When Tony Lawson, the general manager of WDVX-FM, Knoxville’s listener-supported radio station, approached poet Linda Parsons about creating a reading series to showcase the area’s literary talent, Parsons — along with her co-host Stellasue Lee — jumped at the chance to bring the pleasures of the written and spoken word to a new audience. The result is WordStream: The Weekly Writer’s Voice, which provides a stage for an array of writers and performers.
Since its launch in March of this year, WordStream has featured an increasingly eclectic mix of material from many genres and artistic forms. This interdisciplinary approach is intrinsic to the vision of the show’s creators. According to Parsons, “The important thing is for us to mix it up, to join voices that complement (or oppose) each other and shine a light on their gifts, which then becomes a gift to the audience and to the wider community.”
So far, the artists featured on WordStream have ranged from an impressive list of Southern poets — including Marilyn Kallet, Jesse Graves, Richard Hague, Lana Austin, and Jane Hicks — to multitalented theatre artists like Eugene Wolf and Kali Meister. Upcoming shows will feature play excerpts performed by members of the Carpetbag Theatre and Knoxville Children’s Theatre.
Other WordStream guests, such as R.B. Morris and Kelle Jolly, are, in Lee’s words, “musicians who blend words and music in unusual ways.” Parsons stresses that providing this artistic cross section engenders a sense of discovery and surprise for their listeners. They intend to stay “true to the station’s community outreach mission — and to the ‘DV’ in the station’s name, which stands for ‘diverse.’”
WordStream is recorded live on the WDVX Stage at the Knoxville Visitors Center each Friday from 12-1 p.m. Episodes are listed on WDVX’s website, with upcoming shows already scheduled through March 2020. Parsons and Lee, both poets with longtime editorial experience, have outlined ambitious goals for the series. A podcast was recently launched, and a complete archive of past shows will ultimately be made available online. Even as they work to stretch the program’s reach as far as possible, Parsons and Lee remain focused on building the audience for the live performances and broadening their programming to reflect their inclusive approach.
They are also committed to drawing wider attention to Appalachian voices. Parsons expresses her gratitude to Lawson and WDVX for this chance “to shine a light on these voices and their stories in an intimate, informal setting.” And Lee adds, “I want to bring Appalachia to the world.”
According to Parsons, one of their featured poets — Donna Doyle — “has likened WordStream to church.” Parsons shares the same feeling: “We gather weekly in faith and belief in words and their power to unite, uplift, and heal. Each week, we are transported and transformed as we commune in that sacred space and sound for an hour. We leave lighter, closer to the heart of things, the core of what deepens and connects us all.”
Recent performers at WordStream: The Weekly Writer’s Voice
Emily Choate holds an M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence College. Her fiction has been published in Shenandoah, The Florida Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and The Double Dealer, and her nonfiction has appeared in Yemassee, Late Night Library, and elsewhere. She lives in Nashville, where she’s working on a novel.