Friday from the Archives: “Writing the Interior Landscape: An Interview with George Ellison” written by Kathryn Stripling Byer, from NCLR Issue 20 (2011)
NCLR mourns the passing of writer, historian, and naturalist George Ellison in February. In 2016, Ellison was named one of the 100 most significant people in the park’s history by the Great Smoky Mountains Association.
Former NC Poet Laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer interviewed her long-time friend in 2011 for our issue featuring “Environmental Writing.”
Ellison muses, “Geography is important. I’m confident that a firm sense of where we are enhances our understanding of who we are.” The interview touches on his own journey from Danville, VA, through Chapel Hill to South Carolina and Mississippi, before coming back to Bryson City, NC. While his writing work started before he landed in North Carolina, it was clearly his deep relation to this stretch of the Appalachians that provided the fuel for his creative and teaching pursuits.
Ellison credits his visual artist wife, Elizabeth, with his own own artistic vision: “Following her lead, I began to pay attention to the natural world rather than just reading about it.” The two of them created many creative works together, in addition to their family and homestead.
As a scholar, Ellison is probably best known for his ongoing work about writer Horace Kephart, who helped make the Great Smoky Mountains a National Park. Ellison explained, “From my writer’s perspective, Kephart’s story – his rise and fall as a librarian and family man, a mental breakdown, the decision to seek a “Back of Beyond” in the Smokies, a literary career that produced two books of essays and a novel, his significant role in the founding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and his plans for the Appalachian Trail – is anything but commonplace. It is a compelling and significant story.”
Ellison’s work lives on in books, poetry collections, and the backlog of articles he wrote for The Smoky Mountain News.