It is well-known that Gurney Norman is a legendary figure in Appalachian life and literature. Now well into his 80s yet still teaching creative writing full-time at the University of Kentucky, he experienced both a traditional and an unusual childhood in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky and Southwestern Virginia. After graduating from the University of Kentucky in 1960, he received a Stegner Fellowship to study at Stanford University, then reported for the Hazard Herald in the middle1960s. His novel, Divine Right’s Trip (1972), first published in the Last Whole Earth Catalog and then as a hardback and mass market paperback, turned America’s Westward Movement literature around as it chronicled the return of Eastern Kentucky hippies from California back to Kentucky. It was followed five years later by Kinfolks, The Wilgus Stories, which still stands as arguably the best fictional portrayal of mountain life in the early ‘70s. He has been teaching at UK since 1979 and was Kentucky Poet-Laureate in 2009-2010.This book, Allegiance, understandably published as a story collection, actually amounts to an only slightly embellished autobiography. Told in the first person, many of these refreshingly short stories amount to additions to Kinfolks. Others are out-takes from the novel, Crazy Quilt, that Gurney Norman has played with for decades now. And a few are additions to Ancient Creek: A Folktale (2012). These stories are more personal and more revealing for those of us who have enjoyed hearing Gurney Norman tell stories or who have read his books over the last few decades. At the same time, they are bound to be fascinating to those who have never ever even read or heard a Gurney Norman story.
Lexington, Kentucky: Old Cove Press, 2019. 203 pages. Trade paperback