Kathryn Stripling Byer
1944 - 2017
Appalachian Funeral Services & Crematorium
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Sylva, NC
Kathryn Stripling Byer

Cullowhee, NC - 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.

Published by Asheville Citizen-Times on Jun. 13, 2017.
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Celebration of Life
Presbyterian Church
Camilla, GA
Celebration of Life
St. David's Episcopal Church
Cullowhee, NC
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6 Entries
I think of Kay often. Just recently I went back to my bookshelf and reread her beautiful book of poems Descent and appreciated her work all over again. There is an empty spot that remains that can never be filled because of her absence.
nancy dillingham
June 7, 2019
I just found this obituary for Kathryn. I still find it hard to believe I can't email or call her to discuss writing or ask her a question about poetry. She has been a friend since I met her in 1998. Although we grew up within thirty miles of each other, we met here in the mountains. My deepest sympathy to you, Jim and Cory. All of us who knew and loved Kay are in mourning, but the two of you will miss her most. She has left a legacy that will not pass away.
Glenda Beall
Glenda Beall
August 4, 2017
My heart is broken at this profound loss. Kay's friendship throughout the years was dependable, and the world is less bright without her. My deepest sympathy to her family, whom she dearly loved. Thank you, Kay, for believing in my writing those many years ago and for all you did to help find an audience for it. I will never forget you.

Julia Nunnally Duncan
July 15, 2017
Jim and Cory, Becky and I offer our deepest condolences to you both in the loss of your mate and Mother. She was a Wonderful woman in so many ways. Jim when your Mother and Father became sick she was always checking on them through her phone calls to them. I remember so well the Thanksgiving and Christmas Visits over here to share the Holidays with them. May God keep you and be with you in these sorrow times.
Arthur Wayland
June 15, 2017
My condolences to Kay's family. Kay was my champion as well as a champion for all other WNC writers. I loved her work and loved her gentle guidance and mentoring. We will all miss her towering presence among us.
nancy dillingham
June 14, 2017
KSB was a wonderful poet, a pleasure to hear her read her work.
Anne Russell
June 13, 2017
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