McElmurray keynote speaker for Haun Conference

Walters State Community College is gearing up for the Mildred Haun Conference with acclaimed author Dr. Karen Saylor McElmurray set to deliver the keynote address at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 25.

Conference activities this year are virtual, and the keynote can be viewed live on the conference Facebook page or on Zoom (meeting: 924 5714 9440, password: HAUN).

McElmurray easily navigates between fiction characters in a novel and family members in a nonfiction essay. “Surrendered Child,” perhaps her most personal work, was based on McElmurray’s decision to surrender a son for adoption. For the following years, she wondered where that son was, if he was happy and if she had made the right decision.

“Writing that book was so close to my heart. I was letting go of 25 years of pent-up feeling. The most miraculous thing happened after the book was published. I received an email from a young lady who thought my photo resembled her fiance. I met my son Andrew.”

McElmurray’s novels include “The Motel of the Stars” and “Strange Birds in the Tree of Heaven.” Her newest novel, “Wanting Radiance,” was released in April 2020.

Her awards include Appalachian Book of the Year and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in literature. She holds a Ph.D. in American literature from the University of Georgia, an M.A. in English and writing from Hollings University, a M.F.A. in fiction from the University of Virginia and a B.A. in philosophy and literature from Berea University.

Like many of the students at Walters State, McElmurray was the first generation in her family to go to college. And her parents weren’t the most supportive of the budding wordsmith.

“My dad wanted me to take shorthand and typing. He could not see how poetry would help.”

McElmurray has advice for others in a similar situation.

“Don’t think in terms of publishing. Think in terms of writing. You must be disciplined and persistent. I go to the gym and work out every day. My dedication to writing must be the same. Write from your heart. Then, you’ll learn the business side of it.”

The Mildred Haun Conference: A Celebration of Appalachian Literature, Scholarship and Culture is an attempt to explore and define Appalachian literature and culture for ourselves and for the outside world. The name honors Hamblen County native Mildred Haun, author of “The Hawk’s Done Gone.”