Previous Kemp Writers in Residence

Meet the writers who have lived in Great Smoky Mountains National Park as part of their Kemp Writer’s Residency

Brian Railsback, 2023 Writer in Residence

Brian Railsback, 2023 Steve Kemp Writer in ResidenceThe 2023 Writer in Residence, Western Carolina University professor Dr. Brian Railsback, spent his six weeks in the park working on a novel about a man who has turned into a black bear and his wife who sets out to track and kill the beast who she believes has killed her husband.

“The focus provided by the residency, given its setting in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, enabled me to not only finish my novel but also a first structural revision,” said Railsback. “I was able to complete a complicated writing project under the ambitious deadline I set for myself, and that never happens.”

Railsback has previously published numerous articles, essays and book chapters, including the nonfiction “Parallel Expeditions: Charles Darwin and the Art of John Steinbeck” and the novel “The Darkest Clearing.” In 2006, he won the Hemingway-inspired Prose for Papa Short Story Award, and in 2015, he was elected to the editorial board of “The Steinbeck Review,” a publication on the life and works of John Steinbeck.

“An incredible benefit of the residency is the team of people willing to help in every way. For my work, I needed to interview a variety of retired and working wildlife and law enforcement professionals; the staff of Great Smoky Mountains Association, under the guidance of Frances Figart, facilitated that process. As a result, I left the park with several new friends and important research contacts.”

Sue Wasserman, 2022 Writer in Residence

The 2022 Writer in Residence, Sue Wasserman, spent six nonconsecutive weeks living, writing and gathering inspiration in and around the park. A writer, nature photographer, teaching artist and book editor, Wasserman spent more than 20 years in corporate communications and public relations, allowing her to self-publish and promote two books: A Moment’s Notice and Walk with Me: Exploring Nature’s Wisdom. Her work has previously been featured in the New York Times, Southern Living, American Style and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, as well as in GSMA’s own Smokies Life. Originally chosen as the 2020 recipient, Wasserman’s residency was delayed until 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But, she said, it was well worth the wait.

“Prior to the residency, I knew precious little about the park with the exception of the few trails I’d hiked,” Wasserman said. “Where once I was primarily interested in the wildflowers, I’m now learning about aquatic life, entomology, and park history, all while meeting some rather fascinating interpretive rangers, scientists, and fellow meanderers.

“Having discovered just how wondrous the park is makes me want to share the wealth that much more through my writing,” she continued. “I have a sense, too, my work here is going to open new doors for me.”

Read Sue’s Smokies LIVE articles.

2019 Writers in Residence

A Florida-born poet who now resides in Nashville and a fifth-generation farmer from South Carolina were chosen as the first-ever recipients of the Kemp Writer’s Residency offered by Great Smoky Mountains Association.

This year’s selection committee chose not one but two residents to spend six weeks in the Smokies—March 3 through April 13—focusing on their craft in a retreat-like setting.

Elise Anderson was the 2017 artist-in-residence at the Austin Cary Memorial Forest in Gainesville, Florida, where she studied the history and inhabitants of the University of Florida’s longleaf pine forest through a blend of research and poetry.

Latria Graham is a fifth-generation farmer whose writing has been featured in the New York Times, Southern Living, and Garden & Gun. They introduce themselves in their own words here and we’ve chosen one work by each to share with you. 

Elise Anderson

I’m a Florida-born poet, artist and musician living in Nashville. I studied English and French literature at Davidson in North Carolina and earned a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from the University of Florida. I’ve spent summers and Christmas holidays for as long as I can remember here in the Smokies.

My grandparents had a cabin in Gatlinburg where they gathered our whole extended family together whenever they could find an excuse. I remember being fascinated by seeing black bears poking around their backyard. But it was only as an adult that I realized the vast beauty and ecological importance of the park that lies just outside the city.

I applied to the Steve Kemp Residency because this place means a lot to me, and I want to learn more about what was here before, what is here now, and how to protect the future of this area. I am thrilled and extremely grateful for this opportunity to spend time in the park working with the brilliant mentors available to me through this residency. 

My goals for the next six weeks are to find creative ways to invite and involve new people in the park, develop new ways to spread awareness about protecting the biodiversity here, and reach out to those tourists in the area who, like me, may not have immediately realized the wilderness just beyond the city. 

Latria Graham

I am a Spartanburg, S.C.-based writer and a fifth-generation farmer. As a child I was fascinated by the flora and fauna I read about in books. When I was nine and we were searching for the house that would become our home place, I was taken with a big tree in the front yard. When the car stopped, I jumped out of the car and ran towards it screaming, “Mommy, mommy, there is a Mongolian tree!”

I would later find out it was pronounced magnolia.

When I grew up, I got as far away as I could from that magnolia tree and landed in Hanover, NH, where I majored in English and minored in theater. After graduation, I made my way to New York City, where I earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from The New School.

During my second year, my father, the best woodsman I knew, was diagnosed with cancer, and I came home to start cataloguing all of the stories and folkways that were passed to him through our family, and I realized there was so much I didn’t know about my backyard, which is why I applied for the Steve Kemp residency. I am interested in learning more about the plants and animals in our region so that I can better convey to the general public what is at stake—and why we should continue the conservation efforts put in place by our forefathers.

Outside Online published Latria’s article, We’re Here, You Just Don’t See Us.

Great Smokies

Welcome Center

Hours of Operation

(subject to change)

Open year round (closed December 25)

January - February

Open Daily 9:00 am - 4:30 pm

March - November

Open Daily 9:00 am - 5:00 pm

Open Daily 9:00 am - 4:30 pm

The Great Smokies Welcome Center is located on U.S. 321 in Townsend, TN, 2 miles from the west entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Visitors can get information about things to see and do in and around the national park and shop from a wide selection of books, gifts, and other Smokies merchandise. Daily, weekly, and annual parking tags for the national park are also available.

Physical Address

7929 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway Townsend TN 37882


865.436.7318 Ext 320