Early Settlers of
John Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
Byron Herbert Reece’s advice to me (“Don’t hide your light under a bushel”) could have been reminiscent of his own case, for he had written for several years before his literary talents were discovered by Kentucky poet Jesse Stuart who summarily sent poems by Reece to E. P. Dutton Publishers in New York.
In my senior year of high school,
under the leadership of my teachers Mrs. Grapelle Mock and Mrs.
Elliott, I memorized portions of Reece’s long free verse poem,
gave it as a dramatic monologue at the Georgia Beta Club Convention in
Beset by tuberculosis which took his
mother Emma’s life on
To help make ends meet financially
from the farm work, he became a poet-in-residence, teaching terms at
Over the decade of his most productive work, 1945-1955, when he published four volumes of verse and two novels, he was twice winner of the Guggenheim Fellowship for writers and won the Literary Achievement Award for Poetry. He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, but did not receive it.
Reece's health broke under the triple demands of
dirt farmer, college adjunct professor, and writer. What he
longed for was the quiet atmosphere along Wolf Creek near Blood Mountain where
he could pursue his writing career.
Reece's health broke under the triple demands of dirt farmer, college adjunct professor, and writer. What he longed for was the quiet atmosphere along Wolf Creek near Blood Mountain where he could pursue his writing career.
When Reece took his own life on
I personally went through a grievous period of “What If’s?” and “Why’s” Why had we not kept in touch with Reece? Why did he not let us know of his personal suffering?
My husband Grover had skills in counseling. I kept thinking he could have helped Reece. Did Reece not know that I, his long-time neighbor from Choestoe, could have given him a listening ear, helped him to find solutions? And so for several weeks following the poet’s untimely death, I had a sense of failure, of not having reached out enough to aid him.
The Byron Herbert Reece Society was formed to
help increase interest in and knowledge of the mountain poet.
The Byron Herbert Reece Society was formed to help increase interest in and knowledge of the mountain poet.
From that time on, I began to study his poetry and prose avidly. I made scrapbooks of clippings about him. Later, I would write articles about him, lead workshops on his life and works. I helped to launch the Byron Herbert Reece International Poetry Awards sponsored by the Georgia Poetry Society in his memory. I suggested that the Poetry Society’s anthology of prize-winning poems from members be named The Reach of Song to honor Reece’s memory. Through these means, the knowledge of and love for his works will grow.
When I served as state president of the Georgia Library Media Department, my husband Grover and I talked to Ken Boyd of Cherokee Publishing Company about his company securing the copyright from Dutton and the Reece books and republishing them. This republication feat, gratefully, was accomplished by Cherokee Publishers in 1985. That company had already published Dr. Raymond A. Cook’s excellent biography of Reece: Mountain Singer: The Life and Legacy of Byron Herbert Reece in 1980.
When my two children were growing up,
I took them by the Reece homeplace frequently.
I read Reece’s poems to them. Keith,
having more of a literary bent than his sister Cynthia, became enamored
Reece’s words. Both he and I have
written poems about Reece. We were
honored to participate on
The Byron Herbert Reece Society is an organization that can perpetuate the memory of our mountain poet and instill in present and future generations a love for his poetry and prose.
Plans are in the making to turn the
Reece homeplace and farm into a cultural and interpretive center. When this goal of the Society becomes a
reality, there on the banks of
c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 20, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Updated September 12, 2009