Born: July 16, 1906
Chambers County, Alabama
Died: April 28, 2001
James Still was a poet, novelist, short story writer and folklorist who was born in Alabama but came to Knott County, Kentucky, as a young man and spent the rest of his life there.
Still worked his way through Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, where he graduated in 1921. His classmates included Jesse Stuart, who became one of the most widely published writers from Kentucky. Still earned a master of art’s degree in English from Vanderbilt University in 1930. His Vanderbilt professors and classmates included such luminaries as Edwin Mims, Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, Andrew Lytle, John Donald Wade, and Clyde Curry (who directed his thesis “The Function of Dreams and Visions in the Middle English Romances”). He also attended University of Illinois and received a bachelor of science degree in library science.
Still came to Hindman in 1931 with one of his Vanderbilt classmates, poet and social activist Don West, to work with children for the summer. However, when summer was over, the librarian at Hindman Settlement School resigned. Still gladly accepted the position and, except for a stint in the Army in Africa and the Middle East during World War II, lived the next 70 years in Knott County.
Still wrote his masterpiece novel River of Earth (1940) in a rented log cabin on Dead Mare Branch of Little Carr Creek in Knott County. It was formerly the home of dulcimer maker Jethro Amburgey. The novel is set in Appalachia as it transitioned in the early 1900s from subsistence farming to coal mining. River of Earth received the Southern Author’s Award soon after publication, sharing it with Thomas Wolfe’s book You Can’t Go Home Again.
Still’s stories and poems appeared in The Atlantic, The Yale Review, Saturday Review, The Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, The Virginia Quarterly Review and in many other publications as well as in textbooks and anthologies.
When he died, Still had been working for years on a mysterious manuscript that writer Silas House edited into the novel, Chinaberry(2012).
Several of Still’s short stories were selected for the O. Henry Memorial Prize Stories publications and for the Best American Short Stories series. Jack and the Wonder Beans, illustrated by Margot Tomes, was chosen by the New York Times as one of the Best Illustrated Books of 1977.
Still died at age 94 and is buried on the campus of Hindman Settlement School beside longtime school director Elizabeth Watts, who hired him.
River of Earth. New York: The Viking Press, 1940.
Sporty Creek: A Novel about an Appalachian Boyhood. New York: G. P. Putnam Sons, 1977.
Chinaberry. Ed. Silas House. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011.
Hounds on the Mountain (Poetry). New York: Viking Press, 1937.
The Wolfpen Poems. Berea, KY: Berea College Press, 1986.
From the Mountain, From the Valley: New and Collected Poems. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001.
On Troublesome Creek. New York: Viking Press, 1941.
Way down yonder on Troublesome Creek: Appalachian Riddles & Rusties. New York: G. P. Putnam Sons, 1974.
The Wolfpen Rusties: Appalachian Riddles and Gee-Haw Whimmy-Diddles. New York: G. P. Putnam Sons, 1975.
Pattern of a Man. Frankfort, KY: Gnomon Press, 1976.
The Run for the Elbertas. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1980.
The Wolfpen Notebooks: A Record of Appalachian Life. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1991.
The Hills Remember: The Complete Short Stories of James Still. Ed. Ted Olson. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2012.
Jack and the Wonder Beans. New York: P. Putnam Sons, 1977.
An Appalachian Mother Goose. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998.