Gurney Norman has been a member of the University of Kentucky Department of English since 1979 and currently serves as the department’s Director of Creative Writing. His first novel Divine Right’s Trip (1971) was published by The Dial Press, Bantam Books, and Pantheon Books of England. In 1978, Norman’s book of short stories Kinfolks, was published by Gnomon Press and subsequently by Avon Books as part of its Southern Authors Series.
His novella-length folktale Ancient Creek, originally published as a spoken word album by June Appal Recordings in 1976, was released as a book by Old Cove Press in Fall 2012. The volume includes Norman’s original folktale and related essays by Italian scholar Annalucia Accardo, writer Dee Davis, professor Kevin I. Eyster, and the late poet and scholar Jim Wayne Miller. A digitally remastered CD of Norman’s reading of Ancient Creek at Appalshop in 1975 was released in 2012 by June Appal Recordings in conjunction with publication of the book.
Norman is co-editor, with Katherine Ledford and Dwight Billings, of the essay collection Back Talk: Confronting Appalachian Stereotypes, published by the University Press of Kentucky (1999). He is co-editor, with Sharon Hatfield and Danny Miller, of An American Vein: Critical Readings in Appalachian Literature, published in 2005 by Ohio University Press.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Norman wrote and narrated three one-hour documentary programs for Kentucky Educational Television. Directed by John Morgan, the programs explore Kentucky history, landscape and culture. “Time on the River” takes a look at the historical importance of the Kentucky River. “From This Valley” examines the literary and cultural heritage of the Big Sandy River Valley. “Wilderness Road” retraces Daniel Boone’s route through Cumberland Gap into Kentucky in 1775.
In 1990, Appalshop produced a film based on “Fat Monroe,” a short story from the Kinfolks collection. Directed by Andrew Garrison, “Fat Monroe” starred actors Ned Beatty and William Johnson. The film was featured at the 1990 New York Film Festival and other festivals in the United States and Europe. In 1993, Andrew Garrison completed work on a second film, “Night Ride,” also based on a short story from Kinfolks. “Night Ride” was featured at the Sundance Film Festival in 1994. A third film, based on Norman’s short story “Maxine” and also directed by Andrew Garrison, was completed in 2000. Norman served as scriptwriter and creative consultant on the productions.
Norman is widely recognized for his writing and cultural work in the Appalachian region. He serves as Senior Writer-in-Residence at Hindman Settlement School’s annual Appalachian Writers Workshop, where he has been a member of the teaching staff since its founding in 1978. In October 1996, he was honored as an author, filmmaker and cultural advocate at Emory and Henry College’s annual two-day Literary Festival in Emory, Virginia, which celebrates significant writers in the Appalachian region. The festival included a series of scholarly presentations on Norman’s fiction and television work, which were later published in the literary journal Iron Mountain Review. His fiction has been widely published in journals and magazines. He regularly serves as media consultant for various documentaries and film projects.
In 2002, Norman was recognized by the Eastern Kentucky Leadership Conference for outstanding contributions to the advancement of regional arts and culture. He was awarded the Helen M. Lewis Community Service Award in 2007 by the Appalachian Studies Association for exemplary contributions to Appalachia through involvement with and service to its people and communities. He was appointed Kentucky Poet Laureate for 2009-2010 by Governor Steve Beshear. In 2011, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Berea College.
The Summer 2005 issue of the journal Appalachian Heritage, published by the Appalachian Center of Berea College, features a 40-page section devoted to Norman’s writing and cultural work. The Journal of Kentucky Studies, published by Northern Kentucky University, devoted a section of its Fall 1995 issue to scholarly articles concerning his novel Divine Right’s Trip and his short story collection Kinfolks. The 1996 Summer issue of The Southern Quarterly, published by the University of Southern Mississippi, featured a lengthy interview with Norman. A respected mentor of developing writers, he writes book introductions. offers writing workshops, and facilitates publication of fellow writers’ work.
Norman graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1959 where he majored in Journalism and English. In 1960, he received a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing at Stanford University where he studied with literary critic Malcolm Cowley and the Irish short story writer Frank O’Connor. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, he returned to his hometown in Kentucky to work for two years as a newspaper reporter for the Hazard Herald. In 1967, he returned to the San Francisco bay area where he served as one of the editors and writers for The Whole Earth Catalog. In 1971, his novel Divine Right’s Trip was serialized in The Last Whole Earth Catalog. The novel was published as a book in 1972 by the Dial Press and subsequently by Gnomon Press. After the publication of Kinfolks (1978), he joined the faculty of the University of Kentucky Department of English, a position he has held for 33 years.
In addition to his writing, editing and teaching, Norman carries on an active service role in Kentucky and surrounding states as an adviser to community-based arts groups. He is a frequent presenter at colleges and universities and education conferences. He enjoys visiting small rural schools where Kentucky literature and culture are under discussion.