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Allegiance by Gurney Norman

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In his “Author’s Note,” Gurney Norman explains, “In this book, I write of my allegiances to places and people, to language and story making, to experiences that have stayed with me throughout my life, and allegiances to memory itself.” The “Author’s Note,” appears between 35 stories that basically follow the short story conventions. They are all autobiographical with the character, Wilgus Collier, serving as a stand-in for Gurney himself. After the “Author’s Note,” four pieces of autobiographical non-fiction follow. The final piece is a stream-of-consciousness contribution that does not fall in either the short-story or the memoir category. Gurney is 84 years old and still teaching creative writing as a full-time professor at the University of Kentucky. What makes autobiographical stories by Gurney Norman such gems is that he has lived such an interesting life. He grew up in the small farms of the Southwest Virginia hills and the Eastern Kentucky mountains, and then, after graduating from the University of Kentucky became a Stegner fellow at Stanford and participated in the 1960s California counter-culture. His first novel was Divine Right’s Trip (1972) that featured folks who grew up in Eastern Kentucky and went west for the hippie experience and then decided to return home carrying a combination of Appalachian and hippie allegiances with them. In 1977 Gurney Norman published the book of short stories, Kinfolks, that serves as the precursor to the first part of this volume. While teaching at the University of Kentucky since 1979, he has been a leader in first establishing Appalachian Literature as a sub-genre and then nurturing it. And, he has also led in combatting Appalachian stereotypes. I am proud that I published one of the stories that appears in this book and made Gurney Norman one of my featured authors. “For many people, ‘Allegiance’ is a noun, but in Gurney Norman’s hands, it is a verb—an active verb, an earthshaking process that rearranges the expectations of a homeplace, raises the windows of personal and epic history, and throws open doors of memory and imagination. Allegiance is a remarkable, eye-opening set of stories that affirm and defy time and place. It’s larger than one lifetime, resonating across generations, and inviting readers to reconsider their own allegiances.”—Sandra L. Ballard. “The highest achievement of Allegiance may be its reframing of the experience of loss.... It’s a difficult task, pulled off with savvy authorial choice and seamless prose.... Composed with a wise hand for structural shape, the vignettes transcend timelines, vacillate between first and third person, travel from childhood to adulthood and back.... The result is an exhilarating mirroring of consciousness itself, a design that is more stunning natural element than manufactured arc.” – Kayla Whitaker.

Lexington, Kentucky: Old Cove Press, distributed by Ohio University Press, 2021. 210 pages with a Foreword by Leatha Kendrick. Hardback in dust jacket.