Ed McClanahan and Gurney Norman make the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame

Ed McClanahan and Gurney Norman make the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame

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Ace cover Feb 2019, Photo by Guy Mendes
Cover Photo by Guy Mendes

Road Warriors

Wondering where the Lions are?

[photos by Guy Mendes]

Ace cover Feb 2019, Photo by Guy Mendes
Cover Photo by Guy Mendes

When Kentucky’s literary hall of fame convenes later this month at the Carnegie Center, two living lions of letters will be inducted, longtime running mates, Ed McClanahan and Gurney Norman.

The two are both alums of Stanford’s prestigious Wallace Stegner Fellowships, and are part of Kentucky’s infamous “Fab Five” quintet of literati that includes their friends Wendell Berry, Bobbie Ann Mason, and the late James Baker Hall.  
Obviously, the first question when convening two minds of this magnitude, is: “who would play them in the movie version of their lives?”
Norman says, “Tab Hunter should play me. Gabby Hayes should play Ed.”
McClanahan takes the question equally good-naturedly and even less seriously, “Howzabout Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd? The roles could be interchangeable, to display our versatility.”

Ed and Gurney
Photo by Guy Mendes

For many years, McClanahan was fond of telling his students that one of his most glamorous aspirations was to be a successful freelance writer. Asked if there was a moment that confirmed he’d chosen correctly, he laughs, “That would necessarily be the day I got a check for a cool ninety grand for the film rights to The Natural Man,” before confessing, “But as it turned out, that would be the only real dough I ever made out of writing, so now, after another 35 years, I’m beginning to suspect that I might’ve misjudged my earning potential somehow.”
(Still. We hear he’s going places…)
In a 1996 Ace interview, McClanahan estimated his literary career (at the time) to be at roughly 217 years. Offered a chance to update that number for the record, he says, “The last 23 years seem to have passed in about 15 minutes, so I guess that adds up to, let’s see, about 217 years and 15 minutes. But to my own amazement, I managed to
crank out a few more books during those 15 minutes, so I guess it wasn’t a total waste of time.”
Both legends have long protested any notion of retirement, or even slowing down. McClanahan says, “Retiring from writing, I’m fond of saying, would be like a blind man divorcing his seeing-eye dog. I’ve just finished another collection of what I like to call ‘fiction-infused autobiography.’ Its title is Not Even Immortality Lasts Forever, and it will be out next year. And JT Dockery has just finished a brilliant graphic version of my novella, Juanita and the Frog Prince, which we hope to publish soon. And Larkspur Press is publishing a limited edition of a story of mine modestly entitled A Work of Genius.” So, he concludes, in a feat of understatement, “I’m keeping busy.”
Not to be outdone, Norman demonstrates his trademark flair for fiction, “I plan to continue at UK until 2029. I will be only 91 by then, continuing my judo training and marksmanship practice and completing my trilogy on Frontiers of Human Consciousness.”

BONUS LIGHTNING ROUND: ED MCCLANAHAN

Ed and Gurney
Photo by Guy Mendes

Kentucky native Ed McClanahan was born in 1932 and has been a writer and teacher most of his working life. Some of his best known works include The Natural Man, Famous People I Have Known, and A Congress of Wonders. As a glamorous freelance writer, his vita includes award-winning work for the likes of Esquire, Rolling Stone, and Playboy.

What is your most treasured possession?
A sketch of my father by a street artist who called himself “Primitivo.” But there is, of course, a story behind that, and you’ll have to buy ‘Not Even Immortality Lasts Forever’ to find out what it is.

Tell us one surprising thing that Ace readers would never know about you ?
I put my pants on two legs at a time.

Quick: Is Lexington the South, or the Midwest?
The south, absolutely, for better or (all too often) for worse.

Name five things in your top right desk drawer right now.
Five paper clips. Otherwise, it’s completely empty, cross m’heart it is, officer.

What book is on your nightstand right now?
Two books, both incredibly good: Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders; and Allegiances, Gurney’s splendid new collection of stories.

Best piece of advice ever given to you?
Don’t play on the Interstate.

In what ways does Kentucky Kick Ass?
In ALL ways! How many are there?

What Lexington needs is …
More ass to kick!

BONUS LIGHTNING ROUND: GURNEY NORMAN

Ed and Gurney
Photo by Guy Mendes

Though born in Virginia in 1937, Gurney Norman spent most of his childhood in Eastern Kentucky. After completing his UK degree in English and journalism, followed by the Stegner fellowship at Stanford, he spent two years in the army before returning to Kentucky for a stint as a reporter for The Hazard Herald. He is best known for his 1971 novel, Divine Right’s Trip, and is a former Poet Laureate of Kentucky. He’s enjoyed a long and distinguished award-winning academic career at UK, and also serves as senior writer-in-residence at the Hindman Settlement School’s Appalachian Writers Workshop.

What is your most treasured possession?
My handwritten letter from Flannery O’Connor.

Tell us one surprising thing the Ace readers would never know about you.
While I would never question the sophistication of Ace readers, they may not have heard about my high school football career where, as quarterback of our small school’s football team which won no games but was able to tie Jenkins in the last game of the 1952 season when in furious mania, from our twenty yard yard line ran seventeen quarterback sneaks in a row and got down the field, scored and Lindsey ran for the extra point and got it as time ran out with the score 7-7. We paid to not lose and succeeded! Victory!

Quick: Is Lexington the South, or the Midwest?
The question should be, is Lexington south, north, or Appalachian? The answer is, it is more culturally Appalachian than the Elite want to admit.

Name five things in your top right desk drawer right now.
Holy Bible, US Declaration of Independence and copy of The Natural Man.

What book is on your nightstand right now?
My own new book of stories, Allegiance.

Best piece of advice ever given to you?
Apply to Stanford.

What Lexington needs is….
A bronze statue of Ed, to stand where poor old Henry Clay used to stand.

 

Ed McClanahan and Gurney Norman will be inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame on February 13, 2019 at the Kentucky Theatre.

 


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