Professional News

UPK's 'Gay Poems for Red States' named 2024 Stonewall Book Award Honor Book

Cover of "Gay Poems for Red States"
Willie Edward Taylor Carver Jr.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 29, 2024) — "Gay Poems for Red States," a poetry collection written by advocate, educator and author Willie Edward Taylor Carver Jr., has been named an honor book in the 2024 Stonewall Book Award – Barbara Gittings Literature Award.

The award, sponsored by the American Library Association’s Rainbow Round Table (formerly the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table) and founded in 1971, acknowledges books for exceptional merit relating to the LGBTQIA+ experience. "Gay Poems for Red States" is also featured on ALA’s “Over the Rainbow” Top Ten Book List.

Carver’s poetry collection, released by the University Press of Kentucky in June 2023, reveals his personal experiences as a gay man growing up in Appalachia and the pursuit of a life filled with beauty, pride, and acceptance.

“I am overjoyed,” said Carver. “All I ever wanted was for rural queer and Appalachian youth to feel seen, strong, and loved. I hope this helps them feel all of this and more. I accept it in their honor.”

The members of the 2024 Stonewall Book Awards Committee found the book “moving, approachable, and very relatable.” Additional recipients of the honor book award include: "GHOST :: SEEDS" by Sebastian Merrill, "More Sure: Poems and Interruptions" by A. Light Zachary, and "The Skin and Its Girl: A Novel" by Sarah Cypher. "Freedom House" by KB Brookins was named the winner of the Stonewall Book Awards – Barbara Gittings Literature Award for Poetry for 2024.

Praise for "Gay Poems for Red States":

  • “Although the content of the collection is often grim, it is treated with beauty and humor. The poems collected center a poor, queer Southern youth who's struggling to survive; they seek moments of solace.”—Foreword Reviews
  • Gay Poems for Red States possesses a defiant, resilient voice which resounds loudly above the cacophony of hate and backlash permeating discriminatory legislative decisions. The poems also celebrate a place otherwise associated with oppression, racism, and discrimination, uplifting the healing aspects of a misunderstood natural landscape historically and greedily stripped of its resources. Gay Poems for Red States is immediate and necessary, and it emerges at a critical point in education, society, and publishing.”—Southern Review of Books

"Gay Poems for Red States" has been featured on “Good Morning America” for inspiring LGBTQIA+ youth in rural areas and selected by Book Riot as one of its “Best Books of 2023.”

Carver has spent his entire career dedicated to helping students find their passion and purpose. He was the 2022 “Kentucky Teacher of the Year” and served as ambassador to the Kentucky Department of Education, where he created a platform of inclusion and advocacy for LGBTQIA+, BIPOC, and Appalachian students. He publishes and presents on the subjects of education, marginalization, and identity, and his personal journey has been featured on ABC, CBS, PBS, NPR, and in The Washington Post and Le Monde. Carver is a candidate for the MFA in poetry at the University of Kentucky, and his creative work has been published in 100 Days in Appalachia, 2RulesofWriting, Another Chicago Magazine, Largehearted Boy Blog, Smoky Blue Literary Magazine, and Good River Review.

In 2022, Carver testified before the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on the need for protections for LGBTQIA+ students, teachers, and staff in schools. As an academic advisor in the Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky, he continues to assist and inspire students to find their best path forward. Carver serves as a board member of the Kentucky Youth Law Project (with helps LGBTQIA+ youth in Kentucky with legal needs) and is a re-occurring cohost and contributing board member of Progress Kentucky.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.