James Still (1906–2001) first achieved national recognition in the 1930s as a poet, and he remains one of the most beloved and important writers in Appalachian literature. Though he is best known for the seminal novel River of Earth—which Time magazine called a "work of art" and which is often compared to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath as a poignant literary exploration of the Great Depression—Still is also recognized as a significant writer of short fiction. His stories were frequently published in outlets such as the Atlantic and the Saturday Evening Post and won numerous awards, including the O. Henry Memorial Prize.
In the definitive biography of the man known as the "dean of Appalachian literature," Carol Boggess offers a detailed portrait of Still. Despite his notable output and importance as a mentor to generations of young writers, Still was extremely private, preferring a quiet existence in a century-old log house between the waters of Wolfpen Creek and Dead Mare Branch in Knott County, Kentucky. Boggess, who befriended the author in the last decade of his life, draws on correspondence, journal entries, numerous interviews with Still and his family, and extensive archival research to illuminate his somewhat mysterious personal life.
James Still: A Life explores every period of Still's life, from his childhood in Alabama, through the years he spent supporting himself in various odd jobs while trying to build his literary career, to the decades he spent fostering other talents. This long-overdue biography not only offers an important perspective on the author's work and art but also celebrates the legacy of a man who succeeded in becoming a legend in his own lifetime.
Preface A Place to Begin Old Enough to Go Traipsing The Model Scout Working His Way: First Years at Lincoln Memorial University Mentors, Friends and Patron: Finishing at LMU The Scholar's Tale: Vanderbilt A Practical Degree: University of Illinois 19-Dirty-one To the Jumping-off Place Hindman Becomes a Haven Beyond the Hills, 1935-1940 A Man Singing to Himself Jolly in a Counting Mood Joining Up and Shipping Out Somewhere in Africa Coming Home Again On Dead Mare Beach Back to Hindman Family Loss and Brotherly Love On to Morehead Then-what Days Making Friends and Keeping Them Pattern of a Writer in Pursuit of Publication Still the Explorer, 1972-1990 Jolly and Godey Jim Wayne and Anson At Home in This World Invitation to the Eternal Epilogue
Carol Boggess is president of the Appalachian Studies Association and former English professor at Mars Hill University.
James Still was, and still is, the greatest writer of hill culture in Kentucky. This book is a welcome addition to Appalachian literature.
~Chris Offutt, author of Kentucky Straight
James Still was a huge influence on my own writing and my understanding of how to be a writer. Though a good friend, he remained a paradox—open, congenial, friendly (sometimes a downright flirt!) as he held court in his rocking chair on the porch at Hindman, he was also the most private man I have ever known well—almost mysterious. Carol Boggess's graceful and informative biography sheds light into many shaded places and dark rooms of his long life, illuminating the sources and passions of this beloved giant of American literature, one of the greatest writers of all time.
~Lee Smith, author of Dimestore: A Writer's Life
This literary biography explores the enigmas of James Still's life and writing while cherishing his mysteries. He was a solitary man who forged deep friendships with national and regional writers like Katherine Ann Porter and Jim Wayne Miller. Deeply attentive to the land and ways of eastern Kentucky, he enjoyed travelling across the country and indeed the world. Always a serious writer, he had a sometimes wicked sense of humor. Boggess carefully explores the man and the myths and thankfully honors both.
~Judi Jennings, independent scholar and James Still's unlikely travelling companion
I have read, studied, written about, and edited James Still's work since 1990, and yet I learned many new things about Still from this book. In illuminating Still's overlooked formative years, such as his boyhood in Alabama and his college years in Tennessee, this well-written biography clarifies how Still's early experiences were crucial to the development of the author's distinctive literary voice, so integrally associated with eastern Kentucky but bearing subtle yet profound influences from elsewhere. This biography reveals the considerable extent to which Still was simultaneously of the hills and of the broader world.
~Ted Olson, East Tennessee State University, editor of From the Mountain, From the Valley and The Hills Remember
Winner for the Appalachian Studies Association and Berea College book award.
Winner for the Kentucky Historical Society book award.