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Authors: James Still


BOOK: Chinaberry
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Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Reynolds and Silas House


Scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth, serving Bellarmine University, Berea College,
Centre College of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University, The Filson Historical Society,
Georgetown College, Kentucky Historical Society, Kentucky State University, Morehead
State University, Murray State University, Northern Kentucky University, Transylvania
University, University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, and Western Kentucky
University. All rights reserved.

Editorial and Sales Offices: The University Press of Kentucky
663 South Limestone Street, Lexington, Kentucky 40508–4008

15   14   13   12      11            5   4   3   2   1

Frontispiece: James Still, ca. 1990. Courtesy of Teresa Reynolds.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Still, James, 1906–2001.

Chinaberry / James Still ; edited by Silas House.

p. cm.

978-0-8131-3372-0 (hardcover : acid-free paper) —
ISBN 978–0–8131–3373–7 (ebook)
I. House, Silas, 1971– II. Title.
ps3537.t5377c47      2011


This book is printed on acid-free recycled paper meeting the
requirements of the American National Standard for
Permanence in Paper for Printed Library Materials.

Manufactured in the United States of America.

Member of the Association of American University Presses


Childhood is less clear to me than to many people: when it ended I turned my face away from it for no reason I know about. . . . Then I discovered that the tales of former children are seldom to be trusted. Some people supply too many past victories or pleasures with which to comfort themselves, and other people cling to pains, real and imagined, to excuse what they have become.


Here was a reality more powerful than the present.

, found among his notes on this manuscript




by Silas House

1   Gone to Texas

2   Anson and Lurie

3   Cotton Fields

4   Discovering Chinaberry

5   Little Johnnes

6   Towerhouse

      7   Magnolia grandiflora; Or,
Anson and Lurie, Revisited

8   The Breaking In

9   Oxyuris vermicularis

10   Buffalo Wallow

11   Blunt Arrow

12   Bluebonnets

13   The Bull Run

14   Irena

15   The Flower Pit

16   Questions Answered

17   Nino

18   A Particular Day

19   Alabama, Alabama

by Carol Boggess


Silas House

When james still's literary advisers, Bill Marshall, Lee Smith, and Bill Weinberg, first asked me, back in 2004, if I would be interested in editing the manuscript James Still had left behind at his death, I didn't even have to think twice. I agreed instantly, feeling daunted but also incredibly blessed to have an opportunity to work on a manuscript by one of my literary heroes.

For the uninitiated, a brief primer on that hero: James Still, born in 1906, is widely considered “the Dean of Appalachian Literature.” He is the author of such classics as
River of Earth
(1940) and
The Wolfpen Poems
(1986). He was an accomplished stylist known for his keen insights into the nature of people, animals, and the living, breathing world around him, a man who swooned for words and for trees. His novels and short stories and poetry are at the very heart of Appalachian literature. A native of Alabama, he came to Kentucky to work for the Hindman Settlement School in 1932 and never left, living there until his death at ninety-four years old.

Mr. Still is also someone I knew from a distance. As an aspiring writer attending the Appalachian Writers Workshop at Hindman, I crept about the edges of his conversation, too in awe to ever have a real exchange. Sixty-five years his junior, I had been raised on his books, had grown up knowing him as the
great writer who lived only three counties away from me. I once had my picture taken with him but was too awestruck to speak. The one time we actually talked, a year later, I asked him how to become a better writer. He told me to “discover something new every day.” This simple advice changed my writing and my life, making me more aware of every single thing as I walked through each day. I do not claim to have been his friend; it is enough to have been in his presence.

I couldn't wait to get started on the manuscript, but life kept interfering. Two years after accepting the challenge to edit the manuscript, Lee Smith presented me with Mr. Still's briefcase—he had fashioned an old belt to stand in for its broken handle— and having that helped to center me and gave me the proper kick to get started. At last I was able to sit down and completely immerse myself in the book that has now changed me forever by showing me that every single sentence in any book has to be fretted over, polished, pruned, and also by solidifying my notion that the best writing has to be packed tight with emotion. Over the next three months I trekked down to my little writer's shack every morning, fired up about helping to bring forth what I have come to think of as the book that Mr. Still most wanted to write. I think of it that way because I believe there is a yearning woven into every line, a longing to share his hard-won wisdom with as many readers as possible. Four more years have swept past us all since I finished the edit of the book.

BOOK: Chinaberry
5.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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