Monday, August 9, 2010

Monday Muse: Kentucky's Poet Laureate

Gurney Norman became Kentucky's official Poet Laureate in April 2009, succeeding the most recent incumbents Jane Gentry Vance (2007-2009), Sena Jeter Naslund (2005-2007), and Joe Survant (2003-2005). (A complete list of all of the state's Poets Laureate is here.)

Kentucky has had a Poet Laureate since 1926, when James Thomas Cotton Noe assumed the statutorily created position and then held it until late 1953. Until 1990, writers appointed by the state general assembly served for a lifetime. Legislation enacted in 1990 (Kentucky Revised Statutes, Section 153.600) reduced the term to two years.

Following a public call for considerations, the state arts council prepares for an independent panel's review and recommendations for the governor a list of nominees, all of whom must reside in the Commonwealth and have published a "critically acclaimed" body of work "informed by living in Kentucky." Because "poet" is broadly interpreted, the list may include persons of any form of literary accomplishment. Usually, the appointee is installed on April 24 in odd-numbered years and in conjunction with Kentucky Writers' Day celebrations. He or she receives no salary but is given a stipend to cover expenses for travel to promote the literary arts and represent the Commonwealth at readings, writing workshops, and arts festivals.

* * * * *

Gurney Norman, who is associate professor and director of creative writing at the University of Kentucky, is a novelist and short story writer, as well as an essayist. He published his first novel, Divine Right's Trip: A Novel of the Counterculture (The Dial Press and Bantam Books) in 1971 (that book has been described as "a kind of Grapes of Wrath in reverse" and originally appeared in serial form in The Last Whole Earth Catalog) and his short story collection Kinfolks: The Wilgus Stories (Gnomon Press and Avon Press) in 1978. He turned out Book One from Crazy Quilt: A Novel in Progress in 1990. Another in the adventures is forthcoming.

Norman co-edited and published the collection of essays titled Confronting Appalachian Stereotypes: Back Talk from an American Region (University Press of Kentucky) in 1990 (it is available only from resellers) and the Kindle edition, Back Talk from Appalachia: Confronting Stereotypes (University Press of Kentucky) in 2000. He published a second co-edited collection, An American Vein: Critical Readings in Appalachian Literature (Ohio University Press) in 2005. In addition, he co-edited Old Wounds, New Words: Poems from the Appalachian Poetry Project (The Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1994).

Norman's Ancient Creek and Other Folktales will be published this year in book form by Old Cove Press. Originally, Ancient Creek: A Jack Tale appeared as a spoken word album or sound recording (June Appal Recordings, 1976); the book version is to include a copy of the archival reading. (See Storytelling Films and Recordings.)

Other literary activities include writing and narrating three television documentaries about Kentucky history, landscape, and culture (Time on the River, From This Valley, and Wilderness Road); serving as a screenwriter and script consultant; and founding in 1999, with his wife Nyoka Hawkins, a regional literary press, Old Cove Press.

Norman is writer-in-residence at Hindman Settlement School's Appalachian Writers Workshop. With George Ella  Lyon and Jim Wayne Miller he co-edited A Gathering at the Forks: Fifteen Years of the Hindman Settlement School Appalachian Writers Workshop (Vision Books, 1993; available through resellers). 


George Brosi's In-Depth Profile of Gurney Norman (This is the best and most informative of the biographical profiles. Brosi describes Norman as "a compelling personality. . . [whose] writing is true to the traditional lives and language of mountain people. At the same time, his work is anchored in a solid vision that is informed by a truly international consciousness.")

Gurney Norman's "Tommy Cassinelli" (Short Story)

Burney Norman Interview, "Meet the Poet Laureate: An Interview with Gurney Norman", Telling Kentucky's Story, October 23, 2009 (This offers insights into Norman's experience growing up in Appalachia, his teaching, his work with community-based arts groups, and his service as Poet Laureate.)

Gurney Norman, Interview, Whole Earth Review, Winter 1988

Kentucky Arts Council (Kentucky Arts Council Bio for Norman)

Kentucky Educational Television Profile of Gurney Norman

Kentucky Writers' Day (This event celebrates the birthday of Robert Penn Warren, a Kentuckian and the first Poet Laureate of the United States.)

Brian Connors Manke's "The Confluence of Nature and Art", Department of English, University of Kentucky (This feature article about Norman's relationship with the landscape has the only poem, "Ancient Creek", I found attributed to Norman.)

University of Kentucky Bio for Gurney Norman

An American Vein on GoogleBooks

1 comment:

Louise Gallagher said...

Not only have you provided insight into the poet, you've reminded me of a mag I loved to read -- Whole Earth Catalogue!

"healed by a woman's love but not made mature by it" -- now that is a brilliant line! Norman uses it to describe D.R., the hippie whose life sounds like it would have made the first 'reality' TV hit!

Thanks Maureen as always for the light!