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Kentucky Voices

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Appalachian Elegy

Poetry and Place

bell hooks

Author, activist, feminist, teacher, and artist bell hooks is celebrated as one of the nation's leading intellectuals. Born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, hooks drew her unique pseudonym from the name of her grandmother, an intelligent and strong-willed African American woman who inspired her to stand up against a dominating and repressive society. Her poetry, novels, memoirs, and children's books reflect her Appalachian upbringing and feature her struggles with racially integrated schools and unwelcome authority figures. One of Utne Reader's "100 Visionaries Who Can Change Your Life," hooks has won wide acclaim from critics and readers alike. In Appalachian Elegy, bell hooks continues her work as an imagist of life's harsh realities in a collection of poems inspired by her childhood in the isolated hills and hidden hollows of Kentucky. At once meditative, confessional, and political, this poignant volume draws the reader deep into the experience of living in Appalachia. Touching on such topics as the marginalization of its people and the environmental degradation it has suffered over the years, hooks's poetry quietly elegizes the slow loss of an identity while also celebrating that which is constant, firmly rooted in a place that is no longer whole.

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At The Breakers

A Novel

Mary Ann Taylor-Hall

“Soon or a little too lateeverything you never knewyou always wanted turns uphereat The Breakers”—from the book In her new novel At The Breakers, Mary Ann Taylor-Hall, author of the widely praised and beloved Come and Go, Molly Snow, presents Jo Sinclair, a longtime single mother of four children. Fleeing an abusive relationship after a shocking attack, Jo finds herself in Sea Cove, New Jersey, in front of The Breakers, a salty old hotel in the process of renovation. Impulsively, she negotiates a job painting the guest rooms and settles in with her youngest child, thirteen-year-old Nick. As each room is transformed under brush and roller, Jo finds a way to renovate herself, reclaiming a promising life derailed by pregnancy and a forced marriage at age fourteen. Jo’s new life at the hotel features a memorable mix of locals and guests, among them Iris Zephyr, the hotel’s ninety-two-year-old permanent boarder; Charlie, a noble mixed-breed dog; Marco, owner of a nearby gas station/liquor store, who may become Jo’s next mistake; and enigmatic Wendy, her streetwise eighteen-year-old daughter, who signs on as housekeeper. Irrepressible Victor Mangold, Jo’s former professor and a well-known poet some twenty years her senior, invites himself to Thanksgiving dinner and into her life, his passion awakening Jo’s yearning for art and love. At The Breakers is a deeply felt and beautifully written novel about forgiveness and reconciliation. In Jo’s words, she is “trying to find the right way to live” as a long-suffering woman who is put through the fire and emerges with a chance at a full, rich life for herself and her children, if only she has the faith to take it.

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The Birds of Opulence

Crystal Wilkinson

From the critically acclaimed, award-winning author of Blackberries, Blackberries and Water Street comes an astonishing new novel. A lyrical exploration of love and loss, The Birds of Opulence centers on several generations of women in a bucolic southern black township as they live with and sometimes surrender to madness.

The Goode-Brown family, led by matriarch and pillar of the community Minnie Mae, is plagued by old secrets and embarrassment over mental illness and illegitimacy. Meanwhile, single mother Francine Clark is haunted by her dead, lightning-struck husband and forced to fight against both the moral judgment of the community and her own rebellious daughter, Mona. The residents of Opulence struggle with vexing relationships to the land, to one another, and to their own sexuality. As the members of the youngest generation watch their mothers and grandmothers pass away, they live with the fear of going mad themselves and must fight to survive.

Crystal Wilkinson offers up Opulence and its people in lush, poetic detail. It is a world of magic, conjuring, signs, and spells, but also of harsh realities that only love -- and love that's handed down -- can conquer. At once tragic and hopeful, this captivating novel is a story about another time, rendered for our own.

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Buffalo Dance

The Journey of York

Frank X Walker

" Winner of the 35th Annual Lillian Smith Book Award, 2004 A BookSense 76 Spring 2004 Top 10 Poetry Book! Read an excerpt from the book Listen to Frank X Walker reading on NPR's ""This I Believe"" segment of Morning Edition. This collection of persona poems tells the story of the infamous Lewis & Clark expedition from the point of view of Clark's personal slave, York. The poems form a narrative of York's inner and outer journey, before, during and after the expedition--a journey from slavery to freedom, from the plantation to the great northwest, from servant to soul yearning to be free. Over the course of the saga and through the poems, we are treated to subtle and overt commentaries on literacy, slavery, native Americans, buffalo, the environment, and more. Though Buffalo Dance purposely references historic accounts and facts, it is fictionalized poetry, and Frank X Walker's rare blend of history and art breathes life into an important but overlooked historical figure. Frank X Walker is the author of Affrilachia and the soon to be released Black Box , two collections of poetry. He teaches in the department of English & Theatre and is the interim Director of the African/African American Studies Program at Eastern Kentucky University. He is also a visiting professor in Pan African Studies department at the University of Louisville. A 2004 recipient of the Lillian Smith Book Award, he lives in Lexington, KY. Click here for Frank Walker's website.

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Come and Go, Molly Snow

A Novel

Mary Ann Taylor-Hall

Mary Ann Taylor-Hall's highly acclaimed first novel, Come and Go, Molly Snow, introduces us to Carrie Marie Mullins, a gifted Kentucky bluegrass fiddler and singer in the Hawktown Road band. After moving to Lexington to develop her talents, Carrie becomes infatuated with the band's leader, Cap Dunlap. Her romantic distraction prevents Carrie from saving her five-year-old daughter, Molly, when she careens down the driveway and is killed by a truck. Overwhelmed with grief, Carrie breaks down.

Cap finds Carrie in this state of distress and takes her to Ona and Ruth Barkley, two elderly sisters living in an old farmhouse. It is on the sisters' farm that Carrie is able to slowly come to terms with her heartache and guilt over Molly's death. As she picks up the pieces of her shattered life, Carrie draws on the two women's friendship, her inner strength, and finally, the healing power of music.

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Crossing the River

A Novel

Fenton Johnson

Make no mistake: Martha Bragg Picket is a headstrong southern woman with a rebellious spirit, a characteristic her son Michael shares. Yet to see her after almost twenty years of marriage, it might no longer seem clear. A Yankee contractor's arrival in town catalyzes her dissatisfaction, leading her to turn her life upside down -- unaware that her son will follow suit. Both heartfelt and shrewdly humorous, this widely acclaimed first novel from author Fenton Johnson is an affecting look at one woman's reawakening and her son's coming of age in the heartland of America.

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Driving with the Dead

Poems

Jane Hicks. foreword by George Ella Lyon

Appalachia is no stranger to loss. The region suffers regular ecological devastation wrought by strip mining, fracking, and deforestation as well as personal tragedy brought on by enduring poverty and drug addiction. In Driving with the Dead, Appalachian poet, teacher, and artist Jane Hicks weaves an earnest and impassioned elegy for an imperiled yet doggedly optimistic people and place. Exploring the roles that war, environment, culture, and violence play in Appalachian society, the hard-hitting collection is visceral and unflinchingly honest, mourning a land and people devastated by economic hardship, farm foreclosures, and mountaintop removal.

With empathy and a voice of experience, Hicks offers readers a poignant collection of poems that addresses themes of grief and death while also illustrating the beauty, grace, and resilience of the Appalachian people. Invoking personal memories, she explores how the loss of physical landscape has also devastated the region's psychological landscape.

Graphic, bold, and heartfelt, Driving with the Dead is an honest and compelling call to arms. Hicks laments the irreplaceable treasures that we have lost but also offers wisdom for healing and reconciliation.

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The Land We Dreamed

Poems

Joe Survant

Weaving together universal themes of family, geography, and death with images of America's frontier landscape, former Kentucky Poet Laureate Joe Survant has been lauded for his ability to capture the spirit of the land and its people. Kliatt magazine has praised his work, stating, "Survant's words sing.... This is storytelling at its best."

Exploring the pre-Columbian and frontier history of the commonwealth, The Land We Dreamed is the final installment in the poet's trilogy on rural Kentucky. The poems in the book feature several well-known figures and their stories, reimagining Dr. Thomas Walker's naming of the Cumberland Plateau, Mary Draper Ingles's treacherous journey from Big Bone Lick to western Virginia following her abduction by Native Americans, and Daniel Boone's ruminations on the fall season of 1770. Survant also explores the Bluegrass from the perspectives of the chiefs of the Shawnee and Seneca tribes.

Drawing on primary documents such as the seventeenth-century reports of French Jesuit missionaries, excerpts from the Draper manuscripts, and the journals of pioneers George Croghan and Christopher Gist, this collection surveys a broad and under-recorded history. Poem by poem, Survant takes readers on an imaginative expedition -- through unspoiled Shawnee cornfields, down the wild Ohio River, and into the depths of the region's ancient coal seams.

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The Man Who Loved Birds

A Novel

Fenton Johnson

Having taken great risks -- to immigrate to America, to take monastic vows -- Bengali physician Meena Chatterjee and Brother Flavian are each seeking safety and security when they encounter Johnny Faye, a Vietnam vet, free spirit, and expert marijuana farmer. Amid the fields and forests of a Trappist monastery, Johnny Faye patiently cultivates Meena's and Flavian's capacity for faith, transforming all they thought they knew about duty and desire. In turn they offer him an experience of civilization other than war and chaos.

But Johnny Faye's law-breaking sets him against a district attorney for whom the law is a tool for ambition rather than justice. Their confrontation leads to a harrowing reckoning that ensnares Dr. Chatterjee and Brother Flavian, who must make a life-or-death choice between an act of justice that may precipitate their ruin or a betrayal that offers salvation.

Inspired by the real-life state police kidnapping and murder of a legendary storyteller and petty criminal, The Man Who Loved Birds engages pressing contemporary issues through a timeless narrative of ill-fated romance. Celebrated author Fenton Johnson has woven a seamless, haunting fable exploring the eternal conflicts between free will and destiny, politics and nature, the power of law and the power of love.

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Many-Storied House

Poems

George Ella Lyon

Born in the small, eastern Kentucky coal-mining town of Harlan, George Ella Lyon began her career with Mountain, a chapbook of poems. She has since published many more books in multiple genres and for readers of all ages, but poetry remains at the heart of her work. Many-Storied House is her fifth collection.

While teaching aspiring writers, Lyon asked her students to write a poem based on memories rooted in a house where they had lived. Working on the assignment herself, Lyon began a personal journey, writing many poems for each room. In this intimate book, she strives to answer lingering questions about herself and her family: "Here I stand, at the beginning," she writes in the opening lines of the volume, "with more questions than / answers."

Collectively, the poems tell the sixty-eight-year-long story of the house, beginning with its construction by Lyon's grandfather and culminating with the poet's memories of bidding farewell to it after her mother's death. Moving, provocative, and heartfelt, Lyon's poetic excavations evoke more than just stock and stone; they explore the nature of memory and relationships, as well as the innermost architecture of love, family, and community. A poignant memoir in poems, Many-Storied House is a personal and revealing addition to George Ella Lyon's body of work.

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