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The writing life

State’s best writers highlighted
in Kentucky’s literary ‘Anthology’

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (January 2006) – If Jesse Stuart could do it, so could Wade Hall. In his long career as educator and author, Hall has discovered the true literary thread that runs through Kentucky’s prolific vein of authors. Through the fruits of his labor, he has produced a 200-year anthology of Kentucky writing.

Wade Hall

Photo by Helen E. McKinney

Wade Hall in November released his new book profiling Kentucky writings.

Hall’s latest book is entitled, “The Kentucky Anthology: Two Hundred Years of Writing in the Bluegrass State.” Like Stuart, Hall chose teaching as his lifelong profession. And also like Stuart, Hall has written extensively about the things that have influenced him most in his lifetime.
At 71, Hall said he has “been a college professor for most of my life.” Originally from Union Springs, Ala., he came to Louisville in 1962 to take over as chairman of the English Department at Kentucky Southern College. Hall earned a bachelor’s degree from Troy State University, a master’s degree from the University of Alabama and a doctorate degree from the University of Illinois.
Through years of teaching Kentucky literature, he learned to love and appreciate the significance of Kentucky writers. “I couldn’t have had a better career in anything else.”
Now retired from teaching, Hall plans to return to his native Alabama soon to enjoy its beauty and richness. “As I close out my career, I wanted to do something to symbolize my career in Kentucky and pay tribute to 200 years of writers and writing,” said Hall.
Three years ago, Hall was asked by Stephen Wrinn, director of the University Press of Kentucky, to make a list of “40 essential Kentucky writers,” said Hall. Not able to include every single Kentucky author who ever breathed, he narrowed down his list to 40 authors whom he considered “absolutely essential” to include in such a book.
“I selected the writers whose work I have taught and for whom my students were very excited (to learn about),” said Hall. He noted the way students would react to certain short stories, novels or poetry collections written by Kentucky authors.
It is the daunting challenge of any anthology editor to decide what works to include, said Wrinn. Hall already had the idea of such a work in place prior to Wrinn’s arrival at the University Press of Kentucky four years ago, said Wrinn. He suggested Hall “put together his dream table of contents,” in an effort to narrow the field.
Most people would be in a 75 percent agreement on who to include, with 25 percent left up to individual tastes, said Wrinn. Hall “did a spectacular job balancing everyone associated with Kentucky.”
The authors and their works selected for his anthology “represent every section of Kentucky,” he said. From Pikeville to Paducah, from Florence to Bowling Green, Hall has provided insight on what it means to be a Kentucky writer.
The book includes such early authors as John Filson, Irwin S. Cobb and Pewee Valley’s own Annie Fellows Johnson. Although she was a native of southwestern Indiana, Johnson “came to Kentucky and made it her own. She made the people and cultures of Kentucky her own.” He said that, unarguably, Robert Penn Warren was the best writer Kentucky has ever produced.
But Stuart is “the one I liked best personally,” said Hall. “He believed in himself.”
At age 28, Hall had just earned his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and went south to teach at the University of Florida.
The head of the English Department called one day asking if he would pick up Stuart from the airport. Hall couldn’t refuse and within 10 minutes of riding in the car with Stuart, “we bonded.”
“Nobody writes better about the Kentucky hills than James Still,” said Hall. Still, who lived in Hindman, Ky., was also a native of Alabama.
Hall also includes Wendell Berry of Henry County and the late Harlan Hubbard of Trimble County in his massive work. “Their works are read around the world,” he said. Hubbard, whom he knew well and interviewed for a booklet published by UK’s “Occasional Papers Series,” “was a wonderful writer and lived a lifestyle lots of people today envy.”
After being gone from his Alabama roots for more than 40 years, Hall has continued his love affair with southern culture. “I always planned to return, and be buried with my family.”
As he contemplates his return to Alabama, Hall’s life has come full circle. He said of Stuart, “He’s the only writer to sell books to people who couldn’t read.” With 20 or so books to his credit, Hall may just match Stuart on that level.

• Wade Hall’s anthology can be purchased for $45 from many area bookstores. A discussion on Kentucky writers and book signing is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Jan. 13 at one of the Louisville area Barnes and Noble Bookstores.

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