Our faculty brings Ironwood Writers Studio to life through engaging workshops, sessions, and activities. Learn more about each member of our team below.
Build your library by purchasing titles through Bookshop.org from our faculty using the book images below. Each purchase supports scholarship awards.
Neema Avashia was born and raised in southern West Virginia, the daughter of Indian immigrant parents who made their home in the Chemical Valley. She has been a teacher and activist in the Boston Public Schools since 2003, and was an Educator of the Year in the city of Boston in 2013. Her writing has been featured in outlets such as The Bitter Southerner, Catapult, and Still: The Journal. Her first book, “Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place,” comes out from WVU Press in March 2022.
Christopher McCurry’s poetry has been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes and featured on NPR’s On Point as a Best Book of 2016 for his chapbook of marriage sonnets Nearly Perfect Photograph. His poems have appeared in Appalachian Heritage, Diode, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, The Los Angeles Review, The Louisville Review, Rabbit Catastrophe Review, Rattle and others. His first full-length collection of poetry, Open Burning (Accents Publishing), was published in 2020. He’s a graduate of the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. Christopher teaches high school English at Lafayette High school in Lexington, Kentucky. In 2021 he was awarded Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year in part for his work as a poet and advocate for equity in Kentucky schools.
Robert Gipe won the 2015 Weatherford Award for outstanding Appalachian novel for his first novel Trampoline. His second novel, Weedeater, was published in 2018 and his third, Pop, was published in 2021. All three novels are published by Ohio University Press. In 2021, the trilogy won the Judy Gaines Young Book Award. From 1997 to 2018, Gipe directed the Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College Appalachian Program in Harlan. He is a producer of the Higher Ground community performance series, and has served as a script consultant for the Hulu series Dopesick and a producer on the feature film The Evening Hour. Gipe resides in Harlan County, Kentucky. He grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee.
A native of Danville, Kentucky, Frank X Walker is the first African American writer to be named Kentucky Poet Laureate. Walker has published eleven collections of poetry, including Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers, which was awarded the 2014 NAACP Image Award for Poetry and the Black Caucus American Library Association Honor Award for Poetry. He is also the author of Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York, winner of the 2004 Lillian Smith Book Award, and Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate This Ride, which he adapted for stage, earning him the Paul Green Foundation Playwrights Fellowship Award. His poetry was also dramatized for the 2016 Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, WV and staged by Message Theater for the 2015 Breeders Cup Festival. A lover of comics, Walker curated “We Wear the Mask: Black Superheroes through the Ages,” an exhibit of his personal collection of action figures, comics, and related memorabilia at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center in 2015; he reprised the exhibit in 2018 at Purdue University and Western Carolina University. Walker recently returned to the world of visual art with a collection of new and early multimedia works, “Black Star Seed: When Mi Cyaan Find Di Words” which was on exhibit at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington.
Voted one of the most creative professors in the south, Walker coined the term “Affrilachia” and co- founded the Affrilachian Poets, subsequently publishing the much-celebrated eponymous collection. His honors also include a 2004 Lannan Literary Fellowship for Poetry, the 2008 and 2009 Denny C. Plattner Award for Outstanding Poetry in Appalachian Heritage, the 2013 West Virginia Humanities Council’s Appalachian Heritage Award, as well as fellowships and residences with Cave Canem, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Kentucky Arts Council. In 2020 Walker received the Donald Justice Award for Poetry from the Fellowship of Southern Writers. The recipient of honorary doctorates from University of Kentucky, Transylvania University, Spalding University and Centre College, Walker is the founding editor of pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture and serves as Professor of English and African American and Africana Studies at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. His most recent collection is Masked Man, Black: Pandemic & Protest Poems.
Marianne Worthington grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, and moved to southeastern Kentucky in 1990 where she works as a teacher, editor & writer. In 2009 she co-founded Still: The Journal, an online literary magazine publishing writers, artists, and musicians with ties to the Appalachian region. She received the Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council and the Appalachian Book of the Year Award for her poetry chapbook, Larger Bodies Than Mine. She was awarded grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Appalachian Sound Archives Fellowship at Berea College. With Silas House she co-edited Piano in a Sycamore: Writing Lessons from the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop, a craft anthology from teachers at the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop from the last 40 years. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Oxford American, CALYX, Grist, Reckon Review, Cheap Pop, Appalachian Review, Feed, Ethel, and Chapter 16 among other places. She teaches communication studies and media writing to college students. She often teaches poetry and nonfiction writing classes for workshops and conferences.
University Press of Kentucky published her poetry collection, The Girl Singer, in late 2021.
Born and raised in Romney, West Virginia, multi instrumentalist, Ben Townsend has studied Appalachian traditional music extensively. With banjo mentors such as Riley Baugus and Ron Mullennex, and Fiddle mentors the likes of Dave Bing, Joe Herrmann and Earl White, Townsend has studied a variety of old-time traditions ranging from the archaic, haunting fiddle of his home to the Round Peak music of North Carolina and Virginia to the Bluegrass of East Kentucky and Ohio.
As a member of The Fox Hunt, Old Sledge, The Iron Leg Boys, The Hackensaw Boys, the Hillbilly Gypsies and now as a solo artist, Ben Townsend has traveled across the country and around the world spreading his unique take on West Virginia regional old-time music. He has shared the stage with acts varying from Ralph Stanley to the Henry Girls of County Donegal, Ireland to the Taiko drummers of Yamagata Prefecture, Japan and the rowdy Aussies at the Yarra Junction Fiddler’s Convention in Victoria, Australia
He is also a devoted teacher of the music of his region and works both privately and as a featured teacher at music festivals and camps. He has been involved in the Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, West Virginia as a staff musician and teacher and has also worked as an instructor at The Allegheny Echoes Festival in Marlinton, West Virginia, Common Ground on the Hill at McDaniel College in Maryland and The Upper Potomac Fiddle Festival in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia just to name a few.
Currently Ben is curating a Patreon site which recently culminated in the release: The King of Ramps, The Music of Melvin Wine and is working on experimental electronic folk music with his brother Jim under the name Tabernacle. He is also working on an instrumental hip-hop project titled, Man Brother Man.
Mitch Whitaker is a Master Falconer. The Master Falconer designation means he is the only resident in Letcher County who can legally trap hawks, train them, and use them for hunting game.
Whitaker’s love of raptors began as a young boy when he read “My Side of the Mountain” by Jean Craighead George. The book left Whitaker wanting to befriend a hawk the same way George’s character, a runaway named Sam Gribley, did with Frightful, his peregrine falcon.
After discovering he wasn’t then old enough to get a falconer’s license (the age limit is now 14 for an apprentice), Whitaker eventually lost interest in the idea. Years later, he decided to pursue his dream but didn’t realize it would be such a challenge to get another licensed falconer to agree to train him.
T-Claw Crawford is a dance caller, musician, and community organizer. Growing up in Nashville, TN, he played punk rock and jazz until he heard old time string music. He has toured by bicycle across 8 states and New Zealand with the old time variety show band, Fiddle Pie. T-Claw is the “The Johnny Appleseed” of square dancing, having instigated his enthusiastic brand of community music and dance get-togethers far and wide. You’ll see T bopping around Brasstown with his beloved wife and delightful daughters. T’s favorite foods are pie and biscuits. He enjoys river sports, honky tonkin’, yard games, wildcrafting, and cribbage.