Honoring Tommy Hays

by Elizabeth Lutyens, Editor in Chief

Photo by Michael Mauney

In April, during a three-day event at Greenville’s Furman University, four Upstate writers were inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors. One of those was Tommy Hays, recently retired as Executive Director of the Great Smokies Writing Program, a joint effort of the UNC Asheville departments of Literature and Language, Creative Writing, and the Asheville Graduate Center.

For Tommy, a Greenville native and Furman alum, the induction ceremony was a homecoming, as well as a recognition of his life's work as a writer and teacher. On hand to celebrate were his family, high school classmates, former professors, and far-flung friends. Janet Moore, Special Features Editor for this publication, was there to represent the Great Smokies program.

Tommy’s fellow inductees were Glenis Redmond, Ashley Warlick, and, posthumously, George Brown Tindall. These four join the ranks of over seventy of the state’s most prominent writers, including Pat Conroy, Sue Monk Kidd, Ron Rash, Dorothy Allison, George Singleton, Dubose Heyward, Terrence Hayes, and Julia Peterkin.

As Executive Director, Tommy led, taught in, and nourished the Great Smokies Writing Program from its inception in 2000 until his retirement in 2020. During that time, he inspired students and faculty to put craft into the proper perspective: to aim for the real, the heart of things. Tommy’s mastery of craft permeates every page of his novels, stories, and essays. We all benefitted from that consummate skill, but perhaps even more from what lies between the lines.

While directing and teaching in the GSWP and UNC A’s Master of Liberal Arts and Science program, Tommy also published four novels, most recently the award-winning What I Came to Tell You. This, his first middle grade novel, was chosen as a Fall 2013 Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) and selected for the 2014 SIBA Book Award Long List as well as for the American Booksellers 2014 ABC Best Books for Children Catalog. His most recent adult novel, The Pleasure Was Mine, was a Finalist for the SIBA Fiction Award in 2006, and has been chosen for numerous community reads, including the One City, One Book program in Greensboro and the Amazing Read in Greenville, SC. The novel was read on National Public Radio’s “Radio Reader” and South Carolina ETV Radio’s “Southern Read.” His other adult novels are Sam’s Crossing, which has been recently re-released, and In the Family Way, winner of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award. He is now at work on another adult novel, with other writing projects in mind or underway.

This isn’t the first time The Great Smokies Review has reported on a high honor for Tommy Hays. In the spring 2021 issue, he was named to the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the Governor of North Carolina. This award goes annually to persons who have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments. Previous recipients of the Long Leaf Pine honor include former UNC System President William Friday, Maya Angelou, Coretta Scott King, Michael Jordan, Fred Chappell, Richard Petty, Oprah Winfrey, and many other leaders in business, education, public service, arts, entertainment, and sports.

Good company for Tommy Hays. We are happy to congratulate him and look forward to the next time.

—Elizabeth Lutyens