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Kentucky Voices

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Miss America Kissed Caleb

Stories

Billy C. Clark

The mountain is a lonely place. Welcome to Sourwood, a small Kentucky town inhabited by men and women unique and yet eerily familiar. Among its joyful and tragic citizens we meet the crafty, spirited Caleb and his curious younger brother; Pearl, a suspected witch, and her sheltered daughter, Thanie; superstitious Eli; and the doomed orphan Girty. In Sourwood, the mountain is both a keeper of secrets and an imposing, isolating presence, shaping the lives of all who live in its shadow.

Strong in both the voice and sensibilities of Appalachia, the stories in Miss America Kissed Caleb are at turns heartbreaking and hilarious. In the title story, young Caleb turns over his hard-earned dime to the war effort when he receives a coaxing kiss from Miss America, who sweeps into Sourwood by train, "pretty as a night moth." Caleb and his brother share in the thrills and uncertainties of growing up, making an accidental visit to a brothel in "Fourth of July" and taming a "high society" pooch in "The Jimson Dog." These stories invoke a place and a time that have long passed -- a way of living nearly extinct -- yet the beauty of the language and the truth revealed in the characters' everyday lives continue to resonate with modern readers.

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New Covenant Bound

Tony Crunk

“Our only sin was not having what they thought was enough. And being forced to take what they called help.” Pain and anger resonate deeply in the voice of New Covenant Bound’s central narrator. Forced from her homeland on the Tennessee River in the 1930s, she recounts the memory of upheaval and destruction caused by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The Western Kentucky area that now boasts beautiful, expansive bodies of water was once home to some 20,000 people, their houses, farms, townships and ancestral history. Residents were subjected to three waves of forced relocation to make way for Kentucky Lake in the 1930s, Lake Barkley in the 1950s, and Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area in the 1960s. Renowned poet T. Crunk intersperses narrative prose and vivid lyric verse to explore the devastation one family experienced in this often overlooked episode in Kentucky history. The voices of a grandmother and grandson speak to each other over time, evoking the relentless advance of irrevocable forces that changed the land, forever.

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Next Door to the Dead

Poems

Kathleen Driskell

When Kathleen Driskell tells her husband that she's gone to visit the neighbors, she means something different than most. The noted poet -- whose last book, Seed across Snow, was twice listed as a national bestseller by the Poetry Foundation -- lives in an old country church just outside Louisville, Kentucky. Next door is an old graveyard that she was told had fallen out of use. In this marvelous new collection, this turns out not to be the case as the poet's fascination with the "neighbors" brings the burial ground back to life.

Driskell frequently strolls the cemetery grounds, imagining the lives and loves of those buried beside her property. These "neighbors," with burial dates as early as 1848, inspire poems that weave stories, real and imagined, from the epitaphs and unmarked graves. Shifting between perspectives, she embraces and inhabits the voices of those laid to rest while also describing the grounds, the man who mows around the markers, and even the flocks of black birds that hover above before settling amongst the gravestones.

Next Door to the Dead transcends time and place, linking the often disconnected worlds of the living and the deceased. Just as examining the tombstones forces the author to look more closely at her own life, Driskell's poems and their muses compel us to examine our own mortality, as well as how we impact the finite lives of those around us.

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Nothing Like an Ocean

Stories

Jim Tomlinson

Jim Tomlinson’s previous book of short stories, Things Kept, Things Left Behind, won the prestigious Iowa Short Fiction Award and received enthusiastic reviews. The New York Times compared the strong sense of place in Tomlinson’s writing to that found in the works of Flannery O’Connor and Alice Munro. The stories in his new collection, Nothing Like An Ocean, also reflect Tomlinson’s awareness of place, revisiting the fictional town of Spivey, a community in rural Appalachia where the characters confront difficult circumstances and, with quiet dignity, try to do what is right. In the title story, Tomlinson explores themes of forgiveness and acceptance in the lives of two characters, Alton Wood, a high school math teacher isolated by grief, and his sister Fran, who is emotionally paralyzed by her part in a tragic death. The two take halting steps back into the world after Alton receives an anonymous invitation to a church singles dance. These themes also underlie “Angel, His Rabbit, and Kyle McKell,” which tells of Dempsie’s evening with two men—her volatile boyfriend and the recently returned Iraq War amputee whose secret she has been keeping. Loss and the inevitability of change recur in Tomlinson’s stories. In “Overburden,” Ben, a man simultaneously contemplating AARP membership and impending fatherhood, travels with his wife, Sarah, back to eastern Kentucky to visit the oak tree that was essential to their courtship, only to find the site as barren and featureless as the moon, a casualty of mountaintop removal mining. “So Exotic” draws us into the worn environs of Rita’s Huddle In Café, where the owner becomes the confidant of Quilla, a mousy bank teller who blossoms as the muse of an eccentric artist from Belarus. The eleven stories in Nothing Like An Ocean evoke a strong sense of small-town Kentucky life, finding humor in the residents’ foibles while never diminishing their inner lives. Tomlinson’s masterful fiction captures light and dark moments, moments that are foreign yet deeply familiar, as his characters seek redemption and sometimes find unexpected grace..

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Scissors, Paper, Rock

A Novel

Fenton Johnson

Along with his siblings, Raphael Hardin left his childhood home in rural Kentucky. Grappling with an AIDS diagnosis, he returns to care for his dying father. Told from the perspectives of Raphael, his family, and their lifelong neighbor, Fenton Johnson's landmark novel reveals the blood struggles and binding loves of a broken family made whole.

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Sue Mundy

A Novel of the Civil War

Richard Taylor

October 11, 1864. The Civil War rages on in Kentucky, where Union and Confederate loyalties have turned neighbors into enemies and once-proud soldiers into drifters, thieves, and outlaws. Stephen Gano Burbridge, radical Republican and military commander of the district of Kentucky, has declared his own war on this new class of marauding guerrillas, and his weekly executions at Louisville’s public commons draw both crowds and widespread criticism. In this time of fear and division, a Kentucky journalist created a legend: Sue Mundy, female guerrilla, a “she-devil” and “tigress” who was leading her band of outlaws across the state in an orgy of greed and bloodshed. Though the “Sue Mundy” of the papers was created as an affront to embarrass Union authorities, the man behind the woman—twenty-year-old Marcellus Jerome Clarke—was later brought to account for “her” crimes. Historians have pieced together clues about this orphan from southern Kentucky whose idealism and later disillusionment led him to his fate, but Richard Taylor’s work of imagination makes this history flesh—an exciting story of the Civil War told from the perspective of one of its most enigmatic figures. Sue Mundy opens in 1861, when fifteen-year-old Jerome Clark, called “Jarom,” leaves everyone he loves—his aunt, his adopted family, his sweetheart—to follow his older cousin into the Confederate infantry. There, confronted by the hardships of what he slowly understands is a losing fight, Jarom’s romanticized notions of adventure and heroism are crushed under the burdens of hunger, sleepless nights, and mindless atrocities. Captured by Union forces and imprisoned in Camp Morton, Jarom makes a daring escape, crossing the Ohio River under cover of darkness and finding refuge and refreshed patriotic zeal first in Adam R. Johnson’s Tenth Kentucky Calvary, then among General John Hunt Morgan’s infamous brigade. Morgan’s shocking death in 1864 proves a bad omen for the Confederate cause, as members of his group of raiders scatter—some to rejoin organized forces, others, like Jarom, to opt for another, less civilized sort of warfare. Displaced and desperate for revenge, Jarom and his band of Confederate deserters wreak havoc in Kentucky: a rampage of senseless murder and thievery in an uncertain quest to inflict punishment on Union sympathizers. Long-locked and clean-shaven, Jarom is mistakenly labeled female by the media—but Sue Mundy is about more than the transformation of a man into a woman, and then a legend. Ironically, Sue Mundy becomes the persona by which Jarom’s darkest self is revealed, and perhaps redeemed.

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The Total Light Process

New & Selected Poems

James Baker Hall

Nationally acclaimed poet, photographer, filmmaker, and novelist James Baker Hall has long been regarded as one of Kentucky's most profound artists. Hall's growing body of work is an essential part of Kentucky's literary tradition, and yet his poetry in particular transcends the borders of the Commonwealth.

The Total Light Process collects poems spanning Hall's celebrated career as well as new poems that have never before been published. The subjects of Hall's poems range from humorous and revealing portraits of his fellow writers and friends Wendell Berry, Ed McClanahan, and Gurney Norman, to the traumatic experience of his mother's suicide when he was eight years old, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the tragic murder of Matthew Shepherd.

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Upheaval

Stories

Chris Holbrook

In 1995, Chris Holbrook burst onto the southern literary scene with Hell and Ohio: Stories of Southern Appalachia, stories that Robert Morgan described as “elegies for land and lives disappearing under mudslides from strip mines and new trailer parks and highways.” Now, with the publication of Upheaval, Holbrook more than answers the promise of that auspicious debut. In eight interrelated stories set in Eastern Kentucky, Holbrook again captures a region and its people as they struggle in the face of poverty, isolation, change, and the devastation of land and resources at the hands of the coal and timber industries. In the title story, Haskell sees signs of disaster all around him, from the dangers inherent in the strip-mining machinery he and his coworkers operate to the accident waiting to happen when his son plays with a socket wrench. Holbrook employs a native’s ear for dialect and turns of phrase to reveal his characters’ complex interior lives. In “The Timber Deal,” two brothers—Russell, a recovering addict recently released from prison, and Dwight, who hasn’t worked since being injured in a coal truck accident—try to convince their upwardly mobile sister, Helen, to agree to lease out timber rights to the family land. Dwight is unable to communicate his feelings, even as he seethes with rage: “Helen can’t see past herself, is what it is. If John James had fractured his back in two places, it’d be a different story. If he’d broke his neck, it’d be a different story told.” Written with a gritty, unflinching realism reminiscent of the work of Larry Brown and Cormac McCarthy, the stories in Upheaval prove that Holbrook is not only a faithful chronicler and champion of Appalachia’s working poor but also one of the most gifted writers of his generation.

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When Winter Come

The Ascension of York

Frank X Walker

A sequel to the award-winning Buffalo Dance, Frank X Walker’s When Winter Come: The Ascension of York is a dramatic reimagining of Lewis and Clark’s legendary exploration of the American West. By focusing on the humanity and struggles of York, Clark’s slave, When Winter Come challenges conventional views of the journey’s heroes and exposes the deeds, both great and ghastly, of the men behind the myth. Grounded in the history of the famous trip, Walker’s vibrant account allows York—little more than a forgotten footnote in traditional narratives—to embody the full range of human ability, knowledge, emotion, and experience. He is a skillful hunter who kills his prey with both grace and reverence, and he thinks deeply about the proper place of humans in the natural world. York knows the seasons “like a book,” and he “can read moss, sunsets, the moon, and a mare’s foaling time with a touch.” The Native peoples understand and honor York’s innate bond with the earth. Though his expertise is integral to the journey’s success, York’s masters do not reward him; they know only the way of the lash. The alternately heartbreaking and uplifting poems in When Winter Come are told from multiple perspectives and rendered in vivid detail. On the journey, York forges a spiritual connection and shares sensual delights with a Nez Perce woman, and he aches when he is forced to leave her and their unborn son. Walker’s poems capture the profound feelings of love and loss on each side of this ill-fated meeting of souls. When the trek ends and York is sent back to his former home, his wife and stepmother air their joys and grievances. As the perspectives of Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea, and others in the party emerge, Walker also gives voice to York’s knife, his hunting shirt, and the river waters that have borne the labors and travels of thousands before and after the Lewis and Clark expedition. Despite fleeting hints that escape is possible, slavery continues to bind York and quell the joyful noise in his spirit until his death. Walker’s poems, however, give York his voice after centuries of silence. When Winter Come exalts the historical persona of a slave and lifts the soul of a man. York ascends out of his chains, out of oblivion, and into flight.

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With a Hammer for My Heart

A Novel

George Ella Lyon

With a Hammer for My Heart is the story of Lawanda, a precocious, poverty-stricken fifteen-year-old girl from Cardin, Kentucky, who dreams of attending college. When Lawanda's friendship with an alcoholic World War II veteran named Garland is misinterpreted by their fellow townspeople, a tragedy calls her future into question.

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