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Terry Kay: A Conversation

His childhood on a farm with no
electricity would inspire his career and creativity. Today Terry Kay is ranked as one of Georgia’s most
important authors for his compelling stories set in his home state. He sat down with Susan Hoffman for a lively,
humorous discussion of his life, influences and career.

Terry Winter Kay was born in
1938 in Hart County Georgia, the eleventh of twelve
children. Growing up on a farm meant
plenty of chores, but his parents also encouraged education. In the days before electricity, the family
would spend the evenings reading by the light of a kerosene lamp.

Kay went on to graduate from West Georgia Junior College and LaGrange College,
earning a degree in Social Science, with extensive study in theater arts. He
began his career in journalism in 1959 at the Decatur-DeKalb News and
later worked for The Atlanta Journal as a sportswriter and, for
eight years, as one of America’s
leading film-theater critics.

Kay resigned from The Atlanta Journal in 1973 to begin a
career in public relations, later becoming Senior Vice President of Corporate
Affairs for Oglethorpe Power Corporation. In 1989, he left the corporate world
to devote full time to writing.

Kay’s first
novel, published in 1976, was The Year the Lights Came On, a story
inspired by his memory of the coming of electricity to his rural community. It
was followed in 1981 by After Eli, a disturbing view of a charming Irish
actor terrorizing an Appalachian community. In 1984, Dark Thirty, an
examination of justice vs. vengeance, also set in Appalachia,
was published.

Publication of his first three
novels established Kay as a writer of versatility, able to switch genre and
voice with ease and command.

In 1990,
Kay’s signature, award-winning novel, To Dance With the White Dog, was
released, quickly taking its place among Southern literary classics and
establishing Kay as one of the region’s foremost writers. Inspired by Kay’s own
parents, it is the story of an octogenarian and a mysterious white dog that
comes to live with him following the death of his wife of 57 years. In 1993 To
Dance With the White Dog
was presented as a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie for
CBS television, starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. The production earned
the highest television rating of the 1993 season, with more than 33 million
viewers. Cronyn won that year’s Emmy for Best Actor in the role of Sam Peek,
the character based on Kay’s father.

More novels followed, each peopled by Kay’s richly-drawn characters: Shadow
, [1995],
The Runaway [1997], The
Kidnapping of Aaron Greene
, Taking Lottie Home [2000]
The Valley of Light [
2003], and The Book of Marie [2007]. In addition to novels, Kay has
also written for children and has published essays.

Over the
years, Kay has won numerous awards and, in 2006, he was inducted into the
Georgia Writers’ Hall of Fame.

Kay has been
married to his wife, Tommie, since 1959 and has four children and several
grandchildren. He currently resides in Athens,

Watch the Full-Length, Unedited Interview: Recorded on April 4, 2008