Inducted 2024

Born: October 17, 1937, Chicago, Illinois

Mary Ann Taylor-Hall studied creative writing at universities in Florida and New York City. But it wasn’t until she settled into a “tar-paper shack” on a rural Kentucky ridge that she says she really became a writer.

In the 47 years since that move, Taylor-Hall has produced two novels, a book of short stories and three volumes of poetry, plus work published in such prestigious literary journals as The Paris Review, The Sewanee Review and The Kenyon Review. Her work has been reprinted in the books The Best American Short Stories and Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories, edited by Morris Grubbs.

Bobbie Ann Mason, a novelist and short-story writer who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016, describes Taylor-Hall as “a lyrical cosmonaut, an explorer into the mystery of time, space and consciousness. We are jolted by her perceptions, surprised by what she has noticed.”

“Mary Ann Taylor-Hall is a poet's poet — original, subtle, a master of image and language,” said Richard Taylor (no relation), a former Kentucky poet laureate who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2023. “I count her Come and Go, Molly Snow as one of the best 10 novels written by a Kentuckian.”

The protagonist of that 1995 novel is Carrie Marie Mullins, a talented Bluegrass fiddler and single mother who suffers a nervous breakdown after her young daughter dies in an accident. The novel is the story of a young woman trying to regain her sanity and find her place in a male-dominated world.

“I don't believe that novel would have been written had I not been living in this country,” Taylor-Hall said in an interview. “The flow of the language and of the plot seemed to generate themselves out of these places. I had lived a very migratory life before I came here. But I can’t imagine living anywhere else now.”

Mary Ann Taylor was born Oct. 17, 1937 in Chicago, where her father, Edmund Taylor, who was from Lexington, met and married her mother, Mildred. When she was 9, the family moved to Winter Haven, Florida. She discovered her love of nature by canoeing and hiking in and around Central Florida’s lakes.

"My father read to us a lot,” she said. But she never thought she could become a writer until she read the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay and the short stories of Katherine Ann Porter.

"I think that the first time I understood I could be and wanted to be a writer was reading Katherine Ann Porter,” she said. “She had such confidence in herself as a writer. I didn't know her, but her stories always seemed to be totally unapologetic female stories. She seemed like she was just talking to us, and I liked that.”

After two years at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, she transferred to the University of Florida, where she studied under Andrew Lytle, a poet and fiction writer who had been among the Southern Agrarians at Vanderbilt University in the 1920s.  After earning a master’s in English at Columbia University, she taught at Auburn University, Miami of Ohio and the University of Puerto Rico before coming to the University of Kentucky in 1977 and finding the place where she wanted to settle.

A high school friend, whose husband had several hundred acres of family farmland along the Harrison-Scott county line, offered to let her live in what she described as a “tar-paper shack,” which she later bought and turned into a beautiful home. She loved the house and the woods and fields that surrounded it. Seeing birds, deer, the occasional fox and the changing seasons on walks with her dog has informed much of her poetry and fiction.

She married James Baker Hall, a writer, photographer and fellow UK creative writing teacher, in 1982. He moved in with her, adding a sunlit studio upstairs. Hall, Kentucky’s poet laureate in 2001-2002, died in 2009. He was inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame in 2014.

“We never wrote together, but we tried to help each other out of any maze we had gotten ourselves into,” she said. “Jim was a very valuable critic and mentor in a way for me. What I learned from Jim was that you sat down and did it. He told me over and over again, ‘Put writing first.’ And he was right.”

Taylor-Hall’s second novel, At the Breakers (2009), is set in the Northeast rather than Kentucky. She also has published a book of short stories, How She Knows What She Knows about Yo-Yos (2000) and three volumes of poetry: Dividing Ridge (2008), Joy Dogs (2013) and Out of Nowhere: New and Selected Poems (2017).

She had always loved wordplay, but focused on writing fiction until she joined a poetry group with six other Kentucky women poets, including the late Jane Gentry Vance,  Kentucky’s poet laureate (2007-2008) and a Hall of Fame inductee in 2019.

“Mary Ann is a formidable novelist, so her poetry was a big surprise to me,” Mason said. “Her poems embody not just her multifaceted vision but her personality, her devotion to domesticity as well as to the larger world, her doubting but embracing mind, her love for her friends, her animals, her home.”

Taylor-Hall writes in her husband’s former studio each morning as sunlight begins forming patterns around the walls. She sits in a comfortable rocking chair, her dog Bonnie at her feet and a pen in hand. “I write more happily if I've just got a pad in my lap,” she said. “I think there's a real connection between the imagination and your hand.”

The people and landscape of Kentucky remain her inspiration.

 “It seems to me that almost everybody in Kentucky has a background that is worth fiction: how they got here, why they stayed, what happened on the way,” she said. “I think that's one reason Kentucky is so rich in writers. It's both the people who live here and it's the landscape. You drive down the roads and you see history. People want to write about their own history or their parents' history, or they know a story they’ve been told. It's a storytelling place."

Major Works

Come and Go, Molly Snow (1995)

At The Breakers  (2009) 
How She Knows What She Knows about Yo-Yos (2000)

Joy Dogs (2013)

Dividing Ridge (Larkspur Press, 2008)
Out of Nowhere: New and Selected Poems (2017)

Major Awards
PEN/Syndicated Fiction Award

Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Kentucky Arts Council.

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