The Kentucky Foundation for Women is proud to announce that Grace Rogers, Kyra Higgins, Josafina Garcia, and Gwen Akers are the recipients of the 2023 Firestarter Award. The award will be given at the foundation’s annual celebration of community, KFW Day, on October 1.
The Firestarter award honors artists ages 18 to 25 who are taking risks in the creation of new art, involved in social justice/community engagement, and who demonstrate a developing feminist voice, including new insights and visions and/or fresh approaches to feminist topics or art for social change.
“These young feminist artists are creating innovative ways to examine longstanding issues that affect women including mental health, Black history, environmental justice, and rural and queer identities. Their work will help enlighten people and forge a path to a more just Kentucky and better world. They are awakening a new awareness with the vision that marks a true Firestarter,” said KFW Executive Director Sharon LaRue.
Gwen Akers, 19, of Ashland, writes fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry. She was selected as a Firestarter for her work writing on topics such as Appalachia, heritage, family connection, rural communities, connection to place and mental health. She has had work published in Still: The Journal, and also has a piece forthcoming in an anthology from Fireside Industries focused on the devastating flooding in Eastern Kentucky.
Akers works to forge connections to place and community. In her work, she often reflects on what it means to grow up in a place where so many people aim to leave and view staying as failure. She wants to change that by becoming an educator and writer, helping others grow through connections to Appalachia and the rich culture that is deeply rooted in place.
Akers says of her work, “I have always loved my home and the people that make it such. I love the rich stories that can be found in the hills and communities around us–if only we dare to look. My artwork revolves around my own journey in understanding and commentating on the world around me, whilst telling the stories of those that often go overlooked. When others read my work, I want them to see and hear themselves, and to feel inspired to find their passions and truths. I want them to know that they are not alone.”
Josafina Garcia, 22, of Owensboro, combines writing with visual fiber work, among other innovative projects. She was selected for her cutting-edge artmaking, taking risks to break boundaries of genre and medium and her vulnerability in addressing mental health in her writing. Her artwork addresses topics such as body image, mental health, depression and eating disorders.
Garcia has exhibited leadership in her artmaking and in programming and community building. As Editor-in-Chief for Loch Norse at NKU, she ran open mic nights as well as the finished literary magazine, where she and the team worked to be a safe and inclusive space.
Garcia says of her work, “I feel that if I can write about my own personal struggles and share them, maybe others will feel less alone. I think there’s something powerful about opening up myself to others through writing. Sharing these issues, these struggles shows that I’m not alone. I recently started a project that I hope to continue, where I crocheted a QR code that leads to a piece that I wrote. That specific piece talked about my past with an eating disorder. I think opening up about that can be feminist. I know a lot of girls and women who have eating disorders because we feel like our bodies have to fit this shape that is presented to us, so being honest and blunt about it is kind of like pushing back. I feel like I am questioning norms on what art can be.”
Kyra Higgins, 25, of Redfox, was selected as a Firestarter for her innovative work in radio theatre. She creates art in the areas of theatre, poetry, dance and audio production, and focuses on topics such as mental health, Eastern Kentucky Black history, folklore, religion, spirituality and identity expression.
Higgins brings theatre and community oral history into the radio program she hosts on Appalshop’s community radio, WMMT 88.7 called ‘Word on the Street.” Her oral history work is about Carr Creek Lake, the creation of which destroyed and displaced three African American communities and disrupted the growth of the town she grew up in. She is currently working on developing a radio drama where the audience will make choices about the story line and become part of telling the story. It is a ‘choose your own adventure’ storytelling style that was inspired by a live performance she did last October at the Red Fox Storytelling Festival. In this new show, she is developing characters that will face conflicts and trauma using healthy coping mechanisms. The audience will get to choose which characters to focus on and help decide what happens next in their journeys. She hopes the story will help audience members overcome the stigma of seeking mental health services and learn healthy coping mechanisms for themselves.
Higgins says of her work, “I write poetry. I teach storytelling and tell stories. I love hearing from folks about how they grew up. I’m in the planning stages for creating my own traveling theatre and hope for every performance to be based off of the area I’m living in and community members.”
Grace Rogers, 24, of Louisville, is a musician, poet and essayist whose work addresses themes of rural and queer identities, colonialism, class issues, social and environmental justice and rural-urban connections. She was selected as a Firestarter for her original songwriting and poetry that honor her roots in traditional old-time music while probing issues such as environmental degradation, industrial agriculture, rural queerness and climate change.
In January of 2023, she released an EP called “COWPOCALYPSE” that, in Grace’s words, explores the “apocalypse of industrial agriculture, environmental destruction, food apartheid, and floodwaters in Kentucky.”
Rogers said of her work: “When I moved to Louisville as a non-straight woman from a rural place, I found myself totally stranded in a community of queer women from Louisville with whom I had almost nothing in common. It was a huge wakeup call as a queer person who had few queer friends growing up to be in the community that was finally supposed to make me feel at home, but to feel even more like an alien. This is when it really sunk in that identity is more complicated than a few factors that determine your experiences. It is impossibly complicated to unravel. In my work, I try to pull on these loose threads and tangle them up even more. I am searching for something that transcends the language we have to deal with these problems. That is what liberation looks like to me.”
For more information on each winner, visit their individual announcement pages: