From Robert Penn Warren to Barbara Kingsolver, Thomas Merton to Hunter S. Thompson, and Wendell Berry to Nikky Finney, the writers with Kentucky connections are as rich and varied as the state itself. Practically since its beginning 50 years ago, KET has proudly showcased Kentucky authors and their work as part of its broader emphasis on Kentucky art and culture. Among the many artists featured by KET is renowned author Bobbie Ann Mason. The author of Shiloh and Other Stories, In Country and more, she grew up in the Western Kentucky town of Mayfield, only 90 miles from Robert Penn Warren’s family home.
However, Mason remembers a time when learning about the state’s cultural heritage was not so easy.
“In my little town of Mayfield, we didn’t know there were symphonies and plays and literary people alive and not far away,” Mason recalled. “In the 1950s, unless you lived in Lexington or Louisville, you wouldn’t have known.”
But she thanks KET in part for bringing a greater awareness to Kentucky artists and making both local and national arts more accessible.
“KET and PBS offer programing that is informative and culturally rich,” she said.
“KET makes the state aware of itself and its history and its leaders and its government, of trends and successes and culture in all sorts of ways. KET fosters learning and reading. KET has a high tone but is low key, which makes it compelling and easy to grasp. We are drawn into it and the riches of our culture.”
Among the current and past productions are Kentucky Muse, Great Conversations, Connections with Renee Shaw, bookclub@ket, Thomas D. Clark: In His Own Words, Black Women Writers Forum, Living by Words, James Still’s River of Earth, Signature and so many more.
A Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame inductee, Mason herself has appeared in KET programs, as well. For KET’s Signature, Mason visited her hometown and talked about the influence of place on her work. The program included readings from Mason’s novels In Country and Feather Crowns as well as several short stories, plus an excerpt from the Hollywood film version of In Country.
For Signature Live, Mason and author Ed McClanahan took questions from callers as well as from a studio audience of high school and college students. They discussed the writing process and how they earn their livings as writers. Students discovered what nurtured and inspired these successful authors, learned about their daily work habits, and gained insight into how they turn ordinary experiences into novels, plays, and short stories.
“I think that by featuring programs about writers, it heightens the sense of literature in our state,” Mason said. “This is a marvelous thing. The culture in Kentucky has expanded and become so much more accessible with organizations like KET.”