Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with George Ella Lyon, March 9, 1985

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:01 - The play, "Braids"

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Partial Transcript: But, I don't know how useful he is, either.

Segment Synopsis: Lyon describes the basic plot structure of her play, "Braids," and some of the characters who appear.

Keywords: Characters; Female writers; Kentucky female writers; Kentucky women writers; Kentucky writers; Plot; Women writers

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Characters and characteristics; Kentucky--In literature.; Lyon, George Ella, 1949-; Norman, Gurney, 1937-; Playwriting.; Plot

00:10:40 - Current work

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Partial Transcript: So this is um, um, one of several things going on for you now.

Segment Synopsis: Lyon describes her children's book coming out in the fall, through Bradbury Press. The cover of "Father Time and the Day Boxes" will be used as the cover of Bradbury Press' book catalog.

Keywords: Bradbury Press; Chapbooks; Father Time and the Day Boxes; Female writers; Kentucky female writers; Kentucky women writers; Kentucky writers; Macmillan; Women writers

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Bradbury Press; Chapbooks; Father Time (Symbolic character); Kentucky--In literature.; Lyon, George Ella, 1949-; Macmillan & Co; Norman, Gurney, 1937-; Playwriting.

00:16:55 - Virginia Woolf's relevance to Appalachia

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Partial Transcript: Well, um, anyone who knows you personally knows that, um, that you very comfortably, um--I, no I shouldn't say that I don't know how comfortable you are, but uh that you do embody all these uh uh aspects, um, and that this is, uh, what it means to be a modern, complex person, you know, I'm loaded with similar contradictions--

Segment Synopsis: Lyon describes a strong sense of identification with Woolf's work "To the Lighthouse." It was not so much a sense of place, as a sense of relationships. Lyon identifies between Woolf's experiences and the experiences of Appalachian writers.

Keywords: Appalachia; Contradictions; Cumberland (Ky.); Female writers; Kentucky female writers; Kentucky women writers; Kentucky writers; Pineville (Ky.); Small Farm Magazine; To the Lighthouse; Virginia Woolf; Women writers

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky; Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Contradictions; Cumberland (Ky.); Kentucky--In literature.; Lyon, George Ella, 1949-; Norman, Gurney, 1937-; Pineville (Ky.); Women writers; Woolf, Virginia, 1882-1941

00:24:23 - Woolf, an author who gives voice to experience

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Partial Transcript: Uh, she loved to talk, she was, uh, committed to finding voices for, for things in people which hadn't been given voice yet.

Segment Synopsis: Lyon continues to describe the connection she feels to Woolf and her work. Lyon gives voices to experiences that may have been distorted in the past.

Keywords: Female writers; Kentucky female writers; Kentucky women writers; Kentucky writers; Victorian culture; Virginia Woolf; Women writers; Women's experiences

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Kentucky--In literature.; Lyon, George Ella, 1949-; Norman, Gurney, 1937-; Women; Woolf, Virginia, 1882-1941

00:30:03 - Accessibility of writing to readers

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Partial Transcript: What about the difficulties of Virginia Woolf's style that, that, uh, would make, uh, her books, um, unavailable to what we call an average reader?

Segment Synopsis: Lyon believes that it is possible to be interested in different kinds of writing at the same time. All writing enlarges our understanding of life. Woolf and Joyce changed the experience of what a novel could be, and all readers are affected by this, whether or not they have read the works. Woolf has been associated with difficult reading.

Keywords: Appalachian mountain people; Female writers; Kentucky female writers; Kentucky women writers; Kentucky writers; Modern; Postmodern; Realistic writing; Women writers

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Appalachia; Appalachian Mountains; Appalachian Region; Kentucky--In literature.; Lyon, George Ella, 1949-; Modernism (Literature); Mountain people; Norman, Gurney, 1937-; Playwriting.; Postmodernism (Literature); Realism; Writing

00:39:01 - Conference talks

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Partial Transcript: What I, what I wonder is, why, uh--well, let me, let me, let me, let me get at it this way.

Segment Synopsis: Lyons describes a conference about Virginia Woolf in Morgantown at West Virginia University, in the heart of Appalachia. There did not seem to be much interest in Appalachia at that conference, despite its venue. She felt a tension between American feminist critics, and British scholars of Woolf. She felt her status as a secretary was more defining than her status as an Appalachian woman, at the Woolf conference.

Keywords: Conferences; Female writers; Kentucky female writers; Kentucky women writers; Kentucky writers; Morgantown (W. Va.); Poems; Virginia Woolf; West Virginia University; Women writers; Women's studies

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky; Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Kentucky--In literature.; Lyon, George Ella, 1949-; Morgantown (W. Va.); Norman, Gurney, 1937-; West Virginia University; Women's studies; Woolf, Virginia, 1882-1941

GPS: Morgantown (W. Va.)
Map Coordinates: 39.633611, -79.950556
00:45:01 - Appalachian writers and their communities

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Partial Transcript: Let me see if I can, um, um, find a way to ask the right question that would get you to, uh, elaborate and get more on the way, um, we have s, uh, seen the incredible emergence of, uh, uh, of so many excellent, uh, women writers here in the mountains who, um, uh, are--seem to be, um, um, particularly supportive of each other and how that, how that has evolved.

Segment Synopsis: Lyon felt the most important aspect of her connection to Virginia Woolf as a writer was that Woolf is a woman. When Woolf wrote about writing, she never questioned her right, as a woman, to write. When Lyon first began to write, she questioned her right, as a woman, to write, and she felt that this was a problem for all women writers in her own society.

Keywords: Appalachian; Appalachian Poetry Project; Female writers; Feminist consciousness; Kentucky female writers; Kentucky women writers; Kentucky writers; Southern Appalachian Writers' Cooperative; Virginia Woolf; Women writers; Women's consciousness

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Feminists; Kentucky--In literature.; Lyon, George Ella, 1949-; Norman, Gurney, 1937-Appalachian Region, Southern; Women's issues; Woolf, Virginia, 1882-1941

00:55:44 - Political networking of Appalachian writers

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Partial Transcript: Well one of the things that, um, has happened here, uh, in the mountains maybe more so among the women writers than the rest of us but still, uh, it's been, um, um, a community-wide experience is the way that, um, that we all, uh, we could say seize the means of production.

Segment Synopsis: Appalachian writers in the southern mountain region have joined together to advance their literary community. This is an effort to eliminate some of the isolation that writers undergo.

Keywords: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Appalachian Region; Berea College; Female writers; James Joyce; Kentucky female writers; Kentucky women writers; Kentucky writers; Publishing; Women writers

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Berea College; Joyce, James, 1882-1941; Kentucky--In literature.; Lyon, George Ella, 1949-; Norman, Gurney, 1937-; Playwriting.

01:01:27 - Current creative thinking

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Partial Transcript: What, um, what do you feel is, um, most current in your creative thought these days?

Segment Synopsis: Lyon discusses the process of writing the play as inseparable from her life. Lyon feels that she would like to work on this inseparability in her work.

Keywords: Creative writing; Female writers; George Ella Lyon; Gurney Norman; Kentucky female writers; Kentucky women writers; Kentucky writers; Women writers

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Creative writing; Kentucky--In literature.; Lyon, George Ella, 1949-; Norman, Gurney, 1937-; Playwriting.

01:08:09 - Collaborative writing compared to individual writing

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Partial Transcript: Well, and, and this, this collaborative process is so different because y--ordinarily when I work on a piece of writing I work and work and I might show it to one or two people, uh, who would give me some criticism, and I would work some more, and...

Segment Synopsis: Lyon describes how the collaborative process of writing the play has been an artistic risk.

Keywords: Female writers; Kentucky female writers; Kentucky women writers; Kentucky writers; Women writers

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Kentucky--In literature.; Lyon, George Ella, 1949-; Norman, Gurney, 1937-; Playwriting.

01:10:03 - The next few months

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Partial Transcript: Well, uh, do you have, uh, y--plans, um, f- like, do you know what your work will be like for the next, uh, six months after this play?

Segment Synopsis: Lyon is planning to work on a chapbook and on a young adult novel. She appreciates the fact that her options are open. Lyon does not feel an urgent need to settle her future work.

Keywords: Chapbooks; Female writers; Kentucky female writers; Kentucky women writers; Kentucky writers; Women writers

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky; Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Chapbooks; Kentucky--In literature; Lyon, George Ella, 1949-; Norman, Gurney, 1937-; Playwriting

01:13:21 - Going home

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Partial Transcript: Well, um, I know that, um, you must make, um, periodic visits home to see your folks back in Harlan.

Segment Synopsis: Lyon has written at home, the last time she went there. On some level, she feels that she should move back home permanently, rather than simply visiting Harlan from Lexington. Lyon spends time with family and neighbors when she goes back to Harlan. There's an emotional investment not only in the people, but also in the places we associate with home. An analysis of memory and the past follows.

Keywords: Female writers; Harlan (Ky.); Kentucky female writers; Kentucky women writers; Kentucky writers; Lexington (Ky.); Memories; Women writers

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky; Appalachia; Appalachian Region; Harlan (Ky.); Kentucky--In literature; Lexington (Ky.); Lyon, George Ella, 1949-; Memories; Norman, Gurney, 1937-; Playwriting

GPS: Harlan (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 36.841389, -83.32