The Wolfpen Notebooks
After keeping school for six years at the forks of Troublesome Creek in the Kentucky hills, James Still moved to a century-old log house between the waters of Wolfpen Creek and Dead Mare Branch, on Little Carr Creek, and became “the man in the bushes” to his curious neighbors. This was a land of creek bed roads, mountain sleds and hillside farming, where the language bore vestiges of Elizabethan speech and where the ways of thinking and doing lingered on long after they had changed elsewhere.
Still joined the folk life of the scattered community, attending church meetings, funerals, corn pullings, hog butcherings, box suppers at the one-room school, sapping parties and gingerbread elections. He raised his own food, preserved fruits and vegetables for the winter and kept two stands of bees for honey.
A neighbor remarked of Still, “He’s left a good job and come over in here and sot down.” Still did sit down and write – the classic novel River of Earth and many poems and short stories that have found their way into national publications. Still’s writings draw on everyday experiences and observations. A citation by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters states: “His gift is to set for the poverty and valor of his people in a prose as limpid and musical as the waters of Little Carr Creek.”
Still’s fiction has been praised especially for its faithfulness to the idiom of the Appalachian people. From the beginning, Still jotted down expressions, customs and happenings unique to the region. After half a century those jottings filled 21 notebooks. Now they have been brought together in The Wolfpen Notebooks, together with an interview with Still, a glossary, a comprehensive bibliography of his work by William Terrell Cornett and examples of Still’s use of the “sayings” in poetry and prose.
The “sayings” represent an aspect of the Appalachian experience not previously recorded and of a time largely past. Folklorists, linguists, and all who have a love of the Appalachian region will treasure this rich gleaning.
James Still (1906-2001), was born on Double Creek in Alabama, one of 10 children. For most of his life he lived in a log house between Dead Mare Branch and Wolfpen Creek in Knott County, Kentucky. He enjoyed a long relationship with Hindman Settlement School where he first began work as a librarian and lived in his later years.
His early books – a book of poems, Hounds on the Mountain (1937); his celebrated novel River of Earth (1940); and a collection of stories, On Troublesome Creek (1941) – were all published by The Viking Press. It was not until 35 years later, after Pattern of a Man was first published, that there was revival of interest in his work. Other books include a novel Sporty Creek; the collection of stories The Run for the Elbertas; The Wolfpen Notebooks; and a number of books for children: The Wolfpen Rusties; Way Down Yonder on Troublesome Creek; Jack and the Wonder Beans; and An Appalachian Mother Goose. His two later major collections of poems are The Wolfpen Poems and From the Mountain, From the Valley.