The Steve Kemp Writers Residency is designed to help writers connect with Great Smoky Mountains National Park in meaningful ways that will inspire some of their best work. The program is named for 30-year Great Smoky Mountains Association veteran Steve Kemp, who retired in September 2017 after directing the publication of hundreds of books, magazines, brochures, newsletters, and other interpretive materials that continue to support the preservation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Kemp Residency provides an annual opportunity for one writer working in any medium to spend six weeks in the Smokies and to focus on their craft in a retreat-like setting. The writer will follow in the footsteps of—and actually spend real time with—Steve Kemp in an effort to create written works that move visitors to a greater appreciation of and stewardship for Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The program provides time for writers to develop new work, as well as opportunities to engage and inspire the public through outreach initiatives, all while immersed in the rugged mountain landscape, rich cultural heritage, and wealth of biological diversity at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In exchange for their stay in the park, each writer creates new work and generates experiences that promote visitor understanding of the need to preserve and care for this national treasure. Selected writers thereby continue the long tradition of interpreting resources in ways that enrich the park experience for today's visitors and leave lasting impressions for future generations.

Steve Kemp had his first story on managing wildlife in national parks published in 1983 and won the Montana Audubon Society Journalism Award. Kemp has been meandering along the same path, more or less, ever since, writing for a variety of periodicals and journals including Outside, Outdoor Life, National Parks, Outdoor Photographer, Discovery Travel Adventures, Blue Ridge Country, Smokies Guide, and Smokies Life. His books include Trees of the Smokies, Great Smoky Mountains: Simply Beautiful, Great Smoky Mountains: A Visual Journey, We’re Going to the Mountains, Great Smoky Mountains: Natural Wonder, National Park, and, most notably, Who Pooped in the Park?

GSMA seeks applications from writers in any genre whose work is engaged in issues that are relevant to the park's main interpretive themes:

Diversity and abundance: Great Smoky Mountains National Park harbors a truly wondrous web of life. Biological diversity is the hallmark of the park, which encompasses more than 800 square miles in the southern Appalachian Mountains—an amazing diversity of plants, animals, and invertebrates.

Continuum of human activity: The park’s cultural history is embodied in a variety of preserved historic structures, cemeteries, archaeological sites, museum objects, and archival documents—as well as less tangible resources including folklore, literature, and music.

Refuge of scenic beauty: Miles of mountain ridges, deep-cleft valleys, unspoiled streams, endemic life forms, and unique cultural features provide an opportunity for visitors to experience sanctuary, wilderness, adventure, and solitude—a respite from the impacts of modern technological society.

A panel of readers representing Great Smoky Mountains Association and Great Smoky Mountains National Park will review the applications, interview top candidates, and select the writer-in-residence for each year. GSMA will be accepting applications for the 2023 Kemp Residency from September 1 until November 1, 2022. The chosen writer will live in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for six weeks during the spring/summer of 2023.

The chosen resident will receive the following:

  • Opportunity for one-on-one time with Steve Kemp to discuss the direction of work and learn more about the park’s history
  • Weekly meetings, field trips, and mentoring from GSMA Creative Services Director Frances Figart
  • The opportunity to have written work included in GSMA publications, such as the Smokies LIVE blog; the park newspaper, Smokies Guide; and Smokies Life magazine
  • Access to park archives for research and study with the assistance of archivist and librarian Mike Aday
  • Inclusion in at least three organized park activities or projects with a park or GSMA staff host to be determined by the nature of the writing style and interests of the chosen applicant
  • Potential for interfacing with staff from park partners Discover Life in America and Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont
  • Potential for interfacing with the artist community at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg
  • Several options for office/desk/creative space if needed in addition to housing and the great outdoors
  • A stipend of $600 to help with meals and transportation

The application process

Anyone age 18 or older of any background may apply. Selections are made without regard to race, religion, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, age, or national origin. Prior knowledge of the Smokies is not prerequisite.

Proposals should take the form of one email correspondence addressed to Frances Figart, creative services director, at and sent between September 1 and November 1, with “Kemp Residency” as the subject. The structure, length, and content of the email message can be determined by the applicant and should meet the following criteria:

  • Demonstrate the applicant’s ability to interpret the natural and cultural history of the Southern Appalachian Mountains and the Smokies in a way that engages visitors in interpretation and helps them derive meaning from their experience here.
  • Provide easy access to three recent writing samples, in the form of links to online publications or attached documents.
  • Contain a letter of introduction to the applicant and his or her work, explaining why the applicant would like to be considered for this residency in the form of a response/reaction to these words from Steve Kemp and the park’s main interpretive themes (diversity and abundance, continuum of human activity, refuge of scenic beauty.)

“From my days as an NPS seasonal ranger, I have always considered myself an interpreter, a person who tries to make complex themes of natural and cultural history accessible to a lay audience. My target audience has always been the average Janes and Joes who visit national parks, not scholars or full-time nature-crazed wilderness fanatics like myself. I accept the fact that my audience may be more interested in the pool at their motel or sitting in a rocking chair at their Chalet than hearing about biological zones in the mountains. I just want one moment to attempt to engage them. One try. I want to find that one thing—a bear cub, a church, a wildflower, a big tree, a story—that they can connect with. I hope that connection leads them to some positive emotional feeling about a protected place that will linger after their visit. Humble, but reasonable.”