Kathryn Stripling Byer

In her essay “Deep Water,” published in Bloodroot: Reflections on Place by Appalachian Women Writers, poet Kathryn Stripling Byer (1944-2017), known to her friends as Kay, wrote movingly of her identification with the mountain South, and of her desire to give voice to the women who have lived there—especially those of her grandmother’s generation. In that essay, she emphasized the importance of the traditional ballads that helped to sustain these women, their singing a means of survival amid difficult circumstances: daunting solitude, harsh physical labor, floods and blizzards and drought, sudden illnesses, and early death. Despite such conditions, these women developed an intense attachment to place, a love of the mountain landscape. About them Byer said, “they were able to sing their way through their solitude and into a larger web of voices, voices that I have come to see as connective tissue stretching across these hills.”

Kathryn Stripling Byer served as North Carolina’s Poet Laureate from 2005 through 2009. She published six collections of poetry, including Descent (LSU Press, 2012), which won the 2013 Southern Independent Booksellers Association Award for Poetry.

Throughout her career, Byer received notable awards and honors at the state and national level. In the 1980s, she held fellowships from both the North Carolina Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. In the 1990s, in addition to the Lamont Poetry Prize for Wildwood Flower, she earned the Thomas Wolfe Literary Award and the Roanoke-Chowan Award for Black Shawl, and in 2001, she received the North Carolina Award in Literature. The following year, Catching Light was named the best book of poetry published in 2002 by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA). For Coming to Rest she received the Hanes Poetry Award presented by the Fellowship of Southern Writers at its biennial meeting in 2007. And from 2005 to 2009, she served with great effectiveness as North Carolina poet laureate, the first woman to hold that position.

As poet laureate not only did she give numerous readings and organize a variety of other literary events throughout the state, but she also created a popular blog that enhanced public awareness of poetry and encouraged its study.

Fellow poet Betty Adcock has rightly remarked, “North Carolina is lucky indeed that [Kay] has spent her adult life here in our mountains…Kay has given North Carolina poetry, and North Carolina’s mountain landscape, the woman’s voice that had been lacking.”

Kathryn Stripling Byer lived most of her life in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Return to Inductees


Bloodroot: Reflections on Place by Appalachian Women Writers (The University of Kentucky Press, 1998)

Buy this book from your local bookstore or at Amazon.com.

Kathryn Stripling Byer reads her poem, “Wide Open These Gates.”

(Courtesy of the North Carolina Writers’ Network.)

Kathryn Stripling Byer reads her poem, “Here.”

(Courtesy of the North Carolina Writers’ Network.)

Lee Smith reads Kathryn Stripling Byer’s poem, “Mountain Time.”

(Courtesy of the North Carolina Writers’ Network.)

Kathryn Stripling Byer reads as part of the Faculty Readings at the North Carolina Writers’ Network 2013 Squire Summer Writing Residency at Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC

(Courtesy of the North Carolina Writers’ Network.)

Watch Kathryn Stripling Byer at Wordfest 2010.

Kathryn Stripling Byer from Laura Hope-Gill on Vimeo.

(Courtesy of Laura Hope-Gill.)

Listen to an interview with Kathryn Stripling Byer on WUNC 91.5 “The State of Things with Frank Stasio,” October 12, 2012.

Listen here.

Upon Kay Byer’s passing in 2017, there was an outpouring of love and support from her friends and colleagues. Here are some.




Appearances in Periodicals

Reference Material

Leave a Reply