My Friend Lee Pennington: a Remarkable American

In mid August, 2008, while attending the Atlantic Conference in Halifax, NS, Canada, for which I served on the organizational committee, it was my distinct privilege to meet, and become friends with, a number of fine people as a result of this extraordinary venture. Two of them became authors of books which I later published. Several, however, had already made their marks upon society, and continue to do so to this date. Recently I mentioned one of them, Scott Wolter, already a well-respected geologist and author, who is now the host of a History Channel series, America Unearthed.

Another remarkable friend made that day was Royce Lee Pennington, who was named a Kentucky Colonel, and was the Kentucky Poet Laureate 1983. Lee’s Vita spans too large an arena to cover in a short posting. He has authored nineteen books, and was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry—1977 for I KNEW A WOMAN, and 1993 for THIGMOTROPISM. In addition, he is the author of nine plays, published and produced. He has been granted a number of degrees including an honorary Doctorate of Literature (DLitt, Latin: Litterarum doctor) from World University, Danzig, 1979, and has received high acclaim from various professional societies. He has written thousands of articles, numerous folklore stories and more than 1300 poems published in over 300 magazines. In addition, he has produced 22 documentaries.

Mr. Pennington was born in 1939 at White Oak, in Greenup County, Kentucky. He is a former Professor at the University of Kentucky Jefferson Community College (Now Jefferson Community and Technical College), and as early as 1965, he attempted to inspire poetry in his students. He has traveled in all 50 states and 73 foreign countries.

He has donated his personal papers to the University of Louisville Libraries and later plans to donate his extensive collections of books and artifacts. His bio has appeared in a great many publications worldwide.

He also will provide funding for a new gallery, called the “Lee and Joy Pennington Cultural Heritage Gallery,” in Ekstrom Library on Belknap Campus.

Pennington’s papers include extensive correspondence with poet, novelist and educator Jesse Stuart.  He is also donating his personal Stuart Collection which includes all the Stuart books autographed and in first edition, including the extremely rare, HARVEST OF YOUTH, published privately by Stuart in 1930.  The U of L holds a major collection of Stuart’s works and papers that are on permanent loan from the Jesse Stuart Foundation.

The new archive area to be created with Pennington’s funding is expected to open in spring of this year and will provide climate-controlled housing and exhibition space for materials covering a range of disciplines.

Also a well-published magazine writer, he, during his times of trial, papered a room (all four walls) with the rejection slips he received in a six-month period. If a writer finds that collecting enough to paper a room is too overwhelming or depressing, he/she might consider gathering enough to paper a lampshade, laminate a coffee table, or a wastebasket. The latter project might be especially appropriate.

He is quite an inspiration to those whose dreams and passions live in their determined minds.

On Monday April 15, at 3:00 PM EDT, I plan on being in attendance of a poetry reading at the University of Louisville Ekstrom Library’s Bingham Poetry Room for a reading Lee is presenting. Listening to this master present his work will be a grand experience.

Sources:  KENTUCKY FAMILY ROOTS - 1985, collected by Coleman, Page 164; Poet Lee Pennington Donating Materials to U of L Libraries,, a Gannett Co.; Explore UK (University of Kentucky Special Collections and  images); Rejected, by Ann Tompert, Events; direct correspondence with Lee Pennington; personal knowledge and experience, Stan St. Clair, 2008—date