"I like working with younger writers one on one, having someone come to my house with their manuscript in their hands, spending some hours drinking coffee with them, trying to convey what I know of the craft by looking closely at what they've written, pointing out what they've done well so that they can do it again," she said. "I tell them about books I love and why and read poems out loud so we can hear how it's done together."
During the last three years of her life, McKinney created and directed a Master of Fine Arts Program in creative writing at West Virginia Wesleyan.
Through her poems, she created a "West Virginia that is complex, authentic and enduring," West Virginia poet Maggie Anderson said. "She taught the importance of knowing one place well. Through her teaching, she mentored a generation of writers from this region that wouldn't have existed otherwise."
McKinney was also featured in the 2003 anthology "Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia."
In the book's introduction, she said, "I'm a hillbilly, a woman, and a poet, and I understood early on that nobody was going to listen to anything I had to say anyway, so I might as well just say what I want to."
"She understood what it meant to be an artist," West Virginia Wesleyan professor Devon McNamara said. "She encouraged your spirit in the most unpretentious, infinite way."
McKinney is survived by her daughter, Julia Vickers of Germantown, Md., and her son, Paul McKinney of Santa Cruz, Ca. She is also survived by two brothers, Harold and Waldo Durrett and three sisters, Janet, Eleanor and Eileen.
A fund in her memory, the Irene McKinney Award for West Virginia Wesleyan MFA Students, has been established at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
A service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Talbott Funeral Home in Belington.