Award winning writer and poet Pauletta Hansel recently made a stop in eastern Kentucky, which is where she first realized she was a writer and poet.
The first poet laureate of Cincinnati spent time in her hometown of Jackson reading from her new book of poetry “Coal Town Photograph.”
It’s a rainy Wednesday evening in Breathitt County Kentucky. Hansel is greeting people who’ve come to the library at Lees College Campus of Hazard Community and Technical College to hear her read from her latest book of poetry. She says her family moved to Jackson when she was in about sixth grade. Her parents lived here more than 20 years. In addition to this being the place where she was an adolescent, it’s the place she always came back to.
“So this was home for many many years, the place I would come for holidays and birthdays and everything in between," she says. " Jackson is the place where we really put down roots. My dad was a teacher here at Lees College. And my mother started the first and at the time, the only day care center in Breathitt County. So between the two of them they have had a relationship with about every family in the county.”
On this night, the audience, many of whom remember Hansel growing up, are touched and inspired by her reading. Brenda Brewer went to high school with Hansel.
“We’ve been so proud of her through the years. This is the first time I’ve actually got to see her and hear her read,” Brewer says.
Breathitt County’s Property Assessor Ervine Allen says when his sons were young they attended Hansel’s mom’s day care. He says hearing Hansel read makes him think about her parents. “My mind flooded back over the years and I could see her and him both as she was reading and I smelled and breathed everything that she was reading.”
Now the Appalachian writer is living in Cincinnati where she was the city’s first poet laureate . She’s the author of 7 poetry collections, the most recent is “Coal Town Photograph.“
Her 6th book of poetry, “Palindrome,” was awarded the prestigious Weatherford Award for the best Appalachian poetry book of 2017. And she is managing editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary publication of the Southern Appalachian Writer’s Cooperative. Tim Dunn is professor of English at Lees College.
“Her work has been as important as just about any other Appalachian poet,any poet of the region over the past decade," he says
Hansel has returned to Jackson to share her poetry and contribute to Project Heal, Jackson. She says the project is a program started by writer and artist Theo Edmonds . It uses writing and other forms of art as a way of helping a community find hope within its issues. She’s been spending time with students in the Breathitt County Schools. Hansel says through writing activities she’s sharing with the students a message she received as a 6th grader when she attended Breathitt County Junior High.
“You have something to say and you’re the only one who can say it in the way that you do. So let’s hear it," she says
She says being able to complete that circle is a real gift to her.
Hansel will be reading from “Coal Town Photograph“ at Brier Books in Lexington, Friday evening, March 22th.