When Kinfolks: The Wilgus Stories by Gurney Norman was first published in 1977, it arguably revolutionized Appalachian Literature, a new sub-genre that was just beginning to be recognized. It demonstrated that writing that was down-to-earth, that refused to either glorify or disparage ordinary people from the Southern Mountains, could not just gain traction, but become the favorite book of many readers. When I read it, I was moved both to laughter and to tears. It resonated with me. Now, 45 years later, Gurney’s subsequent stories have finally been published. The book begins with an essay, “Allegiance” that explains his title - what Gurney is swearing allegiance to, beginning with, “I pledge allegiance to Rockhouse Creek in Letcher County [Kentucky], however far I roam.” The book ends with an Epilogue of six essays he calls “straightforward autobiography” as opposed to the stories which he characterizes as “autobiographical fiction.” “In 1977, Gurney Norman published a slim volume titled Kinfolks: The Wilgus Stories, ten soft-spoken but exquisitely crafted short stories that encompass the childhood and coming-of-age of Wilgus Collier, a young native son of Appalachia. The modest collection soon found an attentive audience; it has quietly accumulated thousands of admirers, and has never been out of print. Allegiance is the long-anticipated continuation of those stories. Novelistic in breadth and scope and gravity, Allegiance harkens back once more to Wilgus’s Appalachian boyhood, and traces his life deep into an adult career as publisher/editor of his hometown weekly newspaper. In the course of three dozen stories—several of them small masterpieces in their own right—Wilgus bears painful witness to the long, slow, inexorable disintegration of his family, the decline and desolation of his beloved mountain homeland, and his own parallel descent into alcoholism and depression. Yet for all their melancholy properties, the stories are replete with sly good humor and vast generosity of spirit. In a rich admixture of memory and imagination, fiction and nonfiction, delivered in prose as clear and pure and beguiling as mountain music, Gurney Norman pays homage to his place and its people. This book is an act of grace.”— the late Ed McClanahan. Gurney Norman taught creative writing at the University of Kentucky into his eighties, and is now retired.
Lexington, Kentucky: Old Cove Press, a 2022 paperback edition of a 2021 release, distributed by Ohio University Press. 210 pages with an introduction by Leatha Kendrick. Trade paperback.