Elizabeth

by Tommy Hays, Executive Director, Great Smokies Writing Program

After teaching prose classes for more than twenty years, Elizabeth Lutyens is retiring to focus on her own writing and editing The Great Smokies Review. So, it seemed fitting to ask Tommy Hays, founder of The Great Smokies Writing Program, to reflect on her many contributions to the program and her students. —Janet Moore, Special Features Editor

Some twenty years ago, in the early days of the Great Smokies Writing Program, I met Elizabeth for the first time when she enrolled in one of my prose workshops. The class met in Asheville School’s library in a lovely dark-paneled booklined conference room, quintessential Harry Potter. I learned that, like me, Elizabeth had graduated from the Warren Wilson MFA Program and that we knew many of the same WWC faculty. It didn’t take more than a class or two for me to realize what a thoughtful and insightful critic of her classmates’ work she was. Unfailingly kind in her feedback, she never shied away from what needed to be said, articulating problems in a student’s piece in such a way that was generous and at the same time accurate. We all learned from Elizabeth. She was never judgmental and had a manner that felt inclusive. I remember years later, after she’d become a teacher in the Great Smokies, hearing her tell one of her students who’d expressed jealousy over a particular writer’s success that we should celebrate others’ successes, that we were all in this together.

It was in that first workshop with Elizabeth that I learned what a masterful writer she was. The pages she submitted to be workshopped, pages from a historical novel set on a plantation on St. Helena Island off the South Carolina coast, were among the best pages I’d ever read in a workshop or anywhere else for that matter. She was, I would learn over time, a writer of the first order. It became obvious to me that with her skills, Elizabeth would make a wonderful teacher in the Great Smokies and thankfully she consented. She would go on to be an essential teacher for the Great Smokies, designing an advanced prose class for our most accomplished students, a class that remained in demand throughout the many years Elizabeth taught in the program. To this day I often hear from former Great Smokies students how key Elizabeth’s class was to their development as a writer.

After a few years of teaching in the program, Elizabeth came up with the idea of the Great Smokies Review, a publication devoted to student work produced in the program’s workshops. The Review included faculty-chosen student work and also interviews with faculty and craft talks. The Review has become an important showcase for the Great Smokies, and Elizabeth has remained its editor since its inception.

I feel deeply indebted to Elizabeth as a trusted colleague and dear friend. She was someone I could consult when problems or challenges about the program presented themselves. I always came away from a conversation with Elizabeth, feeling as her students said they felt in her workshop, heard and supported. Elizabeth is one of the wisest people I know, and I can’t imagine where I or the Great Smokies would’ve ever been without her.


Photo by Michael Mauney