Skip to main content

Speaker Biographies - Spring 2022

Clint Smith


Clint Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He is the author of the narrative nonfiction book, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, which was a #1 New York Times Bestseller, and the poetry collection, Counting Descent, which won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award.

Clint has received fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, New America, the Emerson Collective, the Art for Justice Fund, Cave Canem, and the National Science Foundation. His essays, poems, and scholarly writing have been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, Poetry Magazine, The Paris Review, the Harvard Educational Review and elsewhere.

Clint is a 2014 National Poetry Slam champion and a 2017 recipient of the Jerome J. Shestack Prize from the American Poetry Review. His two TED Talks, “The Danger of Silence” and “How to Raise a Black Son in America,” collectively have been viewed more than 9 million times.


Woman sitting on horse

The Horse That Built Kentucky: Documentary Film Premiere

With Filmmakers Stephanie Mcspirit, Neil Kasiak, Daniel G. Renfrow, Chad Cogdill, Jeffrey Cawood & Special Musical Performance by Cindy Clevenger

When people think of Kentucky, they often think of pastures of elegant Thoroughbreds or a day at the races. But Kentucky’s horse story takes us deep into the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky where lush pasture is scarce and one’s survival often depended on a sure-footed mountain horse. Through selective breeding, the Appalachian people developed a multi-purpose “using horse,” who possessed both a comfortable, ground-covering gait and a willingness to work with its human partner. These mountain horses plowed small hillside farms and served as the preferred mounts of rural families, mail carriers, pack horse librarians, and frontier nurses needing to travel long distances over rugged terrain. This is the story of “the horse that built Kentucky.”

Photo credit: School Teacher at Cliffside, Private collection Cynthia L. Clevenger.  Used with permission.

M.R. O'Connor

M.R. O'Connor

M.R. O’Connor is a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism who writes about the politics and ethics of science, technology and conservation. She is the author of two acclaimed books about the cutting edges of contemporary scientific research, with a third on the way. Her first book, Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-Extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things (St. Martin’s Press, 2015) and was one of Library Journal and Amazon’s Best Books of The Year. Her second book, Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World (St. Martin’s Press, 2019) is an exploration of navigation traditions, neuroscience and the diversity of human relationships to space, time and memory. Its writing was supported by the Alfred P. Sloan’s Program for the Public Understanding of Science, Technology & Economics. About the book, Kirkus Reviews writes that “O'Connor talked to just the right people in just the right places, and her narrative is a marvel of storytelling”; Nature explains that “[O’Connor walks the labyrinth of the brain’s time-and-space-mapping hippocampus. And, on the road, she meets astrophysicists, anthropologists and traditional wayfinders — such as Bill Yidumduma Harney of Australia’s Wardaman culture, who steers by thousands of memorized stars”; and Science notes that “O’Connor’s coverage of the cognitive map theory… is deep and broad.” She is currently writing a book called Ignition (Bold Type Books) on fire ecology and prescribed burning, for which she became certified as a wildland firefighter.

Her work has appeared online in The Atavist, Slate, Foreign Policy, The New Yorker, Nautilus, UnDark and Harper’s. A pair of recent essays for The New Yorker include “A Day in the Life of a Tree” and “Dirt Road America,” a feature piece about Sam Correro, who has spent decades stitching together maps of continuous pathways of dirt roads across the United States. In 2008/2009, O’Connor served as a reporter for The Sunday Times, an English-language newspaper in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Her investigative reporting on topics like disappearances in Sri Lanka’s civil war, global agriculture trade in Haiti, and American development enterprises in Afghanistan have been funded by institutions such as the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, The Phillips Foundation and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. For a long time, she made her bread and butter as a stringer covering crime, courts and breaking news in New York City for publications such as The Wall Street Journal and New York Post, and covered the criminal justice beat for the online investigative site The New York World. She is. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her partner, the screenwriter Bryan Parker, and their two sons.


Chautauqua Art Exhibition

As renovations in the Fred Parker Giles Gallery (the site of our traditional National Juried Art Exhibition) continue, we are pleased this year to present a Special Chautauqua Joint Art Exhibition combining the work of EKU Art & Design professor Isaac Powell in a feature exhibition titled Feedback, and selected students in a separate juried exhibition. Coordinated by new Giles Gallery Director, Melissa Vandenberg, this exhibition will be held in the upper lobby of the EKU Center for the Arts from March 24-April 15, with an opening reception on Thursday, March 24 from 5-7 PM.

Isaac Powell is a professor of Art & Design at EKU who teaches studio courses in painting and drawing. His work often takes inspiration from landscapes, nature and the outdoors, and he has described his approach as “extemporaneous” and “intuitive” in seeking the development of initial ideas and designs to the point of “visual equation.” Prof. â€‹Powell earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Washington State University. He taught previously at Northwestern State University in Louisiana before joining the EKU faculty in 2009. His work has been featured in the prestigious Armory Show in New York City, the Kennedy Center, the S. Dillon Ripley Center of the Smithsonian and on the cover of Volume 1 of The Chautauqua Journal

The Juried Student Art Exhibition: In addition to Prof. Powell’s solo exhibition Feedback, current School of Art & Design students will have an opportunity to submit creative scholarship centered around the "Wayfinding" theme for a juried exhibition at the EKU Center for the Arts, in the Black Box Lobby (lower level).

Melissa Vandenberg is Director of the Fred Parker Giles Gallery and a professor of Art and Design at EKU. Her work incorporates everyday materials to explore the political landscape, using national identity, folk art, ancestry, immigration and the perception of a homeland as points of departure, and her piece, “Snake Handler,” was featured in the 2017 “Order and Chaos” Chautauqua Juried Exhibition.

David Barrie

David Barrie

David Barrie is a lifelong sailor and world traveler, a former member of the British Diplomatic Service who worked toward the Anglo-Irish Agreement, a former arts director and law reform campaigner, a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation (elected in 2015), a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (since 2010) and the author of two acclaimed books about navigation. His first book, Sextant: A Voyage Guided by the Stars and the Men Who Mapped the World’s Oceans (2015), was partly inspired by the transatlantic voyage he completed in 1973. It was shortlisted for the Mountbatten Literary Award and won the Royal Institute of Navigation’s Certificate of Achievement.

Barrie’s second and most recent book, published in 2020, is Incredible Journeys (in the UK), aka Supernavigators (in the US): Exploring the Wonders of How Animals Find Their Way. It was the Nautilus Gold Award Winner, Animals & Nature, and was declared the Best Nature Book of the Year by the Sunday Times, which called the book “immensely entertaining” and “engrossing… all you can do is gasp in amazement.” Publisher’s Weekly declares that Supernavigators is “A must-read for anyone fascinated with the wonders of nature.” Legendary biologist and primatologist Franz de Waal called the book “eye-opening” and writes that “Barrie is passionate about navigation and describes in delightful detail about the myriad ways in which animals get around. The number of animals traveling long distances… is just astonishing.”

David Barrie lives mostly in London. In recent years, he has sailed the Cape Verde Islands, the Hebrides, the Azores, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Fun fact: he great-great-uncle was J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan!


Crystal Wilkinson

Crystal Wilkinson

Crystal Wilkinson, Kentucky’s Poet Laureate, is the award-winning author of Perfect Black, a collection of poems, and three works of fiction—The Birds of Opulence, Water Street and Blackberries, Blackberries. She is the recipient of a 2021 O. Henry Prize, a 2020 USA Artists Fellowship and a 2016 Ernest J. Gaines Prize for Literary Excellence. Nominated for the John Dos Passos Award, the Orange Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, she has received recognition from the Yaddo Foundation, Hedgebrook, The Vermont Studio Center for the Arts, and others.

Her short stories, poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including most recently in The Kenyon Review, STORY, Agni Literary Journal, Emergence, Oxford American and Southern Cultures. Praise Song for the Kitchen Ghosts, a culinary memoir, is forthcoming from Clarkson Potter/Penguin Random House in August 2023.

She currently teaches at the University of Kentucky where she is Associate Professor of English in the MFA in Creative Writing Program.


Open /*deleted href=#openmobile*/