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Before the Title, Past
A Nonfiction Column
By Willie Elliott

Learning about the Writers of My State

Not many people would pick up a 800 plus page anthology for recreational reading, but that is exactly what I did when I found this wonderful resource for Kentucky authors, The Kentucky Anthology: Two Hundred Years of Writing in the Bluegrass State, edited by Wade Hall.

Granted I did not read the whole book, but I did read enough to get a general history of the writing for my state in the last two hundred years.

Reading through the book, I sampled writing examples John James Audubon, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Clay, and Harriette Arnow, plus many others who are noteworthy on the national stage.

Then there are those writers I am familiar with—those that I met eye to eye and studied under their instructions—even Charlie Sweet, an instructor I studied under at Eastern Kentucky University while earning my MA in English is included. Two others, associated with the Hindman settlement school, are included: James Still and Albert Stewart. It brings writers to full view when you can say, “I have had classes under these writers and have eaten lunch with Al Stewart and James still at the Hindman Settlement School. Then there is Jesse Stuart, a favorite of people my age in Eastern Kentucky.

One writer included in the anthology that I plan to read more of his material and writings about him is Thomas Merton.

Then there are the more modern writers famous here and on the national scene such as Barbara Kingsolver, Chris Holbrook, who taught at my alma mater, Alice Lloyd College, and one writer who we like to say lived just one holler over, Verna Mae Slone and her wonderful book What My Heart Wants to Tell.

If one is from Eastern Kentucky, he would be amiss not to mention Harry Caudill and his Night Comes to the Cumberlands, a book that explains in many ways the reason we Eastern Kentuckians are the way we are.

Of course, I have left out many notable writers, but the reader can see the diversity and quality of writers from the state of Kentucky.

A follow up needs to be done to include many more recent writers, and each state should have such an anthology to showcase their writers. As you might expect, such anthologies are quite expensive. With a 2005 publishing date, this one came in at $45 and would be much more expensive today. I would love to see similar publications from other states.

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