As it turns out, Kentucky is a great place for talented and influential writers across a wide range of genres and forms. It’s not difficult to see why– after all, it’s a region full of inspiringly beautiful natural landscapes and rich history of culture and the arts. While this is by no means a comprehensive list, here are a few of Kentucky’s most famous literary icons.
Wendell Berry is the first living writer to be inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame, and it’s easy to see why. Since the publication of his first novel, Nathan Coulter, in 1960, Berry has written countless books, poems, and essays that tackle issues of environmentalism, industrialism, and the experiences of rural communities particularly in Kentucky. His work stands as a testament to the importance of an appreciation and respect for our natural world.
Gloria Jean Watkins, better known by her pen name bell hooks, is an accomplished academic having taught at universities across the country– but she is also one of the most indelible authors of the last fifty years. Her writing addresses a wide range of topics, but most notably focuses on the intersection of various experiences in contemporary America, particularly as it relates to race, class, and gender. Since the 1990s she has won a number of awards for her pivotal contributions to Kentucky literature.
Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson is an iconic name for a few reasons, but chief among them are creating the field of gonzo journalism and his famous novel Fear in Loathing in Las Vegas, the latter of which led to the cult classic 1998 film starring Johnny Depp. Thompson was nothing if not committed to his work, often immersing himself in the worlds he wrote about throughout his career in journalism; he famously spent an entire year in the 1960s living with the Hells Angels motorcycle club. He also worked extensively with iconic British artist Ralph Steadman, who created illustrations for many of his books and articles.
Robert Penn Warren
Robert Penn Warren is perhaps best known for his novel All The King’s Men, for which he won the 1947 Pulitzer Prize– but his accomplishments were so extensive that he also won Pulitzers for his poetry in 1958 and 1979. Though he grew up in Tennessee, he was born just across the border in Guthrie, Kentucky. He was also a founding member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, which remains a distinguished literary organization to this day.
Jane Gentry taught at the University of Kentucky for four decades, and during her time as a professor she worked to help countless students develop their writing skills. She was also, of course, prolific in her own writing; she wrote several essays, book reviews, and collections of poetry throughout her career. Her writing deals particularly with her experiences as a lifelong Kentuckian. She also served as Kentucky’s 2007 poet laureate.