Campus and Community Writers Honored at Judy Gaines Young Award Ceremony

2024 Young Award Recipients George Ella Lyon (left) and Lily Callahan (right). Image Credit: Transylvania University

On March 5th, members across the Transylvania community gathered for the Judy Gaines Young Award ceremony. Endowed by Dr. Byron Young in honor of his late wife, the annual award is given to a recently published author from the Appalachian region. The award also honors a student each year and highlights their original works. The 2024 winner is George Ella Lyon, a former Kentucky Poet Laureate from Harlan County. Lyon has published over thirty works ranging from poetry to children’s books. Professor Maurice Manning, who hosted the event that night, spoke about the first time he met Lyon at the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop in the 90s. Manning said they played music together in a basement for what felt like hours. On the memory, Manning recounted “It fills you up to be a part of something like that.”

Lyon writes about themes of human connection, heritage, and nature. Lyon pointed out that March is Women’s History Month, and read from poems that touched on topics like beauty standards. She attributed her attendance to the many women writers’ conferences that served as great sources of inspiration and encouraged her writing.

A page out of Which Side Are You On by George Ella Lyon

Lyon also read aloud from her children’s book, “Which Side Are You On? The Story of A Song.” The book tells the story of the conflict between coal miners and mine owners in Harlan County in the 1930s, and the 1931 union folk song by Florence Reece of the same name it inspired. After reading the book, Lyon encouraged the room to sing along to the song

Transy Senior Lily Callahan was honored with the student award, gracing attendees with a reading of her original poems including “Moose” and “The Need of Returning to Young Oak.” Community members chuckled at Callahan’s candor during her poem alluding to the less glamorous aspects of horse farms.  Callahan has been nationally recognized for her equestrian abilities throughout her years on Transy’s Eventing team. She will be graduating with a major in Writing, Rhetoric, and Communications and a minor in Creative Writing this May. 

Callahan felt a mix of emotions about being honored because her poems that earned recognition were “from a very dark point” in her life. While She is still excited about the entire process, she said there were “nuances to that excitement for sure.”

Callahan recounted her interactions with Lyon, saying “George Ella was amazing. She’s what you dream to be when you’re her age. I had dinner with her and learned she’s lived a heck of a life. It was really fun meeting her. I really, really liked her.”