Conversations with Kentucky Writers

Conversations with Kentucky Writers

EDITED BY L. Elisabeth Beattie
Photographs by Susan Lippman
With a Foreword by Wade Hall
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 408
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Conversations with Kentucky Writers
    Book Description:

    Kentucky and Kentuckians are full of stories, which may be why so many present-day writers have Kentucky roots. Whether they left and returned, like Wendell Berry and Bobbie Ann Mason, or adopted Kentucky as home, like James Still and Jim Wayne Miller, or grew up and left for good, like Michael Dorris and Barbara Kingsolver, they have one connection: Kentucky has influenced their writing and their lives. L. Elisabeth Beattie explores this influence in twenty intimate interviews.

    Conversations with Kentucky Writerswas more than three years in the making, as Beattie traveled across the state and beyond to capture oral histories on tape. Her exhaustive knowledge of these authors helped her draw out personal revelations about their work, their lives, and the nature of writing. When Still concludes his interview with "I believe I've told you more than anybody," he could be speaking for any of Beattie's subjects.

    Aspiring writers will learn that Mason submitted twenty stories to theNew Yorkerbefore one was accepted, and that Still wrote articles for Sunday school magazines. There's plenty of advice: Dorris tells budding authors to get real jobs, keep journals, and read everything, even cereal boxes, and Marsha Norman reminds playwrights that "it is not the business of the theater to provide writers with a living." Kingsolver advises, "Read good stuff and write bad stuff until eventually what you're writing begins to approximate what you're reading."

    Beattie's collection includes striking self-portraits of such writers as Sue Grafton, Leon Driskell, James Baker Hall, Fenton Johnson, George Ella Lyon, Taylor McCafferty, Ed McClanahan, Sena Naslund, Chris Offutt, Lee Pennington, and Betty Layman Receveur.What most distinguishes these moving conversations from other author interviews is their focus on creativity, on the teaching of writing, and on the authors' strong sense of place.As Wade Hall writes in his foreword, all twenty writers recognize that their works have been significantly influenced by their "Kentucky experience." This collection offers insights into Kentucky's rich and flowering literary heritage.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5716-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. General Editor’s Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Wade Hall

    Many years before I had the good sense to move here, I imagined Kentucky as a historical gallery containing the likes of Daniel Boone, Henry Clay, Floyd Collins, Alben Barkley, Abe Lincoln, and Jeff Davis. Furthermore, I knew that the state’s wonderland of fiction included Mrs. Wiggs, Aunt Jane, Judge Priest, the Little Colonel, Private Tussie, and Mr. Belvedere. After I arrived and got to know Kentucky up close, I realized that my imagination was not nearly rich and broad enough for die wonders I found, in fact and in fiction.

    What makes Kentucky so important historically and culturally? Perhaps...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-1)
  7. Wendell Berry
    (pp. 2-21)
    Wendell Berry

    BERRY: My name is Wendell Erdman Berry, and I was born August fifth, 1934. My mother’s maiden name was Virginia Erdman Berry, and my father’s name is John Marshall Berry. My father was a lawyer and also a farmer, and my mother is a housewife still. My father is dead.

    BEATTIE: What was your childhood like?

    BERRY: I had, I think, a wonderful childhood. I grew up in the little town of New Castle, Kentucky, where my parents moved in 1936. I went to school at New Castle School until 1948. But I also grew up on farms. My father...

  8. Billy C. Clark
    (pp. 22-37)
    Billy C. Clark

    CLARK: I am Billy C. [Curtis] Clark, and I was born December the twenty-ninth, nineteen and twenty-eight, at Catlettsburg, Kentucky.

    My mother’s name was Bertha Gertrude Clark and my father was Mason Clark. Of course, my mother was a housewife, and my father was, among other things, a shoe cobbler in Catlettsburg.

    BEATTIE: What do you remember about them growing up?

    CLARK: Well, that’s sort of a tough question. Of course, I left home when I was eleven years old to live alone in the City Building at Catlettsburg to put my way through the eighth grade and then through...

  9. Michael Dorris
    (pp. 38-57)
    Michael Dorris

    DORRIS: My name is Michael Anthony Dorris. I was born in Louisville, January thirtieth of 1945. My mother’s name is Mary Bridget Burkhardt. She worked at Colgate Palmolive as a keypunch operator. My father’s name was Jim Leonard Dorris, and he was in the army and was a first lieutenant at the time of his death, which was 1947,I believe. They met when he was stationed at Fort Knox, just after the outbreak of World War II. My mother’s family is from Henderson, [Kentucky].

    My grandfather [mother’s father] was a carpenter, and he also worked for the Louisville and Nashville...

  10. Leon Driskell
    (pp. 58-79)
    Leon Driskell

    DRISKELL: My name is Leon Vinson Driskell, and I was born December sixth, 1932. My father’s name was Dennis Halman Driskell, another family name. My mother’s name is somewhat of a mystery. For years she claimed that her name was Mae Frances Driskell, but her brothers and sister teased her about that name, leading me to believe that she suppressed some other, awful name. My mother was reared in the hills of North Georgia. My grandfather owned a huge farm up near Clayton, Georgia.

    My father was born in Forsyth County in Georgia, and went with his father and mother...

  11. Sue Grafton
    (pp. 80-95)
    Sue Grafton

    GRAFTON: My name is Sue Taylor Grafton. I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on April twenty-fourth, 1940. My mothers name was Vivian Boisseau Harnsberger. She had a college education in chemistry, and I believe for awhile taught high school chemistry. My father’s name was Cornelius Warren Grafton, and he was a municipal bond attorney in Louisville, Kentucky.

    BEATTIE: Tell me about your grandparents on both sides of the family, what their names were and what you recall about them.

    GRAFTON: I scarcely knew them. Both sets of grandparents were missionaries in China. My father was born in China and was...

  12. James Baker Hall
    (pp. 96-113)
    James Baker Hall

    HALL: I am James Baker Hall, and I was born in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1935. My mother’s name was Lurlene Bronaugh Hall, and she was a housewife and homemaker. My fathers name was Walker Russell Hall, and he was a variety of things. Early on in his life he worked in his father’s bank in Clay City, Kentucky, and was a wildcat driller in the Eastern Kentucky oil fields when they first began to open up. He was a military man in heart and in spirit. He was in the National Guard, and at the outset of World War II...

  13. Wade Hall
    (pp. 114-131)
    Wade Hall

    HALL: My full name is Wade Henry Hall, Jr. I was born February the second, Ground Hog’s Day, 1934, in the same bed that my mother was born in some sixteen-and-a-half years before, in a farmhouse near Inverness, Alabama, which is near Union Springs, which is near Montgomery.

    My mother was named Sarah Elizabeth Waters, and her mother was Tressie Grider, who married my mother's father, John Thomas Waters. They were all born in the community and were descended from families that had been there, I think, since that country was opened to white settlement in the 1830s and ’40s....

  14. Fenton Johnson
    (pp. 132-149)
    Fenton Johnson

    JOHNSON: My full name is John Fenton Johnson, although you can drop the John. I don’t use it much for any purposes except the Internal Revenue Service. I was actually born in Bardstown, Kentucky, although that was because my mother went to the hospital there. I grew up in New Haven [Kentucky], which is about fifteen miles to the south. I was born in 1953.

    My father’s name was Patrick Dean Johnson, Jr., generally called “P.D.” He was a maintenance person at the Seagram’s Distillery in Athertonville [Kentucky], which was an even smaller wide space in the road, about three...

  15. Barbara Kingsolver
    (pp. 150-171)
    Barbara Kingsolver

    KINGSOLVER: My name is Barbara Ellen Kingsolver, and I was born April eighth, 1955, in Annapolis, Maryland. My mother’s name is Virginia Lee Henry Kingsolver. My father’s name is Wendell Roy Kingsolver, and before he retired, he was a physician. He was in the navy when I was born, but most of my childhood we’ve lived here [Carlisle, Kentucky]. This is the house I grew up in. I have an older brother and a younger sister. My sister’s name is Ann and my brother’s name is Rob.

    My father’s mother lives two doors down—Mammaw. Her name is Louise Auxier...

  16. George Ella Lyon
    (pp. 172-187)
    George Ella Lyon

    LYON: George Ella Lyon is my name. I was named for my mothers brother and sister. I was born in Harlan, Kentucky, in 1949. My mother is Gladys Fowler Hoskins, and my father was Robert Hoskins, Jr. My father, when I was growing up, was a dry cleaner, and eventually became a vice-president of the savings and loan.

    My mother was very active in community affairs when I was small, all kinds of civic efforts, and then she became secretary for the Chamber of Commerce when I was starting high school. She still has that job. She’s involved in both...

  17. Bobbie Ann Mason
    (pp. 188-201)
    Bobbie Ann Mason

    MASON: I am Bobbie Ann Mason, and I was born in Mayfield, Kentucky, May first, 1940. My father was named Wilburn Arnett Mason. Arnett was his mother’s last name. My mother was named Bernice Christiana Lee, and she’s known as Christy.

    BEATTIE: What did your father do?

    MASON: He was a dairy farmer. My mother worked on the farm. She worked off and on a few years at a clothing factory in Mayfield. I’m the oldest. My sister Janice is four years younger. My sister LaNelle is twelve years younger, and my brother, Don, is seventeen years younger. So there...

  18. Taylor McCafferty
    (pp. 202-219)
    Taylor McCafferty

    McCAFFERTY: My name is Barbara Taylor Taylor McCafferty. I was born in Louisville, Kentucky. My first husbands name was Taylor, and my maiden name is Taylor, so for a while there my name was Barbara Taylor Taylor. It sounded like I had a stutter.

    I was born in 1946, October 15th. My mother is a homemaker, and her name is Marjorie Ozie Meador Taylor. My father’s name is Charles Allen Taylor, and he is today a retired foundry foreman for the International Harvester Company, which is no longer in Louisville.

    BEATTIE: Did you grow up in Louisville?

    McCAFFERTY: I did,...

  19. Ed McClanahan
    (pp. 220-239)
    Ed McClanahan

    McCLANAHAN: Edward Poage McClanahan is my name, and I was born in Brooksville, Kentucky in 1932.

    My father’s name was Edward L. McClanahan. He was a Standard Oil distributor most of the rest of his life. In the late 1940s he got into the river towing business, and he owned portions of tow boats, barges, and so forth. My mother is Jessie Poage McClanahan. She lives right now in Campbellsburg, Kentucky. Both my parents were from Bracken County.

    My grandfather, Jesse Poage, was a kind of closet writer. He only had about an eighth grade education, but he had read...

  20. Jim Wayne Miller
    (pp. 240-261)
    Jim Wayne Miller

    MILLER: My name is Jim Wayne Miller, and I was born on October 21, 1936, in Buncombe County, North Carolina. My home community is Leicester, North Carolina. My father’s name is James Woodrow Miller. He was born in 1912, and his middle name reflects an enthusiasm on the part of his parents for Woodrow Wilson, I believe. My mother’s name was Edith Smith. My father had many, many jobs. At various times he worked for the Southern Railroad in Asheville. But for most of my growing up years, he settled in with the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in Asheville,...

  21. Sena Jeter Naslund
    (pp. 262-281)
    Sena Jeter Naslund

    NASLUND: I am Sena Catherine Jeter Naslund. I was born June 28, 1942, in Birmingham, Alabama. My father’s full name was Marvin Luther Jeter. He was born in 1892 in south Alabama in an area known as Helicon, which I always liked, since Helicon is the traditional home of the muses. My mother’s full name is Flora Lee Easter Sims; actually, her name is Jeter. She’s dead, too, now. She was born April 8, 1901, in McFall, Missouri.

    My father was an M.D., and my mother had a bachelor of music degree from the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago....

  22. Marsha Norman
    (pp. 282-297)
    Marsha Norman

    NORMAN: My name is Marsha Norman, and I was born in Louisville, September twenty-first, 1947. Mother’s name was Bertha Connelly, and my father’s name was Billie Lee Williams. He was an insurance agent and she was a homemaker. I grew up on Bourbon Avenue, which is between Audubon Park and the airport.

    BEATTIE: What was your childhood like?

    NORMAN: It was kind of an isolated childhood. Mother was not one to have an active interest in her child’s social life. Quite the contrary, she really thought it was better if I played by myself. And she had a suspicion of...

  23. Chris Offutt
    (pp. 298-317)
    Chris Offutt

    OFFUTT: My name is Christopher John Offutt, and I was born on August 24, 1958 in Haldeman, Kentucky. My mothers name is Jody—Mary Jo McCabe Offutt. She was a housewife until all the children left home. Then she went back to school, and now gives tests and does some teaching at Morehead State University, where I went, as did all of my brothers and sisters. My father is Andrew Jefferson Offutt. He sold insurance until 1972, and then quit to become a full-time writer, which he’s done ever since.

    BEATTIE: He writes science fiction?

    OFFUTT: And fantasy. Sword and...

  24. Lee Pennington
    (pp. 318-339)
    Lee Pennington

    PENNINGTON: My full name is Royce Lee Pennington. I was born in 1939, May the first, in a little place called White Oak, Kentucky, one of probably twenty-five or thirty White Oaks in Kentucky. It's just back up there with my granddad’s place. My mother and dad lived there on three different occasions, and they were there when I was born. The old home place is no longer there, and the wells been filled in to keep kids from falling in it. I was back up there this past week, and it’s amazing how a place where one grows up,...

  25. Betty Layman Receveur
    (pp. 340-355)
    Betty Layman Receveur

    RECEVEUR: I am Betty Layman Receveur. My birth name actually was Betty Arline Layman. I believe I was named for Arlene Francis, the television personality, but my legal name now is Betty Layman Receveur. I was born here in Louisville. I’m a seventh generation Kentuckian. I was born October twenty-fifth, 1930. My fathers name is Russell Hamilton Layman. My mother’s maiden name was Georgia Pauline Heyser. I was raised by my paternal grandparents. My grandfather was Frank Fuller Layman and my grandmother was Addie Shelton Layman, Shelton being her maiden name. They were incredible people. Everything I am, that is...

  26. James Still
    (pp. 356-374)
    James Still

    STILL: My full name is James Alexander Still, Jr. I was born on a farm very near Lafayette, Alabama, on July 16, 1906. My father was a horse doctor; that is, a veterinarian without formal training. He was also a farmer. Altogether, there were ten of us. There were five girls first and then five boys. After my mother passed on, my father married again and had another boy, so I’m including him as well. I was the first boy that came after the five girls. I think all in our family were welcome. I grew up in what I...

  27. Index
    (pp. 375-392)