Terry Kay: Recipient of the 2006 Appalachian Heritage Writers Award

Award-winning novelist and screenwriter Terry Kay was born in Hart County, Georgia, the eleventh of twelve children. He was reared on a farm and was graduated from West Georgia Junior College and LaGrange College, earning a degree in Social Science, with extensive study in theater arts. He began his career in journalism in 1959 at the Decatur-DeKalb News, a weekly newspaper in Decatur (GA) and later worked for The Atlanta Journal as a sportswriter and, for eight years, as one of America’s leading film-theater critics.

Kay resigned from The Atlanta Journal in 1973 to begin a career in public relations, later becoming Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Oglethorpe Power Corporation. In 1989, he left the corporate world to devote full time to writing.

Kay’s first novel, published in 1976, was The Year the Lights Came On, a story inspired by his memory of the coming of electricity to his rural community. It was followed in 1981 by After Eli, a disturbing view of a charming Irish actor terrorizing an Appalachian community. In 1984, Dark Thirty, an examination of justice vs. vengeance, also set in Appalachia, was published.

Publication of his first three novels established Kay as a writer of versatility, able to switch genre and voice with ease and command.

In 1990, Kay’s signature novel, To Dance With the White Dog, was released, quickly taking its place among Southern literary classics and establishing Kay as one of the region’s foremost writers. Inspired by Kay’s own parents, it is the story of an octogenarian and a mysterious white dog that comes to live with him following the death of his wife of 57 years. To Dance With the White Dog earned Kay the Outstanding Author of the Year award in 1991 from the Southeastern Library Association. The book was twice nominated for the American Booksellers’ Book of the Year (ABBY) award and was named by the Georgia Center for the Book as one of the 25 recommended books for all Georgians to read. In 1993 it was presented as a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie for CBS television, starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. The production earned the highest television rating of the 1993 season, with more than 33 million viewers. Cronyn won that year’s Emmy for Best Actor in the role of Sam Peek, the character based on Kay’s father.

Among the numerous enthusiastic endorsements of the novel, the Most Reverend Desmond M. Tutu, Anglican Archbishop of Capetown, called it “ . . . a hauntingly beautiful story about love, family and relationships.” Novelist Anne Rivers Siddons said of the book, “To Dance With the White Dog is what literature is – or should be – all about . . .” The New York Times characterized it as “Memorable . . . a tender and bracing tale.” And the Kansas City Star’s review noted, “To say it is rich, fine, sweet, and true is to minimize its power. This is poetry pretending to be fiction.”

Further proof of the universality of To Dance With the White Dog is the phenomenal success in Japan, where more than two million copies are in print. In addition, a children’s book version has been produced and a Japanese motion picture version was released in 2002. Japanese publishers have also completed negotiations for eight of Kay’s ten novels.

Shadow Song, a love story set in the Catskill Mountains where Kay worked as a waiter in a Jewish resort as a young man, was published in 1995. It was followed in 1997 by The Runaway, a story of social change in the South following World War II. (The Runaway was also produced as a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie for CBS television, featuring Dean Cain and Maya Angelou, and was released in 2002.)

In 1999, Kay again switched genres with The Kidnapping of Aaron Greene, a mystery set in Atlanta. And in 2000, Taking Lottie Home, one of Kay’s personal favorites and considered by many as his finest novel, was released. Also in 2000, a collection of essays called Special Kay: The Wisdom of Terry Kay, was published.

Kay is also the author of the children’s book, To Whom the Angel Spoke: A Story of the Christmas, released in 1991.

Kay's latest novel, The Valley of Light  (Atria Books - an imprint of Simon & Schuster), tells the story of a gifted wandering fisherman following World War II. It won both the 2004 Townsend Award and the Best Fiction Award from the Georgia Writers Association for 2004. It is currently in production by Hallmark Hall of Fame, making it Kay's third novel to be selected by Hallmark for production.

Additionally in 2004, The Valley of Light was published as a book bonus offering from Readers Digest's Condensed Book series.

Translations of Kay’s fiction have been published in numerous foreign countries, including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Sweden, Germany and Holland. His work has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies, including Reader’s Digest, Atlanta Magazine, A Confederacy of Crime and The Chattahoochee Review. He scripted an episode of In the Heat of the Night and won a Southern Emmy for his original teleplay, Run Down the Rabbit. He is also the author of a play, Piano Cabaret.

In addition to his journalism and corporate and writing careers, Kay has taught as a visiting lecturer in the Department of English at Emory University and twice directed Emory’s summer creative writing program. In 1984, he hosted The Southern Voice, a PBS affiliate (WPBA/Channel 30 of Atlanta) series on Southern literature.

Among his honors, Kay was named one of the eight best theater critics in America in 1968 by the Sang Jury on Fine Art Criticism. He served on Georgia’s first film-television commission, on appointment by then-Governor Jimmy Carter. A documentary by the University of West Florida on Kay’s experiences as a writer was broadcast over PBS affiliates in 1994.

 

Biography courtesy of www.terrykay.com