Born: September 17, 1941 in Washington, D.C.
Richard Lawrence Taylor, a sixth-generation Kentuckian who lives near Frankfort, is the author of 12 books of poetry, two novels and four books of nonfiction. His primary material has been the colorful history and landscape of Kentucky.
Taylor earned his B.A. in English from the University of Kentucky in 1963 and an M.A. in English from the University of Louisville in 1964. He earned a law degree from U of L (1967) and a Ph.D. in English from UK (1974).
Beginning in 1975, he taught for many years at Kentucky State University, where he received the Distinguished Professor Award in 1992. He recently retired as the Kenan Visiting Writer at Transylvania University. He also regularly taught high school students in the summer Governor’s Scholars program.
Taylor may be best known as a poet, having served as Kentucky’s poet laureate from 1999 to 2001. The first of his 12 poetry collections, Bluegrass, was published in 1975 as one of the first books printed by Gray Zeitz at his legendary Larkspur Press in Owen County.
Taylor has always been fascinated by the violent misfits of Kentucky history, such as the subjects of his two novels, Simon Girty and Sue Mundy. Girty fought with Indians and the British against white settlers in Kentucky. Mundy was the fictional name a Louisville newspaper editor gave to Confederate Captain Marcellus Jerome Clarke, a young raider who had long hair and a baby face. Union soldiers captured Clarke in March 1865 and hanged him in Louisville at the age of 20.
Three of Taylor’s poetry books have been episodic, narrative biographies of famous Kentuckians: Rail Slitter: Sonnets on the Life of Abraham Lincoln (2009); Rare Bird: Sonnets on the Life of John James Audubon. (2011) and the recently published Bull’s Hell: Poems on the Life of Cassius Marcellus Clay. "It's such a durable and pliable form,” Taylor said. “And they were a lot of fun to do."
Taylor’s book Elkhorn, winner of the 2018 Thomas D. Clark Medallion for the best book about Kentucky’s history or culture, chronicles an eight-mile stretch of Elkhorn Creek near Frankfort, where he lives in a rambling, book-filled house built in 1859.
Like the novel Girty, Elkhorn is a mix of prose, poetry and imagined monologues. Taylor loves to play with language, and he doesn’t like to be tied down to one form of writing — or creativity. He is an avid watercolorist and sketch artist, making his own ink from black walnut hulls. The daily journals he has kept since 1984 — he is now on volume 258 — are filled with drawings and paintings as well as words.
“I think the best writing — fiction writing, poetry — relies on images,” he said. “I'm very much attracted to the visible world. So the two kind of feed on one another.”
Among his other awards have been an Al Smith Creative Writing Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council, a Fulbright lectureship in Denmark, and two NEA creative writing fellowships.
Sue Mundy: A Novel of the Civil War (2006)
Three Kentucky Tragedies (1991)
The Palisades of the Kentucky River (1997)
The Great Crossing: A Historic Journey to Buffalo Trace (2002)
Elkhorn: Evolution of a Kentucky Landscape. (2018)
Earth Bones (1979)
In the Country of Morning Calm (1998)
Stone Eye (2001)
Braintree: Fifteen Poems (2004)
Rail Slitter: Sonnets on the Life of Abraham Lincoln (2009)
Rare Bird: Sonnets on the Life of John James Audubon. (2011)
Fading into Bolivia. (2011)
Rain Shadow (2014)
The Feast of Silence (2017)
Bull’s Hell (2022)
Snow Falling on Water: Selected and New Poems (2022)