Jo Carson* - 2002 Award of Honor

By living in an environment she loves, Jo Carson has become a success in the difficult literary world. The environment is this region, Upper East Tennessee, these old mountains. She currently lives in Johnson City, in an old family home. Her grandparents, T.C. Carson (who taught math at ETSU for many years) and Agnes (a storyteller) still live in memory in the place. Carson lives with four "leggeds" in the house, two dogs, Bear and Zelda, and she also keeps a horse, Kate, who provides mountain transportation and company on weekends. This place is the geography of the imagination for this author of short stories, poetry, children's books, and plays.

Carson attended East Tennessee State University, graduating with degrees in both theatre and speech. She moved to New York City for a while but she did not find her dream there - mostly she got homesick for the mountains and returned to Johnson City and ETSU to finish her schooling.


After graduation, Carson began producing educational videos on local history for a small independent television station, Broadside TV. In 1972, the FCC changed their rules about how much local origination material had to run on commercial television, and Broadside (like lots of other independent producers) went out of business. Carson began working with the Road Company as a writer and performer on and off for 20 years.

Carson began writing and performing what came to be called 'people pieces.' They were monologues or dialogues gleaned from conversations -- sometimes overheard -- from this region. She did over 600 performances of this work, in this country and others. This is the work published in a book called Stories I Ain't Told Nobody Yet. This book made the Editor's Choice on Booklist and the American Library Association's recommended list. These pieces also ran as occasional commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered, for eight years.

Carson has written other books including The Last of 'The Waltz Across Texas' and other Stories, a collection of short stories; Pulling My Leg, a children's book about the loss of a baby tooth; You Hold Me and I'll Hold You, a children's book dealing with loss and fear; and The Great Shaking, which is about the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812.

Carson is primarily a playwright; her works include Whispering to Horses, which won an AT&T Onstage Award, one of five given in this country yearly; Preacher with a Horse to Ride, a play set in a Kentucky mining town during the 1930s, which won a Roger L. Stevens Award from the Fund for New American Plays in 1993; The Bear Facts, a tale of the loss of the frontier centered on Davy Crockett, which won Carson a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship; and Daytrips, a semi-autobiographical play about duty, madness and the struggles of a woman dealing with a mother who has Alzheimer's Disease. This play won the Kesselering Award for best new American play in 1989 and has played all over this country and some others, including off Broadway in New York City. In 2000, Carson was the recipient of a Theatre Communications Group/NEA residency award to work with 7 Stages in Atlanta. This work produced a new play called If God Came Down, which is about alternative healing, and the archetype of the wounded healer.

Carson is the daughter of Pierce and Marie Carson, both graduates of ETSU. She has made her family and her community very proud by succeeding as a writer. She will tell you it has happened because she's stayed true to her roots.