A writer’s retreat: GSMA offers writing residency in the Smokies

Steve Kemp moved to the Great Smoky Mountains in 1987 for what would become a 30-year career with the Great Smoky Mountains Association, and following his 2017 retirement GSMA is looking to honor his contributions to the organization through a new writer’s residency. “There is a specific skill in writing in a way that engages the reader and inspires curiosity and passion in the reader, and that’s what we want to be able to cultivate,” said Laurel Rematore, executive director of GSMA, “because we’re in the business of helping people to connect with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, connect on an emotional level so they will take care of it.” Kemp is exceptionally good at that kind of writing, Rematore said, making it fitting that the new program will be called the Steve Kemp Writer’s Residency. Out of those applying, one writer will be chosen to live in park employee housing near Park Headquarters — located outside of Gatlinburg — from March 3 to April 13. “It’s access, and it’s the opportunity to focus, focus without being concerned about outside deadlines or requirements,” said Rematore. “I think oftentimes artists are looking for inspiration, and what better inspiration than to come and immerse yourself in this place for six whole weeks?” Kemp should know — when he first arrived in the Smokies, he lived in park housing himself for a few months, until he could find a more permanent situation. Steve Kemp has spent 30 years writing about the Great Smoky Mountains and will provide mentorship for an upcoming writer-in-residence program at the park. “I’ll tell you, I lived there and there’s no TV or wifi. Maybe one radio station. So if that doesn’t motivate you I don’t know what will,” he said. “When you live in a park, you see that park at times when tourists don’t. First thing in the morning, in the middle of the night. It’s a pretty exciting experience, really.” He’s had that experience not just in the Smokies, but at Yellowstone and Denali National Parks, where he worked as a seasonal park ranger before shifting his career path. “In those jobs, I always lived in the park,” said Kemp. “So, it’s nice and quiet and you make your own fun, but your neighbors are usually interesting people — and interesting animals.” When Kemp arrived in the Smokies, it was to begin what he described as a “dream job” that evolved with him over the course of three decades. He’d studied English in college but spent his summers working in the national parks, and he’d always wondered how those two sides of his experience would converge. Then he heard that GSMA was looking for a publications specialist. Kemp would eventually grow to manage the association’s retail program as well with an ending job title of interpretive products and services director. Kemp has written for a variety of journals […]

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