Matthew Wimberley

Matthew Wimberley wins Weatherford Award for poetry collection “All the Great Territories”

Matthew Wimberley, an assistant professor of English at Lees-McRae, has won a Weatherford Award for his debut book of poetry, “All the Great Territories.”

The Weatherford Awards are granted by Berea College and the Appalachian Studies Association each year to the books that “best illuminate the challenges, personalities, and unique qualities of the Appalachian South.” The award was established in 1970 to commemorate the life of W.D. Weatherford, Sr. and his work with youth, Appalachian development, and race relations.   

Wimberley said that winning a Weatherford Award was “a complete surprise and a real delight.” The rest of the country is often ignorant about the value of Appalachian life and culture, and the Weatherford Awards fight back against that stereotype by honoring the creators who make the mountains their home.

The poems in “All the Great Territories” explore Wimberley’s complicated relationship with his distant father, who passed away in 2012. It was also during this time period that Wimberley left his home in western North Carolina to earn his MFA at New York University, and his feeling of displacement led him to write about home. The resulting book serves as an elegy for and conversation with a mythologized version of Wimberley’s late father.

“To be included, especially with my debut book, gives me a sensibility of my responsibility to place and the Weatherford Award's mission,” Wimberley said. “And one of my responsibilities is to uplift other voices.”

As a professor at Lees-McRae, Wimberley can introduce students to varied Appalachian voices in the courses he commonly teaches, which include Wilderness Literature, Advanced Poetry, and Appalachian Poetry.

The Weatherford Awards are chosen by a panel of judges made up of a representative from Berea College, several members of the Appalachian Studies Association, and other figures from around the Appalachian South. One of the judges described “All the Great Territories” as “masterful in its ability to closely study the region and the forces at work against it” that “perfectly captures the complexities of grief and Appalachia.”

Another judge said, “This aching and elegiac book held up to a second and third read, and I was taken by the care and intention of his images and the emotional risk of the poems.”

Wimberley has received awards and recognitions for his poetry in the past, including winning the William Matthews Prize from the Asheville Poetry Review in 2015 and being chosen as a finalist for the 2015 Narrative Poetry Contest.

“Awards in general are a double-edged sword, because now there’s pressure,” Wimberley said. “There’s always a worry when you write a poem—am I ever going to do this again? It seems an impossible think, a remarkable thing. I think it’s a gift to be able to write.”

Wimberley expressed gratitude for the friends, mentors, and colleagues who assisted him in his journey to becoming a published author and winning a Weatherford Award. “Awards often get pared down to the individual,” he said. “But it’s more a testament to a community of support. Winning an award would be impossible without that.”

Another collection of Wimberley’s poetry, “Daniel Boone’s Window,” will be released in October 2021 by Louisiana State University Press.

Order “All the Great Territories” from Southern Illinois University Press>>

Learn more about the English program>>

By Emily WebbMarch 26, 2021