May 28, 2011 by wcobserver
By Velda Brotherton
Northwest Arkansas has long been a mecca for artists, writers and musicians. It’s not often that one of such esteem as Susan Powell settles in our Boston Mountains.
I first met Susan when she called to introduce herself and tell me about her plans for continuing teaching after moving into the area. She has settled on the mountain west of Winslow on a farm she calls Talley Ho. It’s located just a little way from Oak Grove Community building. The moment she saw the large piece of land on the mountain ridge she knew she could cultivate her love of writing and poetry and teaching in such serenity.
After a visit to Talley Ho, I am convinced that Susan’s dream of creating a retreat for artists and teaching writing there will one day become a reality. Talley Ho is a nonprofit organization and anyone who would like to help out getting log cabins restructured and ready for use there would be donating their time to a very worthy cause. The arts have long been the last in line for funding and are in the most need of any type of assistance we can give.
Susan was born January 31, 1954, in Dr. Pillstrom’s seven-room hospital, located down the hill from Weiderkehr’s winery in Altus. A sixth-generation Arkansan, her great grandfather Smith was a state representative for Franklin County in 1920 and again in 1936. Her great grandmother was an Earp, and yes, a cousin of Wyatt’s.
She says, “What I remember most about my great grandparents, the Powell’s, is their farm and their log house and barn. I remember playing on the front porch of the house when I was two. The chink lines between the logs provided great hidey-holes for candy and little plastic cowboys, which, I’m told, I wouldn’t travel without.”
She smiles at the memory, then continues, “The old log house lasted well into the 1960’s, and I was sick to see the land divided and sold. Of course, the new owners began clearing, which meant taking down the trees and burning the buildings all that history, literally, gone up in smoke for pasture land, which eventually became a housing development.”
Perhaps her deep desire to see history preserved is one of the reasons she has rebuilt and restored the log schoolhouse which she moved from Rudy to her farm. Originally built in 1843, the old building literally had to be restored from the foundation up. But this type of physical labor is Susan’s passion. And she continues to search for old barns and log houses that she can buy and add to those she’s already restored at Talley Ho.
She comes by this interest honestly. Her Uncle Bud, Norman Powell, is a noteworthy historian and history teacher. He was a primary resource for Senator Dale Bumpers when he wrote his book, The Best Lawyer in a One Lawyer Town.
“I’m honored by the fact that Uncle Bud gave me his publishing presses,” Susan told me. Her plans for The Press at Talley-Ho include publishing chapbooks, cards, calendars, a quarterly magazine, and “Reflections of Winslow”, an historical newspaper. Susan would also like to put Uncle Bud’s press to good use by publishing family memoirs for those who want only enough copies for their family and friends.
It’s no wonder Susan grew up to become a teacher and writer. On her mother’s side of the family, her great-grandfather Jim Douglas was a businessman and a father figure for Francis Irby Gwaltney, one of the great Southern novelists. One of Gwaltney’s later novels, Idols and Axle Grease, featured her great-grandfather as one of the idols. She grew up exposed to men like Gwaltney, and wrote her first poetry at the age of 5.
As a young woman, she yearned to live a regular life, rather than go into her family’s fourth-generation feed business. After a rather difficult job of convincing her family to let her attend college, she began her education at Jonesboro with a music scholarship to Arkansas State University. And she says ASU suited her plans. She was in the marching band, where they had to march in the fall if they wanted to play in the spring. With wool uniforms in the brutal heat, it wasn’t long before she added another major in Sociology and a lot of lit courses.
“Irby Gwaltney was my first writing mentor,” she tells me. “He encouraged my poet to speak out and be counted.”
Her first book, Sunshine and Shadows, came out in 1975. “I was primed to become a writer by four of the best, three of them born here in Arkansas. FIG Gwaltney, Clarence Hall, Miller Williams, and Norman Mailer were the foremost writers in my life. I was blessed to know each one of them personally, and to have their recommendations for grad school.”
Her other publications include An Act of Leaving, Sudden Departures, Women Who Paint Tall Houses and Arkansas Log Houses.
Miller Williams, Arkansas’ Poet Laureate, once referred to Powell as an intelligent teacher who is honest, has writing talent and is concerned for her students.
During her long career, she developed two programs for community colleges in Arkansas that are recognized as creative writing credit courses.
Because she loves teaching, she has plans to begin open-genre creative writing classes at Talley Ho toward the end of May. Typically, classes would be held every Saturday from 11 to 2 each week for 10-12 weeks. If enough students show an interest, she could have another session mid-week for a second group. Each class would consist of no more than eight students. Studies would include fiction, nonfiction and poetry depending on the interest of students. Anyone interested in more information should contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.