The children’s literature writer Kelly Starling Lyons has been named the 2021 Piedmont Laureate. 

Starling Lyons, a Raleigh native, has been writing children’s books since 2004 and is the author of 17 titles, including illustrated biographies of Misty Copeland and the late Durham architect Phil Freelon, as well as the award-winning Going Down Home with Daddy. She is also a founding member of the Brown Bookshelf, a collective founded to raise awareness of “the myriad Black voices writing for young readers.” 

“I’m excited about the possibility of amplifying and celebrating children’s literature in a new way,” Starling Lyons told the INDY in an email. “Over the years, I’ve done countless author visits, but the platform of the Piedmont Laureate is a unique opportunity to give back to an area that has meant so much to me and have a different kind of impact.”

During her 2021 tenure, Starling Lyons will makes virtual appearances at workshops, readings, and other speaking engagements around the Triangle; she will also be expected to produce one project to “expand appreciation of the work of children’s literature.” A full list of her upcoming engagements can be found on the Piedmont Laureate website.

Durham Public school board member Jovonia Lewis heralded Starling Lyons’s appointment in the announcement’s press release.

“She is dedicated to creating opportunities for children to bring books to life, sparking an interest in reading and writing and serving her community through outreach and community projects for nothing more than exposure for those authors and for families,” Lewis said. 

John Claude Bemis, the 2013 Piedmont Laureate, also celebrated Starling Lyons’s achievement. 

“We need more writers from traditionally under-represented backgrounds, and Kelly’s voice in this important movement for change has been powerful,” he said in the release.

The Piedmont Laureate program spotlights a blend of literary genres, alternating between years. Starling Lyons follows the playwright Tamara Kissane, who served as 2020’s Piedmont Laureate. Past laureates include longtime News & Observer music critic David Menconi, the speculative fiction writer James Maxey, and the poet Jaki Shelton Green

“When I think about being Piedmont Laureate, I picture the amazing kids and adults I see every day around the Triangle,” Starling Lyons says. ‘What a gift to spend the year creating literary bridges that provide support, wonder, understanding, discovery and joy.”

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