Renowned children’s author and award-winning poet, George Ella Lyon, visited Harlan Elementary School on May 6.
She did a presentation on poetry for third-graders and conducted a writer’s workshops for the fourth grade classes. With each group, she presented a short slide show about growing up in Harlan County to introduce the reading of her poem, “Where I’m From.”
She asked the students how they knew it was a poem which led into a discussion of the characteristics of poetry. She emphasized that poetry addresses emotions and feelings and that while a “where I’m from” poem may look like a list, to be a good poem it has to go deeper than just a list of facts.
When one student asked how many books she had written, she asked if he meant how many she had had published or how many she had written altogether. “Writing is what makes you a writer,” she explained, “not getting published.”
For the record, she has had 45 books published and has a new book , Voices from the March on Washington, that will be coming out later this year. Several of her books have Harlan County settings or connections including “Come a Tide” and “Which Side Are You On?” One of her books, All the Water in the World, was recently sold in groceries packaged with boxes of Cheerios; she read it to the third grade.
Dr. Lyon is a 1967 graduate of Harlan High School, and with a twinkle in her eye, told the students that she had a frog in her throat; no, maybe it was a Green Dragon.
Dr. Lyon told the students about growing up in Harlan. She told them that since they live here, they know what the mountains are, but boys and girls in other places she visits don’t, so she always starts her talk with a photo of the mountains.
She also explained to the students that she worked at the Harlan Daily Enterprise during the summers while attending college.
Other slides included a photo of the library in her family home which was a source of inspiration to her growing up, a photo of herself with her doll when she was in second grade (‘I used to pretend with dolls, now I pretend with characters’), and a photo of the late Kathleen Hill, a Harlan teacher who played a major role in her becoming a writer.
She also visited with Dr. James Greene, her former high school French teacher and Harlan Independent School supervisor of instruction.