Some information about those looking for the Appalachian Writers Association
In 1983, members of the Appalachian writing community established the Appalachian Writers Association, which served as a sustaining and encouraging force for established and emerging writers writing in and about the Appalachian region. Traditionally, the AWA has welcomed anyone who has Appalachian heritage, currently lives in Appalachia, or writes about Appalachia, with the generous definition of "Appalachia" from the Appalachian Regional Commission as its guide. As a result, the AWA has worked for broad inclusiveness, understanding that an idea of Appalachia rooted in only the Mountain South would deny the genuine Appalachian experience of many Appalachians. This standard of inclusion remains central to participants to this day.
Over the past decade, the AWA has fallen into hard times. The event was conceived as a moving venue, spending three years at each site before moving to the next, providing writers from many parts of our region an opportunity to meet. Hosting the AWA conference was a demanding effort, requiring long-term attention from a team, and, frankly, not all hosts were able to fulfill the needs of sustaining the organization, and it looked as if the organization had died.
There was a valiant attempt on the part of members of the Gardner-Webb University community to revive the association, and for a few years, the AWA managed a some annual meetings, usually concurrent with other events at the university. There was also an attempt to establish an annual banquet, but that attempt was not as successful as needed.
While the AWA was having its difficulties, Silas House, then the writer in residence at Lincoln Memorial University, established with other LMU members such as Denton Loving and Larry Thacker the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival, which has met annually at the LMU campus and, after years under the management of Darnell Arnoult, is now directed by Patrick Wensink. The MHLF emulated and improved upon a lot of what was best about the AWA, focusing on the process of writing, expanding the organization's emphasis on creative inclusiveness, and recognizing outstanding achievements of people associated with the Appalachian creative community. Desiring that community, many people who previously sought it at the AWA's annual conference in its stronger days found it again at the MHLF.
Around 2017, remaining participants in the AWA met and agreed that the major facet of the AWA not duplicated by the MHLF, the Appalachian Book of the Year Awards, would be awarded as part of the MHLF festivities. This decision has been difficult for many of us, and we hope to preserve the traditions and standards of the AWA as best as we can. The MHLF's taking in the remaining surviving functions of the AWA has proven so far to be the best means of that preservation. You can learn more about the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival here; the new director of the creative writing program at Lincoln Memorial University is Patrick Wensink. The Appalachian Writers Association also maintains active accounts on Facebook and Twitter (@appalwriters), so please check out the various postings there for events, writing groups, and other activities related to Appalachian writing.