Saturday, July 22, 2017

Birth Dates of Notable Kentuckians: July 22, 1937 - Gurney Norman


Image from

Gurney Norman, Andrew Garrison, Ned Beatty 

From Encyclopedia of Appalachia, edited by Rudy Abramson and Jean Haskell. The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 2006.

Gurney Norman, born July 22, 1937, in Grundy, Virginia, is best known as the author of the novel Divine Right’s Trip, for which he received a National Book Award in 1972, and the collection of short stories Kinfolks: The Wilgus Stories (1977).

From a coal-mining family that experienced the hard times of depression and war, Norman and his two siblings spent part of their childhood with grandparents in Hazard, Kentucky and Pennington Gap, Virginia. In 1946 he and his brother enrolled at the Stuart Robinson School, a Presbyterian boarding school in Blackey, Kentucky, and he remained there until his graduation in 1955. Norman attributes his early interest in writing to the influence of Robinson teachers who first introduced him to the books of Jesse Stuart and James Still and encouraged his own writing. He edited the school paper, the Stuart Robinson Highlights, and wrote his first short stories at the school.

Norman attended the University of Kentucky, where he majored in journalism and English. In the late 1950s, four of his stories appeared in Stylus, the campus literary magazine. On the strength of these stories, he won a Stanford University Wallace Stegner Creative Writing Fellowship in 1960.

After serving in the U.S. Army from 1961 through 1963, Norman returned to Kentucky to work as a reporter for the weekly Hazard Herald. He covered such stories as the roving pickets, which were still active in 1964, the War on Poverty, and the beginnings of environmental activism against strip mining.

A return to California in 1967 brought work as an editor and writer for the Whole Earth Catalog. Out of that experience came Norman’s first novel, Divine Right’s Trip. Published in short chapters in the margins of the catalog, it became a national best seller in 1971.

In 1979 Norman joined the faculty of the University of Kentucky, teaching creative writing. Since then, he has been a driving force for cultural activism in Appalachia, supporting young writers, filmmakers, actors, and teachers. He initiated and coedited an anthology of poetry, Old Wounds, New Words (1994), and the essay collection Confronting Appalachian Stereotypes: Back Talk from an American Region (1999). In 1999 Norman and his wife, Nyoka Hawkins, founded a small publishing house, Old Cove Press. The press’s first book was Affrilachia, a collection of poems by Frank X Walker.

Norman has also been involved with television and film. He wrote and hosted three documentaries for Kentucky Educational Television: Time on the River, exploring the Kentucky River Valley; From This Valley, examining the literary and cultural heritage of the Big Sandy Valley; and Wilderness Road, retracing Daniel Boone’s route into Kentucky. His play Ancient Creek was recorded by June Appal Records of Appalshop; later translated into Italian by Annalucia Accardo from the University of Rome, it was performed for video in a series of programs on The South of the World. Norman collaborated with director Andrew Garrison on the screenplay adaptation of three stories from Kinfolks: “Fat Monroe,” “Night Ride,” and “Maxine.” The three resulting films were edited together into The Wilgus Stories (2000).

- Andrew Garrison, University of Texas

Selected Sources from UK Libraries:

Norman, G. (1990). Divine Right's trip : A novel of the counterculture. Frankfort, KY.: Gnomon.
PS3564.O57 D58 1990, Young Library - 5th Floor

Farrell, D., Norman, G., Beattie, L., Brinson, B., & Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History. (1977). Kentucky Writers Oral History Project.
KW001, Special Collections Research Center - Oral History Collection

Norman, G., Appalshop Films, & Athens Center for Film Video. (1991). Fat Monroe ; A conversation with Gurney Norman. Whitesburg, KY: Appalshop Film & Video.
SC-V3632, Young Media Library

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