“Willie Carver, award-winning teacher and truth-teller, has written a memoir of narrative poems that poignantly explore his experience as a gay man in Appalachia―through food, religion, heartache, and a bone-deep love for the hollers, the hills, and the people. These poems hold your gaze and your ear.” ― Crystal Wilkinson, author of Perfect Black

Willie Edward Taylor Carver Jr. is an advocate, a Kentucky Teacher of the Year, and the author of a bestselling collection of narrative poetry about his childhood growing up queer in Appalachia, Gay Poems for Red States (University Press of Kentucky), which was named a Book Riot Best Book of 2023, a Top Ten Best Book of Appalachia by Read Appalachia, an IndieBound and American Bookseller’s Association’s must-have book, a 2023 Top Ten Over-The-Rainbow book by the American Library Association, and, most recently, was awarded a 2024 Stonewall Book Award – Barbara Gittings Literature Honor Book Award. Carver’s work exists at the intersection of queer identity, Appalachian identity, and the politics of innocence.

Willie is a candidate for the MFA in poetry at the University of Kentucky. He publishes and presents on the subjects of education, marginalization, and identity, and his story has been featured on ABC, CBS, PBS, NPR, and in The Washington Post, Le Monde, and Good Morning America. His story was chosen by Jonathan Van Ness as a story to share for education. His advocacy has led him to engage President Biden and to testify before the United States Congressional Committee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. His creative work has been published in 100 Days in Appalachia, 2RulesofWriting, Another Chicago Magazine, Largehearted Boy Blog, Smoky Blue Literary Magazine, Miracle Monocle, Good River Review, and Salvation South, where he is a feature poet of National Poetry Month.

Carver has spoken across the United States about the impact of the past on our present selves and the ways in which our most underserved students are being harmed by the systems around them. His university speaking engagements University of Kentucky, the University of Tennessee, Morehead State University, Centre College, Universidad Lead de Costa Rica, Berea College, Western Carolina University, Northern Kentucky University, and the Francis Parker School, among many others. He has been invited to speak at Manhattan’s LGBTQ center, Bookmarks of North Carolina, the National Gill Foundation, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Council of Teachers of Foreign Language, Pride at Work, South by Southwest, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the 2023 International Narrative 4 Conference.

Willie's Featured Titles

Gay Poems for Red States

The University Press of Kentucky |
LGBTQ+ Poetry

No one will protect you. Months after being named the 2022 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, Willie Edward Taylor Carver Jr. announced his decision to leave the public school system. His career as a high school English teacher had spanned more than a decade but ended abruptly―another casualty of the cruel and dangerous anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination that is creeping back into the halls of government and the homes of Americans. At the beginning of Carver’s career, an administrator warned him about discussing his otherwise openly gay identity at work: “No one will protect you, including me.” A new administration allowed for more freedom, but the initial warning eventually rang true. School officials failed repeatedly to address harassment of students and of Carver himself, until he could no longer endure such a purposeful deterioration of human rights. While Carver’s testimony before the House of Representatives brought much-needed attention to the need for protections for LGBTQ+ people in schools, the damage was done.

In Gay Poems for Red States, Carver counters the injustice of a persistent anti-LGBTQ+ movement by asserting that a life full of beauty and pride is possible for everyone. More than a collection of poetry, Carver’s earnest and heartfelt verses are for those wishing to discover and understand the vastness of Appalachia, and for the LGBTQ+ Appalachians who long for a future―for a home―in an often unwelcoming place.


Advocacy as Hope in the Darkness (Keynote/Talk)

Using his unique path to advocacy, Willie Carver uses his voice to speak in support of marginalized students in the United States. Mr. Carver will address the challenges and great opportunities for our LGBTQ, BIPOC, and rural students. By critiquing the systems in which they must operate, Willie will share from his critically acclaimed Gay Poems for Red States, reflecting on his own upbringing as a queer child in in Appalachian Kentucky, and will use those experiences as a way to create hope, inclusion, and space for their stories. As the 2022 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, Mr. Carver brought these truths to the United States Congress when testifying about the very real physical and emotional challenges LGBTQ students and teachers face. During this session, Willie will share not only his experiences, but a vision for future advocacy to protect students so ALL may thrive.


Using Poetry to Remember our Purpose (Session)

Toni Morrison once said, “They straightened out the Mississippi River … Occasionally the river floods … but in fact it is not flooding; it is remembering. Remembering where it used to be … Writers are like that: remembering where we were, what valley we ran through, what the banks were like, what light was there and the route back to our original place.” In this session, Willie Carver, 2022 Kentucky Teacher of the Year and the author of critically acclaimed Gay Poems for Red States, will share selections from his collection and lead participants to consider their own floods and what lessons they hold about who we are and why we are.


Speaking the Obvious: Queer Youth Exist and Need our Help

This workshop, developed to follow Kentucky Governor Beshear’s keynote at Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky’s 2023 Kits Are Worth It® Conference, works along a three-fold approach to increase foundational and background knowledge related to LGBTQ youth needs and to the best foster practices for support.

Prong 1: Recent Historical Context. The audience will hear brief a but poignant narrative that leads to a larger question specifically, of why LGBTQ youth advocacy lags other groups. Then, historical information, context, and research will be presented to answer this question in ways specific to the United States.

Prong 2: The State of LGBTQ Youth: Through a manner that involves audience participation in small groups to facilitate larger understanding in whole-audience learning, we will then cover specific data from various national organizations (GLSEN, Trevor Project, CDC, MAP Project, etc.) broken into spheres of social influence.

Prong 3: What Now?: The speaker will share specific best-practice strategies and resources, for those interested in continuing advocacy in their work, as well as specific modes of thinking and paradigms necessary for LGBTQ youth advocacy.

Willie’s Events Link

Willie’s Publications Link

Honors, Awards & Recognition

Gay Poems for Red States
*named a Book Riot Best Book of 2023
*named Top Ten Best Book of Appalachia by Read Appalachia
*named a Must-Have Book by IndieBound and the American Booksellers’ Association
*named a Top Book of 2023 in Garden and Gun by novelist David Joy
*one of ten books chosen for the American Library Association’s 2023 LGBTQ Bibliography
*2024 Stonewall Book Award – Barbara Gittings Literature Honor Book Award

Willie Carver:
*Chosen 2022 Kentucky Teacher of the Year from 40,000 teachers.

Media Kit

By clicking the link below you will be directed to a Google Docs Folder
where you can download author photos and cover images.

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