The presenters for 2020 will include several if not all the following, as well as more. Please return to this site as the festival nears.

Presenter Biographies

Lisa Soledad Almaraz


Lisa Soledad Almaraz is a native Texan that has called the Appalachian mountains home for over 20 years since arriving via Santa Barbara, California in 1998. She is a poet, multimedia producer, passionate gardener and founder of Eartheart Network. Her work explores ways to honor all life and engage conversations that expand love in our communities while creating a culture of earth stewardship. Through creativity and inspired activism, Lisa has helped bring many projects to life in various formats over several decades, creating thousands of hours of original top-rated radio content, television shows, live broadcasts, and music albums. Currently, she is the Multimedia Director of Living Web Farms, producing educational material teaching about growing organic food and resilient living, continuously adding to the voluminous library of more than 600 videos online. She also hosts Eartheart Network Radio weekly, discussing the connections between our soil, personal and planetary health as well as weekly expert organic gardening advice. Lisa shares gardening and seeds with anyone that is interested and has helped seed many community gardens. She seeks to plant the seeds of earth stewardship and gardening in as many people’s hearts as possible to encourage them to grow food and joyfully connect to nature and their community while living their own personal passion.

Brandon Amico


Brandon Amico is the author of Disappearing, Inc. (Gold Wake Press, 2019). He is the recipient of a Regional Artist Grant from the North Carolina Arts Council and the winner of Southern Humanities Review’s Hoepfner Literary Award for Poetry. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Blackbird, The Cincinnati Review, Kenyon Review, New Ohio Review, and Verse Daily, among other publications.”

Barrie Barton

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Barrie Barton, a native of Asheville, brings a wide-open and liberating skill for creative expression as Artistic Director of Story Choreography Projects. As a trained dancer, choreographer, facilitator and skillful story catcher Barrie invites participants to artful play, exploration and expression through movement, stories and creative writing. Barrie has produced 16 multi-media performances, 5 at the Diana Wortham Theatre that seamlessly weaves a tapestry of movement, story, music, poetry and comedy into a poignant spectacle of the human experience. Story Choreography Project’s creative process is to harness the unexplored and unspoken and transform it into the spoken, seen and expressed actions through the container of creativity, performance and community.

Byron Ballard


H. Byron Ballard, BA, MFA, is a western NC native, teacher, folklorist and writer. She has served as a featured speaker and teacher at Sacred Space Conference, Summerland Spirit Festival, Pagan Spirit Gathering, Southeast Wise Women’s Herbal Conference, Glastonbury Goddess Conference, Heartland, Sirius Rising, Starwood, Scottish Pagan Federation Conference and other gatherings. She is senior priestess and co-founder of Mother Grove Goddess Temple and the Coalition of Earth Religions/CERES, both in Asheville, NC.

Her essays are featured in several anthologies and she writes a regular column for Witches and Pagans Magazine. Her book “Staubs and Ditchwater” debuted in 2012 and the companion volume “Asfidity and Mad-Stones” was published in Oct. 2015. “Embracing Willendorf: A Witch’s Way of Loving Your Body to Health and Fitness” launched in May, 2017. “Earth Works: Ceremonies in Tower Time” debuted in June 2018. Byron is currently at work on “Gnarled Talisman: Old Wild Magics of the Motherland” and “The Ragged Wound: Tending the Soul of Appalachia.”  

Kevin Evans

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Kevin Evans was born into a military family in Maricopa County, Arizona. Kevin was the last of four children born to Sharon and Arthur Evans. His family roots are of Mississippi, he is 37 years old and has resided in Asheville altogether about half of his life. As a teenager he was mentored by Glennis Redmond while attending a program called Project STEAM (Success through education and motivation).
He had the opportunity to perform at The Diana Wortham Theatre at that time; that’s when he fell in love with performing in addition to writing. He first began writing creatively in the third grade. In recent years Kevin has been a part of the Poetry Cabaret here in Asheville, led by Caleb Beissert with musical director Aaron Price. He has also put together a few events of his own called THE HUMAN SIDE at The BLOCK off biltmore.

Cara Forbes


Cara Forbes is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians and a member of the Deer Clan. She is a writer for Natives In America, an online literary space for Native American, Alaskan Native & Native Hawaiian writers who share what it means to be proudly Indigenous in the 21st century.


Luke Hankins is the author of a collection of poems, Weak Devotions, and a collection of essays, The Work of Creation. He is also the editor of Poems of Devotion: An Anthology of Recent Poets. A collection of his translations from the French of Stella Vinitchi Radulescu, A Cry in the Snow & Other Poems, was recently released by Seagull Books. Hankins is the founder and editor of Orison Books, a non-profit literary press focused on the life of the spirit from a broad and inclusive range of perspectives.

Michael Hettich

Michael Hettich was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1953 and grew up in New York City and its suburbs. He has lived in upstate New York, Colorado, Northern Florida, Vermont, Miami, and Black Mountain, North Carolina, where he now lives with his family. He has published over a dozen books and chapbooks of poetry, and his work has appeared widely in journals and anthologies.
Michael Hettich’s awards include several Florida Individual Artists Fellowships, a Florida Book Award, The Tampa Review Prize in Poetry, and the David Martinson–Meadow Hawk Prize. He oftain collaborates with visual artists, musicians, and fellow writers.
A new book, To Start an Orchard, is forthcoming from Press 53 in September 2019. He is married to Colleen and has two children, Matthew and Caitlin.
North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green

Jaki Shelton Green is the first African American and third woman to be appointed as the North Carolina Poet Laureate. When he appointed her Juneteenth 2018, Governor Copper stated that “Jaki Shelton Green brings a deep appreciation of our state’s diverse communities to her role as an ambassador of North Carolina literature. Jaki’s appointment is a wonderful new chapter in North Carolina’s rich literary history.”

Her collegiate and professional experiences include currently teaching Documentary Poetry at the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies, Visiting Professor for the Carlow University MFA Program, Lenoir-Rhyne University Writer-in-Residence, Duke University Teaching for Equity Fellow, Taller Portobelo Artist Colony in Portobelo Panama, University of Panama, Department of Cultural Resources for Brazil, North Carolina Turkish Association, Alhambra Cultural Center in Marrakech Morocco, NC Symphony,  NC African America Cultural Heritage Commission.

She is the owner of SistaWRITE and co-partner with Dream Yourself Awake and Vertikal Creative Ventures providing writing retreats and travel excursions for women writers in Sedona Arizona, Ocracoke North Carolina, Agadir Morocco, and Tullamore Ireland.

Awards include 2019 Lucy Bramlette Patterson Award from the General Federation of Women’s Clubs of North Carolina, 2019 NC Black History Month Honoree presented by Governor Roy Cooper, 2019 Our Minds, Our Voices Award, 2018 Tar Heel of the Year Finalist2018 Indies Arts Award, 2018 NC Literary and Historical Association R. Hunt Parker Award, 2018 Phi Beta Kappa Award, 2017-2018 Duke University Faculty Travel Grants, 2017 Certification of Teacher Excellence presented by the Kingdom of Morocco Ministry of National Education, 2016 Kathryn H. Wallace Award for Artists in Community Service2014 NC Literary Hall of Fame Inductee, 2014 Pushcart Prize Nominee, 2010 Fine Arts Emerald Award (Raleigh LINKS), 2009 NC Piedmont Laureate appointment, 2007 Sam Ragan Award for Contributions to the Fine Arts of North Carolina, 2003 recipient of the North Carolina Award for Literature (the highest award the state can bestow for significant contributions in science, literature, fine arts, and public service), 2003 North Caroliniana Society induction. Jaki Shelton Green is the recipient of two NC Emerging Artist Grants, the African American Writer’s Collective Distinction Award, NC Writers Network Blumenthal Award2002 Omega Iota Finer Womanhood Award (Zeta Phi Beta Sorority) Delta Arts Award (Delta Sigma Theta Sorority)

Jaki Shelton Green is the author of eight collections of poetry: Dead on Arrival, Dead on Arrival and New Poems, Masks, Conjure Blues, singing a tree into dance, breath of the song, published by Carolina Wren Press and Blair Publishers. Her other publications; Feeding the Light, I Want to Undie You are published by Jacar Press. Her poetry has been published in over eighty national and international anthologies and featured in magazines such as Essence and Ms. Magazine.


Marlisa Mills


Marlisa Mills is a mental health, addiction, and grief therapist, “retired” from hospice work and presently the co- owner and founder of Blue Lotus End of Life Services. She has spent years leading grief groups that focused on storytelling as the means for handling loss and bereavement. She works with children, adolescents, adults, and seniors in looking at life through the lense of death and loss and finding joy through the gratitude practice of narrative medicine.

Michael Newton


Dr Michael Newton is one of the only scholars of Scottish Gaelic Studies to engage in issues of colonialism, race, and whiteness in Scottish and Scottish-diasporic contexts. He earned a Ph.D. in Celtic Studies from the University of Edinburgh in 1998 and was an Assistant Professor in the Celtic Studies department of St Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia 2008-2013. He has written several books and numerous articles about Gaelic culture and history and is the leading authority on Scottish Gaelic heritage in North America. He was the editor of Dùthchas nan Gaidheal: Selected Essays of John MacInnes, which won the Saltire Society’s Research Book award of 2006 and the author of Warriors of the Word: The World of the Scottish Highlanders, which was nominated for the 2009 Katharine Briggs Award for folklore research. In 2014 he was given the inaugural Saltire Award by the St. Andrews University Scottish Heritage Center (of Laurinburg, North Carolina) for his “outstanding contributions to the preservation and interpretation of Scottish history and culture.” In 2018 he was recognized with the International award at the annual Scottish Gaelic awards in Glasgow, Scotland. His 2015 publication Seanchaidh na Coille / Memory-Keeper of the Forest: Anthology of Scottish Gaelic Literature of Canada is the first extensive collection of Gaelic-Canadian literature and analysis of it. His personal blog contains many essays on topics around these themes:

DeBorah Shelton Ogiste


Rev. DeBorah asks us to remember this: “You are OK where you are, and if you want to experience more in life, and accept more in life, or release more in life, and to feel safe within yourself, then it’s time to come into a community of non-judgment, where God will meet you where you are and bring you from that place into all you can be.” Since moving to Asheville, Rev. DeBorah has been a minister at Unity Church of Asheville for three years. Currently she is an interfaith wedding officiate, does energy work to help people walk through their pain and release trauma from the past, and guides groups in spiritual discussion.

Sharon Oxendine

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Sharon Oxendine lives in Fletcher NC and has lived in this community since 1992.  Sharon moved to this area to be closer to the sacred earth that is so vibrant in this community.  Sharon Oxendine is a First Nations woman from the Lumbee Tribe from Lumberton NC.  Sharon has studied with numerous teachers from the Wisdom Keepers and other Indigenous Leaders and Shamans for the last 27 years.  Sharon has been named Elder by her community and leads ceremonies around Rites of Passage, Grief, Soul Retrieval and Transitions from this world to the next. Sharon writes and shares from this point of view of living in two worlds and being a sky walker.  Sharon is passionate about the Earth Elements and supports Sacred Activism through ceremony and sharing the Sacred Pipe.

Darrell “SCIPOET” Stover’s Bio


Darrell is a cultural historian, science communicator and performance poet. His career life has always been an intersection of science and art sifted through history with an emphasis on community and individual empowerment through the same. He is on the faculty at NC State University where he teaches “Black Popular Culture: From the Blues to Afrofuturism” and “Introduction to Science, Technology, and Society.”  What most don’t know is he studied microbiology and American Studies at the University of Maryland at College Park and acquired his Master of Arts degree in Creative Non-FictionWriting from Johns Hopkins University. He served as program director at the Hayti Heritage Center and the North Carolina Humanities Council. He found and directed the Spoken Word Performance Poetry Ensemble in Washington, DC. He has been published in the Washington Post, the Independent Weekly, theHip Hop Tree and in several poetry anthologies. His latest book of poetry is Somewhere Deep Down When. His more recent public programs have been the performance/lecture “The Natural History of Afrofuturia” and the curation of a series on the cultural significance of the “Black Panther” film featuring a panel discussion on the science and technology represented on screen. The presentation of “Dream STEAM: AfrofuturistDances with the Sciences” at the “Afrofuturism and Indigenous Futurities” conference held at UNC-Chapel Hill expounds on the use of biological science in African diasporic speculative fiction.