When you live in Kentucky, it’s hard not to be Kentucky proud, and we’ve certainly got a lot to be proud of! Wonderful sports, parks, derby races, food, bourbon—the list goes on. Part of what makes Kentucky so great is the support and love you feel as a community, and today we are sharing one of our favorite Kentucky native authors, Gurney Norman.
Gurney Norman is a professor at the University of Kentucky in the English Department and currently teaches and advises students interested in creative writing. He started out as a student at the University of Kentucky, and, after graduating, moved to California to attend Stanford. Being from a small town in eastern Kentucky has not limited Gurney to one place. As a young writer Gurney traveled across the country, and his experiences have been reflected in his writing throughout the years. Gurney has written numerous books and essays, including Divine Right’s Trip: A Folk-Tale and Kinfolks (“Fat Monroe” was actually made into a short film that you can view here). He also was a contributor to Back Talk from Appalachia: Confronting Stereotypes which is published by the University Press of Kentucky. In addition, Gurney has over 16 awards/honors to his name, including being named Poet Laureate in 2009–2010.
Gurney has left his mark on the hearts of the people of Kentucky through his writing, his teaching, and his storytelling, and we thought he deserved this honorable mention. While corresponding in email with Gurney, we discussed his writing and I decided to ask him the question: At what age did you realize you wanted to be a writer? What made you want to pursue a writing career? To which he answered:
“I was fifteen when I actually wrote a complete story. It was a mystery story in which a boy was fighting his ‘evil’ uncle on a narrow footbridge only inches above the raging waters of a river in flood. The man was his uncle-by-marriage. The aunt was out of the picture, suggesting that the man had murdered her. The bridge might be swept away at any moment but the boy and man kept on fighting. I can’t remember the boy’s name. My later stories featured a boy named Andrew. In this first story I imagined the boy to be about twelve years old.
Unfortunately I did not write the last page of the story, so it still is not finished. I seem to have lost the manuscript some time in the past sixty years. The story was handwritten, about seven or eight pages.
Interestingly, to me at least, my father had died about a month before I wrote the story. It was not about my father but I was still in a certain mood following my father’s funeral so I do feel a connection between the two events.”
Gurney’s writing heavily involves family and traditions, reflecting his deeply rooted love for Appalachian culture. Being raised in both Virginia and Kentucky, Gurney feels a strong connection to the land and the people of Kentucky and has involved himself in Appalachia his whole life. Even though Gurney has been firmly rooted in the Bluegrass for quite some time now, this did not keep him from spending time out west or joining the U.S. Army.
If there is one thing we can learn from Gurney, it’s to remember where we came from—but to not forget to travel, explore, and grow. As Kentuckians we should always be proud of where we come from, and we can show this by traveling and cultivating ourselves in the outside world and through our writing and creative outlets. Kentucky is a wonderful place. Let us show the world how great it truly is.