He has interviewed The Beatles, Elvis Presley, John Wayne, Alfred Hitchcock, Ann-Margret, Kim Novak, Vincent Price, Michael Caine, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey, Helen Mirren, Hal Holbrooke, Burt Reynolds, Rod Steiger, Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, Van Johnson, Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, and dozens more of America's leading entertainment celebrities over the last 50 years.
And it has always been a surprise to him.
Because he never intended to be a writer.
Yet, in 2006, Terry Kay was inducted into the Georgia Writers' Hall of Fame in ceremonies conducted at the University of Georgia, honoring the accomplishments of a man who began his writing career in 1959 as an errand boy for a weekly newspaper.
The journey of his career has covered more than 50 years of the most dynamic change in the state's history.
Award-winning novelist Terry Kay was born in Hart County, Georgia, on February 10th, 1938, the eleventh of twelve children. He was reared on a farm and was graduated from West Georgia Junior College in 1957 and from LaGrange College in 1959, earning a degree in Social Science, with extensive study in theater arts. He began his career in journalism in 1959 at the Decatur-DeKalb News, a weekly newspaper in Decatur (GA) and later worked for The Atlanta Journal as a sportswriter and, for eight years, as one of America’s leading film-theater critics.
Kay resigned from the Journal in 1973 to begin a career in public relations, later becoming Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Oglethorpe Power Corporation. In 1989, he left the corporate world to devote full time to writing.
Kay’s first novel, published in 1976, was The Year the Lights Came On, a story inspired by his memory of the coming of electricity to his rural farming community. It was followed in 1981 by After Eli, a disturbing view of a charming Irish actor terrorizing an Appalachian community. In 1984, Dark Thirty, an examination of justice vs. vengeance, also set in Appalachia, was published.
Publication of his first three novels established Kay as a writer of versatility, able to switch genre and voice with ease and command.
In 1990, Kay’s signature novel, To Dance With the White Dog, was released, quickly taking its place among Southern literary classics and establishing Kay as one of the region’s foremost writers. Inspired by Kay’s own parents, it is the story of an octogenarian and a mysterious white dog that comes to live with him following the death of his wife of 57 years. To Dance With the White Dog earned Kay the Outstanding Author of the Year award in 1991 from the Southeastern Library Association. The book was twice nominated for the American Booksellers’ Book of the Year (ABBY) award and was named by the Georgia Center for the Book as one of the 25 recommended books for all Georgians to read. In 1993 it was presented as a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie for CBS television, starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. The production earned the highest television rating of the 1993 season, with more than 33 million viewers. Cronyn won that year’s Emmy for Best Actor in the role of Sam Peek, the character based on Kay’s father.
Among the numerous enthusiastic endorsements of the novel, the Most Reverend Desmond M. Tutu, Anglican Archbishop of Capetown, called it “ . . . a hauntingly beautiful story about love, family and relationships.” Novelist Anne Rivers Siddons said of the book, “'To Dance With the White Dog' is what literature is – or should be – all about . . .” The New York Times characterized it as “Memorable . . . a tender and bracing tale.” And the Kansas City Star’s review noted, “To say it is rich, fine, sweet, and true is to minimize its power. This is poetry pretending to be fiction.” Further proof of the universality of To Dance With the White Dog is the phenomenal success in Japan, where more than two million copies have been sold. In addition, a children’s book version has been produced and a Japanese motion picture version was released in 2002. In 2016, a staged reading was presented in leading Japanese theaters.
Shadow Song, a love story set in the Catskill Mountains where Kay worked as a waiter in a Jewish resort as a young man, was published in 1995. It was followed in 1997 by The Runaway, a story of social change in the South following World War II.
The Runaway was also produced as a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie for CBS television, featuring Dean Cain and Maya Angelou, and was released in 2002.)
In 1999, Kay again switched genres with The Kidnapping of Aaron Greene, a mystery set in Atlanta. And in 2000, Taking Lottie Home, one of Kay’s personal favorites and considered by many as his finest novel, was released. Also in 2000, a collection of essays called Special Kay: The Wisdom of Terry Kay, was published.
The Valley of Light, published in 2003, tells the story of a gifted wandering fisherman following World War II. It won both the 2004 Townsend Award and the Best Fiction Award from the Georgia Writers Association for 2004. It was also released as a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation in 2007, starring Chris Klein and Gretchen Mol, making it Kay's third novel to be selected by Hallmark for production.
Additionally in 2004, The Valley of Light was published as a book bonus offering from Readers Digest's Condensed Book series.
Kay's most recent book, released by Mercer University Press in 2020, is The Forever Wish of Middy Sweet, a story of childhood sweethearts who are reunited by circumstance in their 70th year. Earlier releases include The King Who Made Paper Flowers, (2026) Song of the Vagabond Bird (2014), a story of the agony of obsession. In 2011, Mercer University Press released two books by Kay - The Greats of Cuttercane, a collection of short stories written in the caricature style of southern humor, and Bogmeadow's Wish, a love story set mainly in Ireland.
However, it was the 2007 release of The Book of Marie, also by Mercer University Press, that Kay considers a significant milestone in his writing career. A sensitive insight into the profound effect of the civil rights movement on rural towns and communities of the south, it tells the story of a remarkable and aggressive young woman (Marie) in the mid-50s and her warnings to Cole Bishop and her other classmates at Overton (GA) High School about coming social events that will inevitably change their lives.
"I've enjoyed the writing of each book," Kay emphasizes, "but The Book of Marie is, to me, important beyond the simple telling of a story. I wanted it to say that all of us - white as well as black - were dramatically changed during the period of desegregation. All of us had to 'overcome' the historic damage and damnation of segregation. I cannot judge how others think of it, but I am satisfied that I wrote it with honesty."
Kay is also the author of two books for children, To Whom the Angel Spoke: A Story of the Christmas, by Peachtree Publisher's in 1991, and the 2013 release of The Seventh Mirror, by Mercer University Press.
Translations of Kay’s fiction have been published in numerous foreign countries, including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Sweden, Germany and Holland. His work has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies, including Reader’s Digest, Atlanta Magazine, A Confederacy of Crime, The Chattahoochee Review and the Georgia Review. He scripted an episode of In the Heat of the Night and won a Southern Emmy for his original teleplay, Run Down the Rabbit. He is also the author of a play, Piano Cabaret.
In addition to his journalism and corporate and writing careers, Kay has taught as a visiting lecturer in the Department of English at Emory University and twice directed Emory’s summer creative writing program. In 1984, he hosted The Southern Voice, a PBS affiliate (WPBA/Channel 30 of Atlanta) series on Southern literature.
Among his honors, Kay was named one of the eight best theater critics in America in 1968 by the Sang Jury on Fine Art Criticism. Members of that jury included actor Hal Holbrook, playwright William Inge, and director Sir Tyrone Guthrie. Kay also served on Georgia’s first film-television commission, on appointment by then-Governor Jimmy Carter. A documentary by the University of West Florida on Kay’s experiences as a writer was broadcast over PBS affiliates in 1994.
Other honors and awards include:
· Atlanta Writers Club names annual fiction award The Terry Kay Prize for Fiction
· Recipient of the Georgia Writers Association's Lifetime Achievement Award, 2011
· Recipient of the Governor's Award in the Humanities (GA), 2009
· Inducted in Georgia Writers Hall of Fame, 2006
· Recipient of the Stanley W. Lindberg Award, 2007, for outstanding contribution to the literary heritage of Georgia
· Recipient of the Townsend Award, 2004, for The Valley of Light
· Recipient of the Brooke Baker Award, Dunwoody (GA) Public Library, 2007
· Recipient of the Appalachian Heritage Writer's Award from Shepherd University (WV), 2006
· Named Author of the Year four times by the Georgia Writers Association: 1982 for After Eli, 2004 for The Valley of Light and 2008 for The Book of Marie and 2012 for The Greats of Cuttercane (Short Stories Category)
· Awarded honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, LaGrange College, 1999
· Awarded honorary Doctor of Literature, Mercer University, 2002
· Honorary member of Phi Theta Kappa, honor society from Young Harris College
· Honorary member of Phi Kappa Phi, honor society from University of Georgia
· Named by Georgia Trend magazine as one of Georgia's most Powerful and Influential People, 1995 and 2001 and 2013.
· Member, Advisory Council, Byron Herbert Reece Society
· Member, Advisory Council, Georgia Center for the Book
Kay has been married for 60 years and has four children, ten grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He and his wife currently reside in Athens, Georgia.