Sara Elizabeth Burkey’s voice rises and falls like the hills that spawned her, “I’ll be home when redbuds bloom,” and I think about how this is a coming home to many of us writers, a coming home to Gravel Switch, Kentucky, to the third weekend in April when writers, artists and performers come from every direction the wind blows to spread out on the lawn in front of Jeanne Penn Lane’s family store, the oldest running country store in America. They spread blankets and scatter about in lawn chairs and they do it for one reason: love of the written word. Chet Atkins, the great guitarist once played here. Famous feet have tread the grounds, used the privy and petted the generations of golden retrievers that lie upon the country porch. The noses of famous poets and beginners alike have sniffed the gorgeous wild flowers that grow unhindered near the store. All are equal at Penn’s Store. That is just the spirit of the place, of the gathering.
Many notables have gathered around the old wood stove in Penn’s Store to tell stories and share poetry, to pick guitar, banjo and fiddle, to strum the dulcimer and sing what their hearts have written. They come from New York and Pennsylvania. They come from North Carolina and Georgia, from Japan and Indianna. They come from Alabama and Tennessee, Viriginia and West Virginia. They come from wherever there are people who long to experience a roots revival of the written word, from wherever people long to hear great music, great poetry, great novels.
And they come “when redbuds bloom” and today, I’m going. It’s a little chilly so I’m donning jeans,boots and a sweater. I’m packing my lawn chair and my books and forgetting the world. I’m going to a meadow by a stream at the foot of an Appalachian hill where like-minded spirits wander about in Bohemian spirit and everybody is free to be who they are. Kentucky Writers Day is a beautiful experience and any writer who has not discovered it yet, I’m sorry for you, but it’s not too late to drop everything and come.