Kathryn Byer

Obituary of Kathryn Byer

Kathryn Stripling Byer of Cullowhee, NC, formerly the poet laureate of North Carolina, passed away on Mon, June 5, at Mission Hospital in Asheville, NC, following complications from lymphoma. Celebrations of life will be held in her hometown of Camilla, GA at the Presbyterian Church on Friday, June 16, at 10:00 a.m. and in Cullowhee, NC on Saturday, August 5, at 3:00 p.m. at St. David's Episcopal Church.         

Born November 25, 1944 in Camilla, Kay was the daughter of Bernice Campbell Stripling and the late C.M. Stripling. She graduated at the top of her class in 1962 from Mitchell County High School and then attended Wesleyan College in Macon, GA, graduating summa cum laude in 1966.  At Wesleyan  she began to realize that writing, especially writing poetry, would be her calling. She then attended the University of North Carolina-Greensboro writing program, graduating in 1968 with a Master of Fine Arts. She moved to Cullowhee  the same year to teach at Western Carolina University, where she met her future husband, James Byer, another young teacher.

She taught at Western Carolina University for a number of years, becoming in 1990 the school's poet-in-residence. At various times she also served as poet-in-residence at UNCG, Appalachian State University, and Lenoir Rhyne College. Throughout her career as both college teacher and poet, she visited many public schools at all grade levels, encouraging and inspiring young writers and readers. She was also unfailingly generous in her commitment to helping other writers improve their work and to find publishers for it.  She published six full-length books of poetry, The Girl in the Midst of the Harvest with Texas Tech Press, and Wildwood Flower, Black Shawl, Catching Light, Coming to Rest, and Descent with LSU Press.  She also published several chapbooks, the latest being Vishnu Bird, with Jacar Press. Her poems were published in numerous magazines, including Poetry, the Atlantic, Shenandoah, the Georgia Review, and the American Scholar. She won numerous awards for her poetry, including the Lamont Prize, the Hanes Poetry Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and the Roanoke-Chowan Award from the N.C. History and Literature Society.  In 2001, she received the North Carolina Award for Literature from the governor, and served as North Carolina Poet Laureate from 2005 until 2009, the first woman to do so. As Laureate, she gave readings, visited schools, maintained a poetry website, and promoted the appreciation of poetry throughout the state. In 2012, she was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. 

She was a careful craftsman in her writing, revising repeatedly and often allowing a draft to lie dormant for months or years before completing it.  Her poetry possessed a music rare today; she felt that that a poem should sing, and in her readings hers certainly did.  Also rare today, her work evoked the sights, sounds, and sensuous experiences of real places, especially the South Georgia coastal plain and the North Carolina mountains.  Her work always expressed a love for the physical world, a love also manifested in her dedication to conservation and environmentalism.

Survivors include her husband of 47 years, James Byer, and her beloved daughter Corinna, both of Cullowhee, her mother, Bernice Campbell Stripling, brother Charles Stripling, sister-in-law Patsy Stripling, all of Camilla, her nephew Mitchell Stripling, grandnieces Emma Kathryn Stripling, Olivia Alice Stripling, Zora Striping Pascoe, and grandnephew Gilbert Pascoe Stripling, all of  Brooklyn, NY.

Memorial gifts may be made to Mercy Corps, Manna Foodbank, the Community Table in Sylva, or your favorite charity.