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Gainesville media company earns an Emmy award for Byron Herbert Reece documentary

POSTED: August 30, 2011 1:30 a.m.
/Photos for The Times

Renee McKay, of Gainesville-based media comany Livingston-McKay LLC, puts makeup on John Kay, chairman of the Byron Herbert Reece Society.

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If most Georgians are asked to name a peach state poet, more than likely, the first name to come to mind is usually Sidney Lanier, not Byron Herbert Reece.

If Renee McKay and Joani Livingston have their say, Reece — born near Blairsville — will soon get his time to shine.

Last year, the duo — with help from Karen Deem — completed a documentary on Reece titled "Voices: Finding Byron Herbert Reece."

Over the summer, the documentary won a Southeast Emmy Award from the Southeast Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

"It was very surreal hearing our names called," said Livingston, one-half of Livingston-McKay LLC, a Gainesville-based media company.

"As we got closer to our category, I started to get butterflies, which surprised me."

Although the women produced an award-winning film in the end, at first, Reece wasn’t even a blip on their radar.

"We were working on another documentary when a mutual friend, who was a member of the Byron Herbert Reece Society, brought (Reece) to our attention," Livingston said.

"Neither (McKay nor I) were familiar with him at the time, which is kind of sad because he really was a great poet from Georgia."

Reece graduated from Blairsville High School, owned a farm in Union County and completed several volumes of award-winning poetry.

He received five Georgia Writers Association achievement awards and he served as a poet-in-residence at Young Harris College and Emory University. His collection of poems, "Bow Down in Jericho," was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in the early 1950s.

"One thing that I love about him was that he was a farmer-poet. Meaning that he worked the land during the day and then wrote his poetry at night," Livingston said.

Being a Hall County native, McKay was surprised to find out that such an important literary character isn’t more well known locally.

"It was such a great thing to find out more about him," said McKay, a Gainesville resident and Livingston-McKay co-owner.

"It was nice to be able to complete this documentary so that he will be more well known."

The documentary aired on Georgia Public Broadcasting last fall. If you didn’t catch the original airing, there’s still a chance to see it.

"GPB has the rights to run it for three years, so it will pop up off and on," Livingston said

Despite his work being praised heavily, Reece’s writing career wasn’t a financially lucrative one. Overwhelmed by money worries and illness, Reece committed suicide in 1958, just a few months before his 41st birthday.

His short life and career could be partly to blame for his talents going largely unnoticed over the years, but several local groups are working to change that.

In 2004, the Reece society took on the responsibility of turning the poet’s Union County homestead into the Byron Herbert Reece Farm and Heritage Center. The center is located near Vogel State Park on U.S. 129 in Blairsville.

Livingston and McKay hope their documentary helps to make Reece’s legacy more accessible to people who can’t make it to his birthplace.

"When we do a documentary for (Public Broadcasting Stations), we also do lesson plans for teachers so kids can study about him in school," Livingston said.

"We also have plans for national distribution (of the documentary) so that we can (bring awareness of Reece) to a much larger audience outside of Georgia."

"I’m excited that more people will be able hear about this little-known Georgia poet, who wrote about nature, love, death and religion," McKay added.

"There are a lot of interesting stories out there that need to be told. We want to tell the ones that have a positive impact on society."



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