard

[…] there is little doubt the book is a historical and cultural exploration of the first order…If you could only read one book that explains politics in Kentucky, this would…be a good choice.

~Bowling Green Daily News

2012: “The Hills Remembered: Complete Short Stores of James Still,” by James Still, edited by Ted Olson

James Still remains one of the most beloved and important writers in Appalachian literature. Best known for his acclaimed novel River of Earth (1940), the Alabama native and adopted Kentuckian left an enduring legacy of novels, stories, and poems during his nearly 70 year career. The Hills Remember: The Complete Short Stories of James Still honors the late writer by collecting all of Still’s short stories, including his stories from On Troublesome Creek (1941), Pattern of a Man and Other Stories (1976), and The Run for the Elbertas (1980), as well as twelve prose pieces originally published as short stories and later incorporated into River of Earth. Also included are several lesser-known stories and ten never-before-published stories. Recognized as a significant writer of short fiction in his day—many of his stories initially appeared in The Atlantic and The Saturday Evening Post and were included in The O. Henry Memorial Award Stories and The Best American Short Stories collections—Still’s short stories, while often overshadowed in recent years by his novels and poetry, are among his most enduring literary works. Editor Ted Olson offers a reassessment of Still’s short fiction within the contexts of the author’s body of work and within Appalachian and American literature. Compiling all of James Still’s compelling and varied short stories into one volume, The Hills Remember is a testament to a master writer.

James Still is better known as a novelist and poet, but as this volume confirms, he was an excellent short story writer as well. Bravo to Ted Olson and University Press of Kentucky for this valuable addition to James Still’s legacy.

~Ron Rash, author of Serena

This collection of all the short stories of James Still, in chronological order, reveal the development of his craft during Still’s years of keen observation of the character, values, and sly humor of his eastern Kentucky neighbors, as well as his accurate ear for their dialect, not presenting it exactly, but weaving it into a rare art form, and with his insight to render a vivid portrait and intonation of the people of this particular place, mainly during the years of the Great Depression. These stories affirm Still’s art as a master story teller.

~Loyal Jones, former director of the Appalachian Center at Berea College and author of Appalachian Values

James Still chopped a path through the literary landscape that Appalachian writers continue to follow. He gave the land and culture a vivid life on the page, using language of such quality that it set a standard for all the writers from the hills. Mr. Still is more than the master. He is our grandfather, our great-grandfather, our godfather—the revered elder of the tribe of Appalachian writers. Here is a sentence he wrote: ‘We went on, not stopping or speaking until we saw our hill standing apart from all the others.’ These words readily describe James Still’s work. If each published book is viewed as a hill in the geography of literature, his stories will forever stand apart from all the others.

~Chris Offutt, author of

In his stories drawn from local life and speech in the Kentucky mountains, James Still finds timeless beauty and universal meaning.

~Gurney Norman

In a long-ago conversation James Still said to me, ‘You must read Daudet—he can pierce your heart in a single line.’ I nodded, thinking I could name another writer who had such skill, remembering the haunting lilt and ache of his poems and how each chapter of River of Earth left me breathless, struck by the power of simple lines that went straight to the heart without a trace of sentimentality. Later, when Still read ‘The Nest’ to one of my writing classes at Carson-Newman College, I had the profound pleasure of watching the mesmerizing effect of his words transform that class into a community of listeners united by a shared, unforgettable experience. And that’s what this collection of James Still’s stories can do for a new generation of readers—lead them into an awareness of the range and depth of human experience through an artistry of language. This collection reaffirms what so many of us have known for years—James Still is a master of the short story, his work a national treasure.

~Jeff Daniel Marion, author of Letters to the Dead: A Memoir

While the reason behind creating a complete anthology of James Still’s short stories might be to forever cement his reputation as the grand old man of Appalachian literature, I hope The Hills Remember reaches farther…hopefully people will discover that James Still is a great Appalachian writer, a great Southern writer, and most importantly, a great American writer.


A must read for anyone who is ‘from here’ or that has embraced the Appalachian mountain region as their own. We will learn more about ourselves than we knew and will be the better for having done so.

~Smoky Mountain News

Still’s stories are among the best written by an American author. They are powerful, compact, and enriched by striking resonant language.

~Ashland Daily Independent

In his distinctive style—simple, compact and powerful—Still relays the rich textures of the fabric of Appalachian life.

~Chevy Chaser

Still has a gift for choosing the right word or phrase to convey the isolation and alienation of generations of eastern Kentucky folk.

~Bowling Green Daily News

The Hills Remember honors the late writer with the first comprehensive collection of his short fiction.

~Floyd County Times

Indeed, Olson’s collection of Still’s work is complete, but it is so much more than that—it is a tribute to one of Kentucky’s finest writing minds, and in particular a showcase for how the “Dean of Appalachian Literature” arrived at a level to which so many aspire.

~H-Net Kentucky

The hills do remember James Still, and so should readers everywhere.

~Appalachian Journal

In this landmark book, Ted Olson favorably compares Still’s short fiction to the work of Poe, Hawthorne, Hemingway, Welty, and Cheever. Presenting all of Still’s compelling and varied short stories in one volume, The Hills Remember is a testament to a master writer. This book is required reading for anyone who is ‘from here’ or who has embraced the Appalachian mountain regions.

~Now & Then

With The Hills Remember, his voice will continue to resonate as clean and as pure as a dipperful of cold mountain water on a hot day.

~The Knoxville News-Sentinel

[…] Still’s style and narrative quality should warrant him a place among the great Southern storytellers.

~Georgia Library Quarterly