Georgia Center for the Book

Karen Salyer McElmurray

Georgia Connections

  • Milledgeville, Baldwin County

Notes of Interest

Karen Salyer McElmurray is the prize-winning author of books of fiction and nonfiction whose work has appeared in a number of publications. She was named Georgia Author of the Year for her 2004 memoir, "Surrendered Child: A Birth Mother's Journey." Her work also includes two novels. She has been teaching at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville since 2003.

Karen Salyer McElmurray was born September 12, 1956, in Topeka, Kansas, where her father was stationed in the U.S. Air Force, and grew up in small-town Kentucky. She wrote about this time of troubled family relationships in "Surrendered Child," recounting her pregnancy at the age of 16 and giving up her son at birth. She received a B.A. in philosophy and literature from Berea College in 1980, an MFA in fiction from the University of Virginia in 1986, an M.A. in writing from Hollins University in 1989 and a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Georgia in 1997. She was a member of the adjunct faculty at the University of Virginia 1986-87, an instructor at Virginia Polytechnic 1988-89, and an intructor at the University of North Carolina-Asheville 1989-92. At UGA, she was an editorial assistant for The Georgia Review 1994-95 as well as instructor. She taught at Lynchburg College 1997-2001, was writer-in-residence at Berry College in Rome 2001-02 and visiting professor 2002-03 after which she joined the faculty at Georgia College and State University. Since 2008, she also has taught at Murray State University in Kentucky.

Her first book was a grim, intense novel of one family's rugged lives set in Kentucky's coal-mining region, "Strange Birds in the Tree of Heaven" (1999). Critics called it a "strongly imagined and skillfully executed" debut novel, and it was nominated for several awards including The Lillian Smith Award and the Appalachian Writers Association Award. Her second book was "Surrendered Child" (2004), about the search for her birth son, which North Carolina author Lee Smith called a "dark memoir lifted into an enlightening and redemptive work of art." She received several award nominations for the book. Her third work, the novel "The Motel of the Stars," appeared in 2008. She has had stories published in anthologies and journals including The Kenyon Review and the Alaska Quarterly Review, and received a Pushcart Prize nomination in 1994. She lives in Milledgeville.

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