Tag Archives: New York Times

Kentucky Novelist, UK Professor Enjoys Sweet Peach of a Summer

“Another sweaty summer presents itself like a gift. Sun is a peach outside the window, grass all calmed down.”

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University Press of Kentucky author Crystal Wilkinson has had a summer of gold. From her novel, The Birds of Opulencebeing named the winner of the 2016 Appalachian Writers Association‘s Appalachian Book of the Year for Fiction to Wilkinson herself being appointed as the 2018 Clinton and Mary Opal Moore Appalachian Writer-in-Residence at Murray State University, Wilkinson has spent the hot summer months earning both professional and personal honors.

Birds follows four generations of women in a bucolic southern black township as they live with—and sometimes surrender to—madness. The book hones in on the hopeful and sometimes tragic navigation of life as seen through the eyes of the Goode-Brown family. This marks the fourth award The Birds of Opulence has won, including the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, the Weatherford Award for Fiction, and the Judy Gaines Young Book Award. Wilkinson’s novel was also named the debut selection of the Open Canon Book Club, which was created by New York Times bestselling author Wiley Cash to introduce readers to varied voices and portrayals of the American experience.

Birds is not the only one of Wilkinson’s books that has gotten attention this summer. Her second short story collection, Water Street, has been selected as the One Book Read at West Kentucky Community and Technical College. The program is a community-wide effort to help eliminate illiteracy in the region, with faculty and staff at WKCTC collaborating with many local and college partners to promote reading.

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Wilkinson’s work has earned her personal honors as well. The Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence Committee and the West Virginia Center for the Book selected her for the Appalachian Heritage Writer’s Award. Previous recipients include Henry Louis Gates, Charles Frazier, Frank X Walker, Denise Giardina, and Silas House. In conjunction with the award, she will be the One Book, One West Virginia Author for 2019, and Water Street will be read by students across the state.

In addition, Wilkinson has gained speaker representation from Authors Unbound, which will broker her events in the form of literary engagements, one book programs, distinguished lectures, keynote appearances, community visits, and a variety of signature events.

Pictured at the top is Wilkinson sitting on a book bench designed by Bowling Green artist Lora Gill. Book Benches: A Tribute to Kentucky Authors is a public art project that features book-shaped benches, each themed around a different work by a Kentucky author, that have been placed around Lexington as a way to encourage reading. Wilkinson’s bench will be installed along South Limestone Street in front of the University Press of Kentucky office in November.

To top it off, Wilkinson accepted a new position as Associate Professor of English in the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program at the University of Kentucky. Further information on Crystal Wilkinson, her books, and her upcoming events can be found on her new author website: https://www.crystalewilkinson.net/.

From all of us at Kentucky Press, congratulations on a wonderful summer, Crystal!

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The New York Times Sunday Book Review: ‘Russell Kirk’ by Bradley J. Birzer

Read the full review of Russell Kirk: American Conservative in The New York Times.

russell_kirk7.indd““I’m so happy to find that you’re little, too!” the political philosopher Leo Strauss said when he first met Russell Kirk in Chicago in the mid-1950s. “From your books, I had feared that you might be a great, tall, fierce man.” Kirk can still seem great and fierce. It was his book “The Conservative Mind” (1953) that first used the word “conservative” to classify various currents of antiprogressive dissidence that ran from the French Revolution to the 20th-century heyday of social democracy. Kirk’s book was an event. After a recommendation from Whittaker Chambers, Time magazine devoted the entire book review section to it. And Kirk had other gifts. He was a capable writer of ghost and fantasy novels. He founded and edited two prestigious journals. Not just Strauss and Chambers but also T. S. Eliot and Ray Bradbury esteemed him. In 1955, Flannery O’Connor, scarcely able to walk, traveled 340 miles in hopes of seeing him lecture in ­Tennessee.

Yet, by the time he died in 1994 at the age of 75, Kirk did look little. His brand of conservatism had come under attack from some of the people it was meant to inspire, including “neoconservative” foreign policy hawks in Washington and Lincoln-revering disciples of Strauss on the West Coast. In a diligent and adulatory study of Kirk’s life and thought, the Hillsdale College historian Bradley J. Birzer makes high claims for Kirk as both a man of letters and a philosopher, and makes plain why Kirk worked such a fascination on thinking Americans, even non­conservatives, half a century ago.”New York Times

Click here to read the full review.

ICYMI: Holiday News Break Edition

Welcome back from the holiday break! Pardon us while we brush off the cobwebs and shake out the mothballs in our brains…

Our break was full of all kinds of exciting news and tidbits, like this fascinating article from Terri Crocker (The Christmas Truce: Myth, Memory, and the First World War) in the New Republic:

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“Perhaps it is time we stopped expecting history to behave like a good story—featuring obvious heroes and villains, a dash of irony and a clear moral, with a football match thrown in for good measure—and start assuming it looks more like real life: messy, inconclusive and hard to pin down. Since history is, after all, just life that happened in the past, it’s time for us to get over our need for simplicity, and accept that the past, just like the Christmas truce, is always a lot more complicated than we want to believe.”—Terri Crocker for the New Republic

Crocker also published an editorial, “Civility: The True Lesson of World War I’s 1914 Christmas Truce” in the Lexington Herald-Leader and Louisville Courier-Journal.

Over the break we also celebrated Bradley Birzer’s russell_kirk7.inddRussell Kirk: American Conservative, a biography of the great public intellectual, being named one of the Library of Michigan’s Notable Books of 2016. Kirk’s The Conservative Mind shaped conservative thought in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Elsewhere, Russell Kirk was listed as one of the Best Books of the Year by Daniel McCarthy, editor of the American Conservative

The high-flying, tumbling, falling, gutsy heroines in Molly Gregory’s Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story have been featured in the New York Timesthe New Republic, Variety.com, on NPR’s Weekend Edition, and now in the Washington Post.

“Much like the story of women in almost any industry, this one is a tale of struggle, progress and tempered triumph. . . . In her engaging and enlightening book, Gregory digs into this little-known corner of Hollywood history and gives voice to the women who have risked their lives for a few (perilous) moments on the big screen.”—Becky Krystal, Washington Post

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For the late holiday shoppers, The Baltimore Sun suggested Lincoln’s Final Hours: Conspiracy, Terror, and the Assassination of Our Greatest President, and the Louisville Courier-Journal had a whopping 38 suggestions for local books to give as gifts, including: Kentucky By Design, The Birth of Bourbon The Manhattan Cocktail, and Venerable Trees.

Bawden_Miller_CoverThis morning, on the first day back in the office after break, we were greeted with a lovely surprise from the inimitable columnist Liz Smith, who offers this excellent preview of Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood’s Golden Era, one of our most anticipated books of 2016!

“[A] dazzlingly entertaining new book. . . . [Conversations with Classic Film Stars] is a treasure trove of info, scintillating gossip and outright, downright dishing.”—Liz Smith, New York Social Diary

We hope you had a restful holiday (or a grand adventure!) Holler at us in the comments or on Twitter and let us know how you spent your winter break.

‘The Art of Vernacular Voice’: UPK author Amy D. Clark for the New York Times

Amy Clark, co-editor of Talking Appalachian: Voice, Identity, and Community, writes on dialect, history, and identity for the New York Times (link).

The Art of Vernacular Voice:

In an interview with the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Rick Bragg, John Sledge tells the story of Mr. Bragg’s encounter with the acclaimed author Willie Morris, who opened Mr. Bragg’s memoir “All Over But the Shoutin’,” and read several pages aloud. He slammed the book and leaned forward, telling Mr. Bragg, “You say it’s the story, and I say it’s the language.” Mr. Sledge is talking about the voices in Mr. Bragg’s books, which ring true down to the red Alabama grit on their shoes. Every voice on paper has a linguistic and social history that needs to be heard.

I come from a mountain region where the dialects take many forms, from urban (Pittsburghese) to rural (Smoky Mountain English). Most people call our dialects Appalachian English, though many English dialects are spoken along the mountain chain.

Nevertheless, too many writers over the years have tried — and failed — to re-create the melody of mountain speech. Some writers make us sound like plantation owners from the Deep South. Other writers have depicted mountain people in ways that make them sound ignorant and cartoonish. This practice of writing in “literary dialect” began with unconventional spellings by mid-19th century writers who used them to illustrate differences in the perceived intelligence and social status of their characters. These images have persisted in television shows and movies over the years in large part because of how little people know about the how and why behind a language, its dialects and the people who speak them.

Capturing the true cadence of any region’s dialect in written form is tricky, because it should harmonize sounds with words and grammar patterns (the three elements of dialect) that may be centuries old. There may be generational differences among those who use them, as well. For example, I grew up hearing my great-grandmother use the 15th-century word counterpin for quilt, and the Scots-Irish haint for ghost. My grandparents use hit for it and least’uns to describe the youngest in a family. They also pile on modifiers, especially if they had a right smart bunch of company for the holidays, a holdover from our storytelling, ballad-singing ancestors who migrated from Western Europe through the Pennsylvania cultural hearth in the early 1700s and populated the Appalachian mountain chain.

My parents, though they live in the same holler (what we call the narrow valley between hills), typically do not use those expressions and pronunciations, though their patterns and vocabulary are recognizable to southern midland or central Appalachians. My generation’s version of our dialect reflects the most change; like many in my age range, I tend to vocalize the words or grammar patterns only if I’m with my family, though my accent — or the way I pronounce words — can be clearly heard when I speak.

So, literary dialect can be used to illustrate changes in spoken usage among families who have lived in the same area for generations. In Denise Giardina’s turn-of-the-century novel “Storming Heaven,” Miles has returned from the mountains with a formal education and refuses to say “hit” for “it” like his siblings, resisting the speech he equates with backwardness. When his brother Ben points out that Chaucer said “hit,” Miles replies, “He’s been dead a long time. He was medieval. This is the scientific age.”

However, in Ron Rash’s more contemporary novel “One Foot in Eden,” a deputy remarks that “haints are bad to stir” on “lonesome-feeling” nights, which is what his “Momma notioned.” The language of Mr. Rash’s characters connects them to the history of their region, and explains why the sheriff (and many of us in Appalachia) continues to use vernacular though his wife thinks he is a hillbilly: “It was the way most folks spoke in Oconee County. It put people more at ease when you talked like them.”

Well-written vernacular can also explain one character’s perceptions of another. Consider this line from Barbara Kingsolver’s book “Prodigal Summer”:

“Bite,” he’d said, with the Northerner’s clipped i. An outsider, intruding on this place like kudzu vines.

Here, Ms. Kingsolver capitalizes on the power of vowels in vernacular speech. One vowel instantly marks the speaker as the Outsider, leading to assumptions about his politics, religion and trustworthiness. It’s a brilliant comparison to the kudzu vine, a choking weed imported from Japan in the late 19th century that swallows entire hills and trees.

Finally, vernacular speech should never be used to suggest that one character is less intelligent than another, a myth about dialect and cognition that was debunked by linguists half a century ago and many times since. Nonstandard grammar patterns such as double negatives or the leveling of irregular verbs like blowed for blow tend to be the most stigmatized of dialect patterns, though their origins and usage are historical and cultural.

Writers who want to tune their ears to a particular spoken dialect should spend an extended amount of time in the part of the region where the dialect is spoken, not only to learn the features, but to study ways that it may be used among different groups. Primary documents such as letters, journals and recipe books, which are often written in unguarded, spoken vernacular, may also be counted on as authentic recreations of voice. My great-grandmother’s recipe book includes spellings like “baloney” for “bologna,” illustrating the way she pronounced it.

Above all, writers should know that people speak the way they do intentionally, and for many reasons. The author Lee Smith, who grew up in central Appalachia and whose characters often speak in those dialects, says in her essay “Southern Exposure,” “I have no intention of ever giving up this accent … it’s a political choice.”

Sometimes dialect is the only way a person can stay rooted to family, to community, to everything that is familiar in a fast-changing world where nothing is certain.

Behind that decision is an entire linguistic history and an army of ancestors whose language patterns were carried forward like guarded treasure, which is all the more reason for writers to choose their words carefully.

Amy D. Clark is associate professor of English at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. She lives in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.

 

 

Your Call to Post: It’s Derby Time!

This Saturday marks the 137th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.” There are few other Kentucky traditions that fully encompass what it is to live in or visit the Bluegrass State. The Derby has it all: beautiful horses, the twin spires in the background, roses, hats, mint juleps, and of course who doesn’t get chills at the Call to Post and the playing of My Old Kentucky Home during the post parade?

Herewith, a few of our favorite Derby-themed books:

The Thoroughbred Horse has an unparalleled significance to the state of Kentucky. The breeding, training, selling, and racing of these remarkable animals today amounts to a multibillion dollar sporting business, and the development of that industry serves as a compelling history of both the state and the Sport of Kings itself. The Kentucky Thoroughbred tells that story, chronicling racing’s history through tales of its most dominant, memorable stallions.

“Hollingsworth writes with authority and a good deal of polish about an exotic industry in which Kentucky has led the world for at least a century, and about equine feats that today’s horseplayers may find virtually incredible.”–Louisville Courier-Journal

In her debut book, How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders, former turf writer Maryjean Wall explores the post–Civil War world of Thoroughbred racing, before the Bluegrass region reigned supreme as the unofficial Horse Capital of the World. Wall uses her insider knowledge of horse racing as a foundation for an unprecedented examination of the efforts to establish a Thoroughbred industry in late-nineteenth-century Kentucky. How Kentucky Became Southern offers an accessible inside look at the Thoroughbred industry and its place in Kentucky history.

“When the nation’s attention focuses on Churchill Downs again next spring and Louisville turns on the charm, we will now know . . . what exactly it is what we’re drinking to when we raise that first mint julep.”–Wall Street Journal

Thanks in part to the general popularity of cocktails and the marketing efforts of the bourbon industry, there are more brands of bourbon and more bourbon drinkers than ever before. In The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book, Joy Perrine and Susan Reigler provide a reader-friendly handbook featuring more than 100 recipes including seasonal drinks, after-dinner bourbon cocktails, Derby cocktails, and even medicinal toddies.

“Joy Perrine and Susan Reigler showcase the world of bourbon in a reader-friendly format, highlighting techniques, ingredients, food selection, and glassware for the professional or home bartender. . . . Everyone, from the bourbon connoisseur to the amateur enthusiast, can appreciate this how-to guide, which embraces the rich heritage and sophistication of a true Kentucky classic.”--Kentucky Post


Lighthearted, entertaining, and informative, The Kentucky Mint Julep explores the lore and legend of the Kentucky Derby’s traditional tipple.Information on julep cups, tips on garnishing and serving, and reminiscences from the likes of Charles Dickens, Washington Irving, and General John Hunt Morgan give a fun, historic look at Kentucky’s favorite drink. The book includes numerous recipes—for classic juleps, modern variations, non-alcoholic versions, and the author’s own thoroughly researched “perfect” mint julep.

“Mint, syrup, bourbon. Horse-racing fans instantly recognize those ingredients for a mint julep, the signature cocktail of the Kentucky Derby. The book has more than 20 recipes. . . . It’s definitely a book to read before you buy silver julep cups.”– New York Times


In Kentucky Horse Country: Images of the Bluegrass, renowned photographer James Archambeault captures the natural beauty of Kentucky’s Bluegrass region and the thoroughbred industry for which it is famous. Kentucky Horse Country contains 165 full-color images, from tender scenes of mares and foals grazing, to the excitement of race day at Keeneland, to gorgeous landscapes of white fences enclosing lush rolling hills.

“Internationally renowned photographer James Archambeault has done it again—captured the beauty of our state with his lens and preserved it within the pages of a coffee-table book that any Kentuckian would be proud to own, or place under the Christmas tree for some other fortunate reader.”–The Voice- Tribune