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Kentucky and Kentuckians are full of stories, which may be why so many present-day writers have Kentucky roots. Whether they left and returned, like Wendell Berry and Bobbie Ann Mason, or adopted Kentucky as home, like James Still and Jim Wayne Miller, or grew up and left for good, like Michael Dorris and Barbara Kingsolver, they have one connection: Kentucky has influenced their writing and their lives. L. Elisabeth Beattie explores this influence in twenty intimate interviews.

Conversations with Kentucky Writers was more than three years in the making, as Beattie traveled across the state and beyond to capture oral histories on tape. Her exhaustive knowledge of these authors helped her draw out personal revelations about their work, their lives, and the nature of writing. When Still concludes his interview with "I believe I've told you more than anybody," he could be speaking for any of Beattie's subjects.

Aspiring writers will learn that Mason submitted twenty stories to the New Yorker before one was accepted, and that Still wrote articles for Sunday school magazines. There's plenty of advice: Dorris tells budding authors to get real jobs, keep journals, and read everything, even cereal boxes, and Marsha Norman reminds playwrights that "it is not the business of the theater to provide writers with a living." Kingsolver advises, "Read good stuff and write bad stuff until eventually what you're writing begins to approximate what you're reading."

Beattie's collection includes striking self-portraits of such writers as Sue Grafton, Leon Driskell, James Baker Hall, Fenton Johnson, George Ella Lyon, Taylor McCafferty, Ed McClanahan, Sena Naslund, Chris Offutt, Lee Pennington, and Betty Layman Receveur. What most distinguishes these moving conversations from other author interviews is their focus on creativity, on the teaching of writing, and on the authors' strong sense of place. As Wade Hall writes in his foreword, all twenty writers recognize that their works have been significantly influenced by their "Kentucky experience." This collection offers insights into Kentucky's rich and flowering literary heritage.

L. Elisabeth Beattie, a Louisville writer and associate professor of English and journalism at Elizabethtown Community College in Kentucky, is director of the Kentucky Writers Oral History Project.

"Delicious to dip in and out of and easy to browse . . . and just to enjoy the rustling of good sharp minds under the eaves of this house of writing."—Appalachian Journal

"The writers discuss their regional connections, while noting the ways regional writing can be universal. This collection of interviews offers—with conversational immediacy—practical advice, poignant recollections, funny stories, and profound insights to stimulate readers and writers of any region."—Bookwoman

"Valuable because it deepens our understanding of writers we wish to know better."—Bowling Green Daily News

"Twenty authors in all are interviewed by L. Elisabeth Beattie . . . the insight allowed by these conversations make them more familiar—and appreciated—still."—Chevy Chaser

"Kentucky has produced an impressive literary genus, from the social and agrarian criticism of Wendell Berry to the bestselling ‘alphabet murder’ mysteries of Sue Grafton."—Cincinnati Enquirer

"Lively and enlightening, intimate and insightful, Beattie's interviews with Kentucky writers truly live up to their billing. Like the best of conversations between old friends, each of these inspired encounters is packed with pleasure and ripe with revelation. The collection, a keeper for all serious readers and writers, is sure to become a Commonwealth classic."—Dianne Aprile

"The perfect book for readers interested in Kentucky writers and how they, in their own words, became writers."—The News-Democrat

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Kentucky, Kentucky writers, Kentucky authors, Kentucky in literature


Literature in English, North America


Photographs by Susan Lippmann; foreword by Wade H. Hall.

Conversations with Kentucky Writers
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