Interview with Leon V. Driskell, May 29, 1985

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:19 - Background

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Partial Transcript: Okay, uh--(laughs)--this is always the most difficult part for me.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell discusses growing up in the segregated South, and how difficult it was for him to remain there, particularly in Alabama under Bull Connor, as a person whose social class guaranteed that he would benefit from the system of segregation.

Keywords: Alabama; Bull Connor; Civil rights movement; Community values; David Mahler; David Merrow; Dick Kane; Freedom Rides; James Joyce; Mafia; Segregated South; Social awareness; Socio-linguistics; University of Louisville

Subjects: Civil rights movement; Connor, Eugene, 1897-1973; Freedom Rides, 1961; Joyce, James, 1882-1941; Segregation

00:03:12 - Family life

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Partial Transcript: I would like to know a little bit about your family in Georgia.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell's parents were opposed to racism and segregation and felt guilt and shame. Driskell discusses the practice of using initials as a person's name. Driskell describes his religious upbringing as Campbellite. He discusses his growing dissatisfaction with the attitudes of racism in his community in Birmingham.

Keywords: Campbellites; Ella Fitzgerald; Racial slurs; Sectarian; Subversives; University of Alabama

Subjects: Fitzgerald, Ella; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism; Subversive activities; University of Alabama

00:14:56 - President Kennedy's assassination

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Partial Transcript: I shared with Mr. and Mrs. Huston the initial shock, the horror, and indeed the terror of the assassination of President Kennedy.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell describes the moment when he first heard about the assassination of President Kennedy. He initially attributed the murder of Kennedy to people opposed to racial civil rights.

Keywords: Civil rights; Kennedy Assassination

Subjects: Assassination--United States; Civil rights.; Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963; Race discrimination; Race relations

00:16:43 - Prejudice in the North

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned that, uh, you were surprised to find things different in the North.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell found that there was prejudice in the North, and he felt that this discrimination was more dishonest than the prejudice that existed in the South. The prejudice in the North was not openly addressed, but existed nevertheless.

Keywords: Discrimination; Prejudice

Subjects: Discrimination; Prejudices; Race relations; Racism

00:19:10 - Schoolteachers

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Partial Transcript: Well, let's, uh, move a little bit, still talking about your background...

Segment Synopsis: Driskell grew up in a family where education was valued. There were many teachers in his family. He was an avid reader as a boy. Driskell was a student of the Latin language, and feels that Latin was the beginning of all scholarship. He describes Latin's fundamental importance in his schooling experience. Driskell points out that his education was a process of scholarship, not simply preparation for a job.

Keywords: Billy Cleveland School; Eudora Welty; Flannery O'Connor; Latin classes; Scholars; Schoolteachers

Subjects: Latin language; O'Connor, Flannery; Scholars; Teachers; Welty, Eudora, 1909-2001

00:24:34 - Reading as a child

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Partial Transcript: You talked about, uh, some of the adult writers that you were reading as a child.

Segment Synopsis: As a child, Driskell read the works of Sir Walter Scott. He also read the works of Faulkner, and of Lillian Smith, who was a civil rights activist.

Keywords: Ivanhoe; Lillian Smith; Sir Walter Scott; William Faulkner

Subjects: Faulkner, William, 1897-1962; Ivanhoe (Fictitious character); Scott, Walter, 1771-1832; Smith, Lillian (Lillian Eugenia), 1897-1966

00:27:32 - Yaddo artists colony

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Partial Transcript: Let's, uh, move on a little bit to some of your own literary experiences.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell describes his visit to Yaddo, an artist's colony where artists are able to work in an uninterrupted environment. The work that he produced during that time he put aside and has never published.

Keywords: Writers' retreats; Yaddo

Subjects: Writers' retreats; Yaddo (Artists' colony)

GPS: Yaddo, Saratoga Springs (N.Y.)
Map Coordinates: 43.06848, -73.75813
00:33:23 - Work after Yaddo

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Partial Transcript: You have been talking about Mexico.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell took a sabbatical leave and brought his family to Mexico for a year where he worked on some projects, including a study of Cervantes.

Keywords: Don Quixote; Henry Fielding; Mexico; Miguel de Cervantes; Sabbaticals

Subjects: Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de, 1547-1616; Mexico; Sabbatical leave

00:36:39 - Associates from Yaddo

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Partial Transcript: Let's see, oh, there was something else I wanted to go back to. Uh, you mentioned some of your friends at Yaddo.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell talks about some of his associates from his time at Yaddo. Among these were the artist Maud Morgan and the composer T.J. Anderson.

Keywords: Dennis Cowall; Maud Morgan; T.J. Anderson; Writers' retreats; Yaddo

Subjects: Anderson, T. J. (Thomas Jefferson), 1928-; Morgan, Maud, 1903-1999; Writers' retreats; Yaddo (Artists' colony)

00:44:14 - Adena Journal

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Partial Transcript: Well, let's move on to, um--which would you rather to talk about first...

Segment Synopsis: Driskell discusses his early training in the study of British literature. By the time he came to Louisville, Kentucky he began to consider Southern regional literature. He founded a literary journal named Adena. Driskell discusses some authors whose work he published in Adena, including Harriette Arnow, the author of "The Dollmaker."

Keywords: Adena Journal; British literature; Edd Winfield Parks; Harriette Arnow; Kentucky; Wendell Berry

Subjects: Arnow, Harriette Louisa Simpson, 1908-1986; Berry, Wendell, 1934-; British literature; Kentucky; Parks, Edd Winfield, 1906-1968

00:59:03 - "Passing Through"

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Partial Transcript: I said that Adena and uh, Passing Through were closely enough associated with one another that we could talk about them together.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell and his wife decided to buy a small farm and contribute to the world. They enjoyed living in the community and stayed to put down roots. Driskell describes the stories in "Passing Through," and their characters and themes. Driskell recounts some vignettes from the stories.

Keywords: Adena; Bennington College; Monterey (Ky.); Passing Through

Subjects: Bennington College; Monterey (Ky.)

GPS: Monterey (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.4225, -84.8725
01:25:08 - Families and relationships

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Partial Transcript: One of the things I wanted to ask you about the book, was, uh, the family that's related, but not related, uh, is that based on your own family?

Segment Synopsis: Driskell discusses the nature of relationships in his family, and in the family in "Passing Through." Driskell shares that he is an ordained minister.

Keywords: Extended family; Family; Ordained ministers; Relationships

Subjects: Clergy; Extended families; Families

01:29:53 - The process of writing "Passing Through"

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Partial Transcript: Well, uh, have we finished talking about "Passing Through?"

Segment Synopsis: Driskell's family was involved in the process of him writing the book.

Keywords: Writers' retreats; Yaddo

Subjects: Writers' retreats; Yaddo (Artists' colony)

01:36:25 - The Kentucky literary scene

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Partial Transcript: Another thing I wanted to talk about, and I guess this is a good time to do it is uh, the different writers, and we've talked about them some, in Kentucky that you've had connections with...

Segment Synopsis: Driskell lists many authors whose work he admires who form the Kentucky literary circle.

Keywords: Al Stewart; Billy Clark; Courier-Journal; Ed McClanahan; Elly Welt; Eudora Welty; Gnomon Press; Guy Davenport; James Baker Hall; Jim Wayne Miller; Jonathan Greene; Literary circles; Wendell Berry

Subjects: Berry, Wendell, 1934-; Clark, Billy; Courier-journal (Louisville, Ky.); Davenport, Guy; Gnomon Press; Lyon, George Ella, 1949-; McClanahan, Ed; Miller, Jim Wayne; Stewart, Albert; Welt, Elly, 1932-; Welty, Eudora, 1909-2001

GPS: Lexington (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.029722, -84.494722
Hyperlink: Gnomon Press
01:45:06 - Creative writing at the University of Louisville

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Partial Transcript: I should point out that, um, at the University of Louisville, we have been offering a Masters of Arts in Creative Writing, or with an emphasis in creative writing, for about 40 years.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell describes the Master of Arts with an emphasis in creative writing at the University of Louisville. Driskell is skeptical of the writing workshop process. He feels that writing is a process that is best learned through doing, without meddling by teachers. Driskell's son wants to learn to be a writer. The prospect of father and son collaborating as graduate student and graduate instructor seems like it would be difficult.

Keywords: Creative writing; Master of Arts; Sena Naslund; University of Louisville

Subjects: Creative writing; Master of arts degree; Naslund, Sena Jeter; University of Louisville

01:55:29 - Regionalism in fiction

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Partial Transcript: One of the things I wanted to ask you about and I know your--this is one of your topics of interest, and we've touched on it now and again, but, uh, the idea of regionalism and fiction, and uh, having fiction rooted in a place and a particular atmosphere.

Segment Synopsis: Writing about a region in order to discover what transcends them in order to be deeply loyal to the region is Driskell's aim.

Keywords: Chauvinism; Clock towers; Flannery O'Connor; Provincialism; Regionalism

Subjects: Chauvinism and jingoism; O'Connor, Flannery; Regionalism; Towers

02:02:02 - The aim of the regional writer

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Partial Transcript: Flannery also said in a review of a book by Teilhard de Chardin, that, um, the scientists and theologians would be pondering Teilhard's work for many years, trying to sift out his meaning, but she said the poet would recognize it at once, for Teilhard's is a scientific expression of what the poet attempts to do: penetrate matter until he reaches spirit.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell discusses the purpose of the regional writer's work, through the lens of Flannery O'Connor's views. Driskell and O'Connor are both from Georgia, and have that in common. Finally, the state of the genre of short fiction is discussed. Driskell remarks on his work being something in between short fiction and the novel; he writes stories that are about 85 pages long.

Keywords: Flannery O'Connor; Teilhard de Chardin

Subjects: O'Connor, Flannery; Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre