The Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky on November 22, 1987 · Page 129
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The Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky · Page 129

Louisville, Kentucky
Issue Date:
Sunday, November 22, 1987
Page 129
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THE COURIER-JOURNAL LOUISVILLE, KY. SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 1987 The flowering of Kentucky authors vf , ' Li iS Bobbie Ann Mason - turn- 1 : I vis v.? ; f'-j Jan Arnow Michael Dorris Houston Baker Billy Bittinger John Egerton Jim Peyton Martha Barnette Aleda Shirley Rudy Rucker y"' - ' iVf ?) Denise Giardina Hudson Talbott Sue Grafton Susan Dodd By IRA SIMMONS Staff Writer The theories are multiplying. Some say it's a coincidence. Others say it's a trend. Some point to the influence of writing programs and the changing attitudes of publishers. Others cite the influence of the Bingham newspapers a generation ago. What's causing the discussion is a surge in books written by Kcntuckians and former Kentuckians books published by major publishing houses over the past year or so. This increase doesn't include work by established people connected with the universities people such as Guy Davenport, who has published a book of new stories ("The Jules Verne Steam Balloon"); and Wendell Berry, who has a book of new poems out ("Sabbaths"); and Percival Everett, a young and prolific writer who's just published a story collection ("The Weather and Women Treat Me Fair"). The increase has come from a new group of writers, some of whom could have run into each other at a sock hop 25 years ago. Michael Dorris (SL Xavier High School, 1963) published "A Yellow Raft on Blue Water," a well-received novel last spring. Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Marsha Norman (Durrett High, 1965) also turned to fiction, producing her first novel, "The Fortune Teller." Houston A. Baker Jr. (Male High, 1963) published "Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance," a major study of the 1920s artistic movement. James Anderson Winn (Atherton High, 1964) is the author of "John Dryden and His World," a book that recently earned an enthusiastic review from Anthony Burgess in The Atlantic. Rudy Rucker (St. Xavier, 1963) published "Mind Tools," a non-fiction meditation on mathematics, computers and information. He is now working on "Wetware," a sci ence fiction novel set in Louisville. The novel will be a sequel to "Software," a 1982 novel that won the prestigious Philip K. Dick Award. Aleda Shirley (University of Louisville, 1975) won the Norma Farber Award for "Chinese Architecture." The award is given each year by the Poetry Society of America for the best first book of poetry. Susan Dodd, who lived in Louisville in the early 1970s, published "No Earthly Notion," a critically praised novel set in the city. Martha Barnette (Atherton High, 1975) wrote "The Bill Schroeder Story," a straightforward but highly evocative book about the artificial-heart recipient. "In the last few years, publishers have gotten more open to different voices from all over the country." Raymond H. Abbott, a Louisville resident, is the winner of the $25,000 Whiting Writer's Award and the author of "That Day in Gordon," a stark novel about life on a Sioux reservation. "I think it's great people from Louisville are writing books," Norman said during a telephone chat from her home in Manhattan. "Now if we could just get everyone in Louisville tu buy our bonks!" But it's not only writers from Louisville who have broken into print this year. 'The Goodtime Gospel Boys," a raucous first novel by Billy Bit tinger, formerly of Eminence, was published last spring. Denise Giardina, of Prestonsburg, published "Storming Heaven," a novel about violence in the Appalachian coal fields. The other end of the state was represented by Jim Peyton's "Zions Cause," a richly textured novel set in the Jackson Purchase. Kate Lehrer, a native of Somerset, published "Best Intentions" and is now working on a novel set in Kentucky. As the year has ground on, books by Kentucki-ans have appeared in all genres. Louisvillian Jan Arnow weighed in with "By Southern Hands," a massive and lavishly illustrated survey of Southern craft traditions. Trigg County native John Egerton dealt with the cultural implications of regional cuisines in "Southern Food." Former Louisvillian Sue Grafton continued her successful mystery series with " 'D' is for Dead-beat" Michele Slung (Atherton High, 1965) hit the bestseller list with "Momilies & More Momilies." "We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story," a funny children's book written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott (Waggener High, 1967) was published this fall. Just what is creating the current surge in Kentucky writers is a matter of debate. "These things just happen," said Ed McClana-han, of Port Royal, author of the best-selling novel "The Natural Man," published in 1983. "I have a feeling it's kind of like a rash," he added. "You know, it breaks out here, and then it breaks out over there." But Frederick Smock, editor of The American Voice, the Louisville-based literary review, said he believes the increase in writers from Louisville wasn't a coincidence. "When you have a community that's really committed to the arts, you're going to have an outburst of talent now and then," he said. "In this decade, it See KENTUCKY PAGE 9, col. 1, this section Appalshop film on Hamette Arnow intended 'to point people to her work' By IRA SIMMONS Staff Writer She used to say she had a boring life, for a writer. Writers are supposed to be celebrities and live in glamorous places and have a lot of affairs. Harriette Arnow simply worked hard. She tried to write each day, she said, because something was missing from a day without writing. She did some of her best writing late at night, she remembered, while caring for a colicky baby. The words she wrote at night or during the day or while traveling grew into a group of important books. Her powerful third novel, "The Dollmaker" (1954), has achieved a secure position as a respected work of American literature. On Tuesday, the public will get a glimpse of Ar-now's "boring" life with the premiere of a new film in Lexington. "Harriette Simpson Arnow 1908-1986," a documentary produced by Appalshop Inc. of Whitesburg, Ky., will be shown at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Kentucky Student Center Theater, South Limestone and Euclid Avenue. The price is $5 for the general public and $3 for students. The program will include a post-screening reception and discussion of Arnow's work by writer Gurney Norman and film maker Herb E. Smith. "I want the film to point people to her work, not be a substitute for it," Smith said. "She felt her work had been better received in England than it had been in Kentucky. I want her to be better known and appreciated here." He hopes the Arnow film will inspire a new generation of Kentucky writers. "Her story is an important story. Harriette Arnow had a spirit that should egg all of us on." Arnow was an early champion of Appalshop, speaking up for the art and education center in 1974 when many in Whitesburg viewed it with suspicion. The J 4" ; t" - ' " f,.r 4 ik ,41 f 'X if. , :, Y4 Harriette Arnow, author of "The Dollmaker.' screening of the film will mark the beginning of an Appalshop fund-raising campaign to match a $400,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Arts. Smith started the project in 1983, when Arnow was visiting Eastern Kentucky from her home in Ann Arbor, Mich. She enjoyed some Appalshop films during her stay and reluctantly agreed to let Smith do a documentary on her. "She was interested in young people, especially young writers," he remembered, "and she thought the film might help them." He filmed her on a number of occasions in Kentucky and in Michigan. Even in old age, she was a formidable presence. "Her eyes had a piercing steel look to them," Smith said. "She was one of the most honest people I've ever known. She didn't have much sympathy for small talk, but she was a very gracious person as well. She was kind of a paradox." Pieced together from Smith's film and archival footage, the 36-minute documentary traces Arnow's life from her birth in Burnside, Ky., (now under the surface of Lake Cumberland) through her final years. The daughter of two schoolteachers, she studied at PAGE 9, col. See A NEW 1, this section Calvin Trillin can say something nice while meeting book-buyers and fans By IRA SIMMONS Staff Writer Calvin Trillin sat at a table covered with stacks of his books. There wasn't much traffic from book-buyers and Trillin was reading a magazine. Sitting perfectly still, eyes downcast, he looked like a wax model in some exhibit: "Calvin Trillin, Famous Writer, on Book Tour, 1987." Suddenly, a book-buyer appeared. Not just a book-buyer, a fan. "Do these people knnw uhn vnn nrpl" boomed the woman. Trillin looked at her over his half-moon glasses. "Who?" "These people." She waved her arms. "These people who are just walking around. If they knew who you are, they would be mobbing you." "If they knew me, they might show me the door." "You're wonderful," yelled the woman. "You are wonderful." Trillin smiled diplomatically, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with her assessment. He signed her book. The book is "If You Can't Say Something Nice," his 12th, a collection of syndicated newspaper columns that can only consolidate his niche in the pantheon of American humor. At 52, he is hailed as "a classic American humorist," "a grump for the ages" and "the closest thing to Will Rogers since Will Rogers." Trillin, who doesn't look anything like Will Rogers, was sitting by the greeting cnrds at Hawley-Cooke Booksellers in the Shelbyville Road Plaza. He was in town to sign books and to speak at the Friends of the Library Dinner, a sold-out fund-raising event for the public library system. Trillin's Louisville stop was the last on a four-week publicity tour that took him to a dozen cities. The tour I ...v. 1 1. ii i.i. - ..njr ftt,tiiM til STAFF PHOTO BY PAUL SCHUHWANN Calvin Trillin wound up a four-week book-publicity tour at Shelbyville Road Plaza. had been grueling, he said, but not as tough as one he made a couple of years ago. "San Francisco was the place where I got my clothes cleaned." he remembered. "That's the only thing the city meant to me. It lost all other connotations." Trillin has been traveling around the country for 20 years, since he started writing his "U.S. Journal" pieces for The New Yorker. He's reported from Whitesburg and Owensboro and twice from Horse Cave. ("I'm practically a Horse Cave specialist.") When he shows up to sign books, no matter where he is, he usually runs into little groups of people he met on other stories old friends and familiar faces, along with the book-buyers, fans and aspiring writers. "The one thing I've learned from all this is the astonishing variety of name spellings," he said. "When someone asks me to sign a book 'To Tom,' I always say, 'How do you spell that?' " He's been on a campaign to get people to name their babies "Calvin," he said. "Two people I know did it recently, so I think I'm on a roll. I think 'Calvin' will be the 'Jennifer' of the '80s." A grinning woman pushed a copy of the new book at him. "Are you going to do any more books about food?" she asked, referring to "American Fried" and his other books about native eating habits. In those works, Trillin attacked revolving restaurants and pseudo-continental food served in places with names like "La Maison de la Casa House." But he also championed authentic regional foodstuffs, like See TRILLIN PAGE 8, col. 1, this section

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