Photo by Guy Mendes

Kentucky Travels: Featuring One of Our Favorite Kentucky Writers

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 frombut 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.

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Kentucky Travels: Buffalo Trace Distillery

If you’re from Kentucky then I’m sure you’ve heard the name Bourbon Country before. While Kentucky is known for basketball, horses, and fried chicken; bourbon also tops this list as a favorite among the 21+ crowd, providing a popular tourist attraction for locals and non-locals. Whether you’re travelling near or far for spring break, Kentucky’s bourbon distilleries are a great place to check out.Reigler_Cover_HI

Kentucky is home to several bourbon distilleries, employing over 3,000 people and generating $3 billion in gross state product. It’s no wonder bourbon is so important to Kentuckians, but how much do we really know about bourbon production or the history of the distilleries in Kentucky? Susan Reigler and Pam Spaulding’s book Kentucky Bourbon Country: The Essential Travel Guide details some very important information on bourbon and the distilleries located here in the Bluegrass state. One, very notable distillery mentioned in this book is called Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Located in Frankfort, Kentucky, Buffalo Trace is just a short 40-45 minute drive from Lexington. With over 200 industry awards, Buffalo Trace has certainly outperformed all other distilleries in the area. They offer several different tours: The Trace Tour, The Post-Prohibition Tour, The Hard-Hat Tour, and The Ghost Tour. (Each tour is also complimentary, so you really have no excuse to not visit!) Each of these tours are unique and offer a variety of interesting information on Kentucky’s first bourbon distilling industry. With over 100 buildings and 130 acres of land, you can’t possibly explore it all at once. No matter when you visit you can always come back and learn something new each time. Whether you want to learn about the Buffalo Trace’s rich history, view the beautiful architecture, or visit a haunted mansion – Buffalo Trace is the right place for you.


If you want to learn more about these wonderful distilleries located in Kentucky, pick up a copy of Reigler and Spaulding’s book Kentucky Bourbon Country: The Essential Travel Guide. This book includes nearly 150 full-color photographs and a bourbon glossary, following the Urban Bourbon Trail and the localities surrounding it. Reigler and Spaulding also share their favorite restaurants, lodging areas, attractions, and shopping centers nearby. This book is essential to those who are looking for something fun to do on vacation, or for the locals who just want to spend a day exploring.

Here are a few pictures one of our interns, Nicole, took from a visit this past week. We’d love to see your travel pics, tweet us them @KentuckyPress!

Tell us in the comments below, what are you doing over spring/summer break?

Dancing with ‘Charles Walters’ by Brent Phillips

via New York University Newsoriginally published March 11, 2015

The MGM ‘Company Man’ Who Made Everybody Dance

A conversation with Brent Phillips, author of Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance. For more on the book, or to purchase via the University Press of Kentucky, please visit our website.

Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance by Brent PhillipsBrent Phillips knew he wanted to be a dancer from the time he first saw the movie Singin’ in the Rain, at the age of 13. The revelation inspired a ritual unusual for someone his age—tuning in to his local PBS channel each week to watch Hollywood musicals of the 1940s and 50s.

It also shaped the course of his life: Within a decade, Phillips would become a soloist in New York City’s renowned Joffrey Ballet. But when he finished his career dancing, a new passion emerged. To ensure that the beauty of each fleeting performance lived beyond photos and newspaper reviews, Philips transitioned to work as an audiovisual archivist at NYU’s Fales Library, where since 2003 he’s been safeguarding nearly 90,000 pieces of media in the library’s theater, music, dance, television, and cinema collections.

Over the years, though, Phillips never quit thinking about something that had puzzled him since those adolescent days geeking out in front of the TV. Who was Charles Walters? He’d noticed the name in the credits to several favorite movie musicals—Easter Parade, High Society,and many others—but when he searched for details on the mysterious man, he rarely found more than a bare-bones biographical sketch: “dancer turned choreographer turned director.” His curiosity grew and grew.

Finally, Phillips realized that if he wanted to learn the whole Charles Walters story, he’d have to piece it together himself—by pouring over archival documents, searching for rare footage,  and interviewing Walters’ few surviving colleagues and friends. In December 2014, the University Press of Kentucky published his book Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance, the first-ever full-length biography on the idol he now refers to familiarly as “Chuck.”

Walters, born in California in 1911 and raised on a diet of touring vaudeville shows, headed east to dance on Broadway for a decade—to rave reviews in shows like Cole Porter’s Jubilee and DuBarry Was a Lady and Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s I Married an Angel—before making a go at Hollywood. Though he had little formal training and liked to describe himself as “a lucky, poor little son of a bitch from Anaheim who never had a dancing lesson,” Phillips points out that in New York he worked with legends like George Balanchine and Albertina Rasch—and closely shadowed Robert Alton, the veteran Broadway choreographer who would eventually create the dance sequences in beloved films such as White Christmas.

Starting out on just a four-week contract, Walters quickly made himself indispensable to MGM by demonstrating a knack for accommodating the idiosyncrasies—and overcoming the insecurities—of the day’s A-list personalities, from Joan Crawford and Esther Williams to Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby.

Walters was particularly adept at making non-dancers feel comfortable with choreography, and cultivated a close personal and professional relationship with Judy Garland, whose movement he directed in Meet Me in St. Louis, including that film’s famous trolley scene. The fact that he was gay and relatively open about it, for the time—sharing a home with his longtime partner John Darrow, a prominent Hollywood agent—didn’t seem to hinder his success.

Crucially, Walters developed a reputation for being able to “save” pictures that just weren’t working—including Gigi, for which director Vincent Minnelli ultimately won an Academy Award, but only after Walters smoothed the edges of some scenes that hadn’t gone over well in a sneak preview. Evolving from dance director (on 14 films) to director (on 21 films) over the course of a 22-year career at MGM, Walters choreographed Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ final dances together in The Barkleys of Broadway, directed Doris Day in her last last big musical, Jumbo, and led Debbie Reynolds to an Oscar nomination for The Unsinkable Molly Brown, among a long list of achievements. He earned his own Academy Award nomination for director for Lilli, starring Leslie Caron.

After a brief stint teaching film at the University of Southern California, he died of lung cancer in 1982.

Beyond giving this largely forgotten Hollywood hitmaker his due, Phillips’s book also offers a fond look back at a style of film whose open-hearted earnestness and unbridled exuberance some of us, in this, an age of irony and cool aloofness, might miss more than we’d care to admit.

As Ethan Mordden put it in a review for the Wall Street Journal, “This is the story of a time in American culture when our life coaches were singers and dancers, because they made happy endings look easy, even deserved. Forget your troubles and just get happy.”

NYU Stories asked Phillips, with his dancer’s eye for joyous elegance, to try and help us recapture that feeling.

Eileen Reynolds

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Crane Giveaway!

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It’s the first day of Spring! To celebrate this momentous occasion and hopefully banish the cold weather for good, we are having a book giveaway! Remember Colonel Hogan from Hogan’s Heroes? Well we have an entire book discussing his life from his start on public radio to his untimely death.

On June 29, 1978, Bob Crane, known to Hogan’s Heroes fans as Colonel Hogan, was discovered brutally murdered in his Scottsdale, Arizona, apartment. His eldest son, Robert Crane, was called to the crime scene. In this poignant memoir, Robert Crane discusses that terrible day and how he has lived with the unsolved murder of his father. But this storyline is just one thread in his tale of growing up in Los Angeles, his struggles to reconcile the good and sordid sides of his celebrity father, and his own fascinating life.

For your chance to win a free copy of this exciting and well-written book, click here!

To learn more about Crane: Sex, Celebrity, and My Father’s Unsolved murder, click here!

Happy National Poultry Day!

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Following the theme of yesterday’s blog post about random holidays, we thought we would share one that is sure to be near and dear to every Kentuckian’s heart: National Poultry Day! From Colonel Sanders to the World Chicken Festival, its no secret that the folks of the commonwealth love their yard birds. To celebrate this unique holiday, we wanted share the history of a native Kentucky chef!

Kentucky’s Cookbook Heritage by John VanWilligen highlights the life of Thelma Clay Linton of Harrodsburg, KY, who was a respected caterer and an important leader in the business, social services, and religious communities. Linton lived to the ripe old age of 101. Susanna Thomas’s introductory essay states, “In our town of Harrodsburg in Mercer County, Kentucky, Thelma Clay Linton is an institution, revered for her outstanding country cuisine and her remarkable character”. Here is her recipe for fried chicken pulled from her cookbook, Thelma’s Treasures: The Secret Recipes of the Best Cook in Harrodsburg:

Fried Chicken (1992)

Ingredients:

Chicken
Salt
Flour
Pepper
Paprika
Puritan oil

Instructions:

Put the chicken pieces in a big pot of water. Add two tablespoons of salt for every one chicken that you use. Soak the chicken in the salty water overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, drain off the water, pat the chicken pieces dry.

Mix the flour (enough to coat all of the chicken) with the pepper and the paprika and a little bit of salt to taste. Coat each piece of chicken with this mixture.

In an iron skillet, add the Puritan oil and cook it until it sizzles. The grease should be even up with the chicken. Then add a few pieces of chicken and turn down the heat to medium. Cook the chicken a half hour or so on one side and flip it and cook it a half hour on the other
side until it is evenly browned. Remove the pieces from the pan as they are done and drain them on a paper towel.

To learn more about Kentucky cookbooks, recipes, and chefs, check out Kentucky’s Cookbook Heritage by John Van Willigen on our website!

It’s National Agriculture Day!

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We know you’ve heard of all of the major holidays like Christmas, Halloween, and even smaller ones like Arbor Day, but did you know that March 18 is National Agriculture Day? On behalf of learning totally awesome things you didn’t know before, we would like to wish you a happy National Agriculture Day! Although many of us are surrounded by the buzzing of cars and corporate buildings, agriculture is still one of the most important factors in life as we know it! Without it, our bodies would become malnourished, many products we enjoy using today wouldn’t be available to us, and a vast amount of people would be without jobs.

To celebrate the importance of agriculture in our lives, we have prepared an excerpt from The Vandana Shiva Reader, which tells the inspirational story of how a woman became one of the world’s most influential and highly acclaimed environmental and antiglobalization activists. Her groundbreaking research has exposed the destructive effects of monocultures and commercial agriculture and revealed the interrelationships among ecology, gender, and poverty. Enjoy!

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In 1984, a number of tragic events took place in India. In June, the Golden Temple was attacked because it was harboring extremists. In October, Indira Gandhi was assassinated. And in December, a terrible industrial disaster took place in Bhopal when Union Carbine’s pesticide plant leaked a toxic gas. Thirty thousand people died in the terrorism in Punjab, and thirty thousand people have died in the “industrial terrorism” of Bhopal. This is equivalent to twelve 9/11s. I was forced to sit up and ask why agriculture had become like war. Why did the “Green Revolution,” which had received the Nobel Peace Prize, breed extremism and terrorism in Punjab? This questioning led to my books The Violence of the Green Revolution and Monocultures of the Mind. Blindness to diversity and self-organization in nature and society was clearly a basic problem in the mechanistic, Cartesian industrial paradigm. And this blindness led to false claims that industrial monocultures in forestry, farming, fisheries, and animal husbandry produced more food and were necessary to alleviate hunger and poverty. On the contrary, monocultures produce less and use more inputs, thus destroying the environment and impoverishing people.

In 1987, the Dag Hammarjold Foundation organized a meeting on biotechnology in Geneva called Laws of Life. I was invited because of my book on the Green Revolution. At the conference, the biotech industry laid out its plans—to patent life; to genetically engineer seeds, crops, and life-forms; and to get full freedom to trade through the GATT negotiations, which finally led to the WTO. This led to my focus on intellectual property rights, free trade, globalization—and to a life dedicated to saving seeds and promoting organic farming as an alternative to a world dictated and controlled by corporations.

Having dedicated my life to the defense of the intrinsic worth of all species, the idea of life-forms, seeds, and biodiversity being reduced to corporate inventions and hence corporate property was abhorrent to me. Further, if seeds become “intellectual property,” saving and sharing seeds become intellectual property theft. Our highest duty, to save seeds, becomes a criminal act. The legalizing of the criminal act of owning and monopolizing life through patents on seeds and plants was morally and ethically unacceptable to me. So I started Navdanya, a movement that promotes biodiversity conservation and seed saving and seed sharing among farmers. Navdanya has created more than twenty community “seed banks” through which seeds are saved and freely exchanged among our three hundred thousand members.

Through our saving of heritage seeds, we have brought back “forgotten foods” like jhangora (barnyard millet), ragi (finger millet), marsha (amaranth), naurangi dal, and gahat dal. Not only are these crops more nutritious than the globally traded commodities, but they are also more resource prudent, requiring only two hundred to three hundred millimeters of rain compared to the twenty-five hundred millimeters needed for chemical rice farming. Millets could increase food production four hundred fold using the same amount of limited water. These forgotten foods are the foods of the future. Farmers’ seeds are the seeds of the future.

For more from The Vandana Shiva Reader, head over to our website!

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A Conversation with Irish author, Ruth Barton


Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! We thought we would kick off the Irish festivities today by discussing one of Ireland’s brightest film legacies, Rex Ingram! We recently chatted with UPK author and Ireland native, Ruth Barton, who reveals some insight on the research of her book, Rex Ingram: Visionary Director of the Silent Screen, and the life of the director himself! Check it out below!

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UPK:  Why did you choose to study Rex Ingram?

RB:  I had written an earlier book (Acting Irish in Hollywood) on émigré Irish actors in Hollywood, which threw up some extraordinary stories. So, I thought it would be interesting to extend that study into directors. I knew the outline of Rex Ingram’s story but I had never really explored it much, so this seemed to be a good time to do that. Outside of Liam O’Leary’s book on Rex Ingram, he had been surprisingly neglected by film historians and writers so it seemed like the moment had come. Also, a number of new films have emerged and new materials, like letters and family papers, so that helped.

UPK:  Did anything surprise you in your research?

RB:  We were very lucky to acquire his memoirs for the Trinity (College Dublin) archives and I was surprised by just how attached he was to Ireland and how that stayed with him throughout his life. When I started, I hadn’t been sure if he had really converted to Islam, it seemed such a radical step for the son of an Anglican rector, but the facts mounted up and now I’m convinced that he did. It was also interesting for me to find out more about the early film industry and to read his account of that in the memoirs.

UPK:  What, in your opinion, makes Rex one of the greatest artists in silent cinema?

RB:  He was truly convinced that film was the great new artform of the twentieth century and that he could put the principles of sculpting that he had learned studying under Lee Lawrie at Yale into practice by making films that had the depth of sculptures. And he managed that, making films that were acclaimed as artistic masterpieces but that were also really popular with audiences. Artistic blockbusters, if you like. He was a real perfectionist too and refused to compromise on detail.

UPK:  What influenced him to go into the film industry?

RB:  To be honest, he started in the film industry (as an actor) to make money but then he got hooked. That wasn’t unusual in those early days of the film industry, when people didn’t really know what it was. Then, too, people didn’t waste too much time on learning what to do or how to do it, they just learned on the job, which is what he did.

UPK:  Do you think growing up in Ireland had an impact on Rex’s career?

RB:  I’m sure that it did. In particular, he grew up in the Irish Protestant tradition. Irish Gothic writing comes out of that tradition, most famously with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which Rex had wished to film. The Irish Gothic is filled with images of haunted castles and ghosts and supernatural apparitions, as are his films. He always spoke of how important Ireland was to him and was very proud to be Irish.

UPK:  How did the Great War affect Rex and his work?

RB:  Rex’s brother, Frank Hitchcock, was an officer in the war and was gassed in the trenches and Rex was very affected by this. Also, many of the boys he went to school with at St Columba’s died in the war. He himself joined the Royal Air Force Canada but didn’t see service. He was also always very interested in military matters and collected military items, like swords. I think that he was fascinated by war generally and deeply affected by it personally so that this feeds into his great anti-war war film, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and also Mare Nostrum.

UPK:  Why do you think Rex felt pulled toward America?

RB:  Irish people have traditionally emigrated to America and he saw that he would have opportunities there that he never would have in Ireland. His father had a friend there who promised to look after him, so that made it easier for him to leave. Also his mother had died and he missed her terribly and wanted to get away.

UPK:  Do you feel that Rex’s work is underappreciated today? In what ways?

RB:  Unlike other of his contemporaries, such as say Cecil C De Mille, very few people have ever heard of Rex Ingram. One practical problem is that it is hard to get to see his films. Another is that the pictorial style that he so pioneered is less in favour now than fast-paced narratives. Another just seems to be chance–no one kept his reputation going. I’m hoping to rectify that!

UPK:  Do you feel that he still has an impact on modern Ireland?

RB:  I believe that it is important for Irish filmmakers to realize that they come out of a longer tradition (of art cinema) than they knew. I’ve found people in the film industry are very intrigued by this history that they didn’t know about.

UPK:  What do you think Rex would have to say about the film industry today?

RB:  I think he’d love some of the films being made by non-mainstream cultures, such as Iranian films. He didn’t much care for Hollywood by the time he left it and I doubt he’d care for it any more now.

UPK:  What is your favorite Rex Ingram film and why?

RB:  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse has to be my favourite film, because it is so visually stunning and so ambitious and it carries it off, but I also love The Magician, which is a very creaky horror movie in the tradition of over-the-top Gothic melodramas.

To learn more about Rex Ingram: Visionary Director of the Silent Screen, check out our website!

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