Arnow Conference

2019 Arnow Conference on Appalachian Literature and Culture

Friday, April 5, 2019 & Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Arnow Conference for the Humanities was established at Somerset Community College to pay tribute to the literary contributions of Harriette Simpson Arnow, who grew up in Pulaski County, and whose work, both fiction and nonfiction, focuses on the rural Kentuckians she knew best. Each year, the conference brings together writers, scholars, academics, and others interested in literature and the arts for academic presentations and brief writing workshops to discuss and honor both the literature of Harriette Arnow and the writers and others whose own work she has inspired and informed. This year’s conference has been expanded to include all disciplines from the Humanities.

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Harriette Arnow: Her inheritance and Her Legacy

by Sharon Whitehead

Harriette ArnowTheories abound concerning the ancestry and character of the early settlers in the Kentucky hills. They have been traced to Scottish chieftains, to English yeoman farmers, and indentured servants. They have been called hardy, self-reliant, and independent, as well as illiterate, uncouth, and undisciplined. Others attribute to these early hill people traits such as individualism and stoicism, but also traditionalism, fatalism, and religious fundamentalism.

Whatever their exact origin and character, the Kentucky hill people proved to be resilient. They managed to survive and flourish in virtual isolation for nearly a century, developing a culture in which utilitarian handcrafts, the ballad, the fiddle, and the recipe for home brew were features of everyday life. During the first half of the twentieth century, however, the outside world came to call in the form of land speculators, mining and lumber operators, road builders, missionary teachers, preachers, and the United States Government.

Harriette Simpson Arnow, born in Wayne County, Kentucky, and raised in Burnside, wrote about the Kentucky hill people as they experienced unprecedented social and economic change in their region from the 1920s through the 1940s. Through a number of short stories and the trilogy of novels for which she is best known, Mountain Path (1936), Hunter’s Horn (1949), and The Dollmaker (1954), Arnow viewed the transformation of hill society through compelling female characters.

This tribute to Arnow’s heritage and legacy begins with a quote from Mountain Path. Arnow’s novel is written from the perspective of a young teacher from Lexington who moves into the Cavecreek community of Somerset County, Kentucky. Louisa Sheridan is intensely curious about human behavior in general and about the folkways of the people among whom she lives and works. Louisa captures the essence of hill society in the following astute observation: “She sat and listened to the music and watched the people in the room—the women sitting quiet in the shadow and the men in the full glow of the lamplight and firelight” (311). While this novel is the earliest of the three novels in a trilogy, it has the same impetus as Hunter’s Horn and The Dollmaker. That impetus is to bring the hill women out of the shadows and to highlight their complexity of character, their genius as well as their ignorance and fatalism, and the extent of their limitations as well as their power.

Through the strong characters in her stories, Arnow explored not just the complicated roles of men and women in the Kentucky hills. She examined with brutal honesty the broader forces shaping the lives of the people in her world: the impact of the natural environment upon the people; the influence, positive and negative, of outside agencies in the region; the outmigration of the people during the 30’s and 40’s, especially to industrial centers of the north, and the subsequent draining of the human resources from rural communities; the religious beliefs and practices of churches in the region that provided comfort from life’s storms or stymied introspection, growth, and change. Harriette Arnow pursued the ancient themes of pride, honor, love, betrayal, envy, hatred, and grief alongside the modern themes of human isolation, alienation, powerlessness, and despair, of urbanization and impersonalization.

For these reasons, we dedicate this conference to Arnow’s genius and to those whom she has inspired.

Sharon Whitehead, Dean of Arts & Science at Somerset Community College, wrote her thesis at Stetson University focusing on Arnow’s Kentucky trilogy: Mountain Path, Hunter’s Horn, and The Dollmaker.


Presenter Biographies

amy clarkAmy D. Clark is a native of Jonesville, Virginia, is the founding director of the Appalachian Writing Project and the editor/author of two books, and several articles and essays.
Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The New York TimesHarvard University Press blog, NPR,, Chattahoochee Review, Still, Appalachian Heritage, Blue Ridge Country, Now and Then, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Tampa Tribune, Appalachian Voices, Appalachian Journal, and National Writing Project online, among other publications. Her co-edited book, Talking Appalachian: Voice, Identity, and Community, (now in its second printing) was used as a dialect resource for actors during the filming of Big Stone Gap, a movie adaptation of Adriana Trigiani's novel of the same title; Amy also served as a dialect consultant on the film's script.

Wanda Fries is a professor of English at Somerset Community College and has had stories and poems published in Sojourners, Michigan Quarterly Review, drafthorse, Still, Appalachian Heritage, River City Review, Special Report: Fiction, The Writer's Craft, and other journals and magazines. She has two novels – Ash Grove and In the Absence of Angels – and a book of poetry, Cassandra Among the Greeks. She is currently in the research phase of a novel told from the point of view of the 18th-century graphic poet William Blake's wife, Catherine, whom Blake taught to read and who became his partner in creating his work.

Fries has also won several awards and honors for her work, including the Kentucky Arts Council’s Al Smith Fellowship in 1989 and 2001, the James Baker Hall Award for Poetry in 2009, and the Cornelia Dozier Cooper Award in 2010.

pearlie jenkinsPearlie Jenkins is a singer, songwriter, author, and resident of Somerset. His debut novel, Poor Man’s Summer, has been called “reminiscent of John Steinbeck and Cormac McCarthy” in style and subject matter. It is a story of mothers and sons, of privilege and poverty, of love and loss, and about what happens when men decide there's killing to be done.








laymay reeseJoe LaMay and Sherrie Reese (known professionally as LaMay & Reese) met at a folk song gathering in 1998. The Pulaski County residents were drawn to each other's music and they soon began singing together. It wasn't long before they gained a solid reputation for their original songs and old-style harmony, as well as their well-honed repertoire of their favorite traditional and contemporary songs. Several of their original songs have been recorded and performed by other folk musicians and bluegrass bands, and they are perennial participants in festival songwriting workshops and concerts.

In support of their local community, LaMay & Reese host the monthly 3rd Friday Folk Coffeehouse at the Carnegie, the weekly Lake Cumberland Jammers, and the Somerset Songwriters group.

steve clebergSteve Cleberg has been the director of the theatre program at Somerset Community College since 1986. He directed and acted in over 100 plays. As a writer, he has adapted the works of Shakespeare, Moliere, Chekhov, Ibsen and Sheridan for the stage. He has written a series of seven plays entitled “Radio Suspense Theatre.” The episode entitled “Fear Between Floors & Lost and Found” is published with Playscripts, Inc.

He has written screenplays for and produced such films as “Dustin’s Reunion,” “Dancing in Moonlight,” “Nancy Barry’s Big Case,” and a film adaptation of August Strindberg’s “The Stronger.”  His film, “A Liar’s Swag” was nominated for “Best Short Film” at the 2010 World Independent Film Expo.

petersonBetty Peterson is a professor of English at Somerset Community College and a recipient of the Al Smith Fellowship in Playwriting. She is also a Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Fellow, and has published works in a variety of genres.

Betty’s playwriting credits include Desert Flower, a full-length play produced by Horse Cave Theatre, and published in the anthology, World Premieres from Horse Cave Theatre; The Dollmaker, commissioned through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and adapted from the novel by Harriette Simpson Arnow, was produced by SCC Theatre for the Arnow Conference; The Good Daughter, written for the Festival of Kentucky Women Playwrights, was produced by the award-winning Artists Collaborative Theatre in Elkhorn City, Kentucky with the help of funding from the Kentucky Arts Council; River Dreams, a musical adaptation (book and lyrics) of Billy C. Clark’s autobiography, A Long Row to Hoe, was produced in Ashland, Kentucky at J. B. Sowards Theatre with a grant from the Kentucky Arts Council.


vicki blairVicki Blair is the author of the McWhorter Trilogy, comprised of the novels Gravy, Grits, and Graves, published in 2013; Halos, Hollers, and Hell, published in 2015; and the forthcoming   . Bankers, Brothers, and Blood. She recently completed Snake Dancer, a novel for young adults, and is working on what she calls “my most exciting book yet” – Hostage Heartbeats, a work of suspense.







Registration Information

$30 – Two day
$15 – One day
$5  -  Ticket per event

Students, Faculty and Staff of SCC – Free with pre-registration
Please send in pre-registrations by April 1, 2019.

Send registration information to:
Theresa Kibby
808 Monticello St.
Somerset, KY 42501 

Include your name and contact information. Payment can be sent by mail with a check made out to Somerset Community College, or can be collected at the door for email registrations. SCC Box Office will be open beginning March 20th Monday through Friday from noon to 3:00pm to assist with registration.