Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Ed McClanahan, May 29, 1992

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:12 - The novella he wrote during his time as a Stegner Fellow / The Free You magazine

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Partial Transcript: --business again?

Segment Synopsis: McClanahan discusses his early attempts at writing novellas, as well as working on a hippie-oriented literary newsletter-turned-magazine out of the University of Palo Alto.

Keywords: Kentucky writers; Literature; Palo Alto (Calif.); Stanford University; Stegner Fellowship; The Free You; The Free You Magazine

Subjects: Authors; Hippies.; Literature.; McClanahan, Ed.; Publishers and publishing.; Stanford University

00:05:43 - Beginning writing "The Natural Man" / issues with publishing companies

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Partial Transcript: Well, let's see, I wrote a, um...

Segment Synopsis: McClanahan discusses the beginning of writing "The Natural Man", and how part was initially published. He then tells of stories that would initially create his book "Famous People I Have Known," and returns to talking about The Free You magazine.

Keywords: Esquire; Esquire Magazine; Kentucky writers; Literature; The Free You; The Free You magazine

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Kentucky--In literature.; Kesey, Ken.; Literature.; McClanahan, Ed.; Norman, Gurney, 1937-; Publishers and publishing.

00:09:54 - Employment issues / publishing issues at Delacourt and switch to Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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Partial Transcript: In s--uh, let's see, how was that? Uh, in school year '79 to '80, I guess...

Segment Synopsis: McClanahan tells a story of how he was "affirmative action-ed" out of a job teaching at NKU, but how he's fine with it. He then goes on to explain further the publishing debacle regarding his contract being shuffled around between publishing companies.

Keywords: E. L. Doctorow; Kentucky writers; Literature; Northern Kentucky University; Publishing

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Doctorow, E. L., 1931-2015.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; McClanahan, Ed.; Publishers and publishing.

00:15:11 - Finishing "The Natural Man" / other struggles

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Partial Transcript: I got a letter from, uh, an editor named Pat Strong at, uh, Farrar-Straus, telling me that if I didn't write this book within a year, that they were gonna, they were gonna cut my contract loose.

Segment Synopsis: McClanahan tells the story of how he finished "The Natural Man" after troubles in his personal family life and encouragement from Gurney Norman, upon figuring out that it was supposed to be in third- rather than first-person.

Keywords: Gurney Norman; Kentucky writers; Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; McClanahan, Ed.; Norman, Gurney, 1937-; Publishers and publishing.

00:20:24 - Writing about knowing the Grateful Dead / "the Lexington Rock'n'Roller," teaching at UK, and folklore theses

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Partial Transcript: Oh, and I also--I forgot to mention that, um, the other two major things that happened to me, um, both had to do with Playboy Magazine in the, um, early seventies.

Segment Synopsis: McClanahan tells a story of a piece he wrote for Esquire about hanging out with the Grateful Dead, as well as the resulting publishing debacle. He also knew a Lexington "Rock'n'Roller" (with an indecipherable name), whom he nearly wrote a folklore thesis on at UK. He eventually wrote a piece on the year he spent teaching for Wendell Berry at UK. These two stories eventually contributed to the idea for his "Famous People I Have Known" book.

Keywords: Esquire; Esquire Magazine; Grateful Dead; Kentucky writers; Literature; Playboy; Playboy Magazine; The Grateful Dead

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Grateful Dead (Musical group); Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; McClanahan, Ed.; Publishers and publishing.

00:25:20 - His style of prose-writing

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Partial Transcript: In a recent review of a Kentucky classic, in, in this case, "The Natural Man," a critic, Robert Kaiser, wrote in the Lexington Herald Leader...

Segment Synopsis: Beatty (the interviewer) and McClanahan talk about critics' opinions on his prose style and his own opinion on the style and how he achieves that through constant reworking of sentences. Critics' comparisons of "The Natural Man" to "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "The Catcher in the Rye" are also mentioned, which McClanahan states to have been intentional when writing.

Keywords: Criticism; J. D. Salinger; J.D. Salinger; Kentucky writers; Lexington (Ky.); Literary criticism; Literature; Mark Twain

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Criticism.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literary criticism and cultural theory.; Literature.; McClanahan, Ed.

00:32:59 - Work since "Famous People I Have Known"

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Partial Transcript: Have you ever thought about writing a sequel to it?

Segment Synopsis: McClanahan talks about the potential of a sequel to "The Natural Man," what it would entail, and how he would go about it. He also discusses the general feature work he's written since "Famous People I Have Known" and where he plans to go with those writings, including screenplays and short stories.

Keywords: Film-making; Filmmaking; Kentucky writers; Literature; Movie-making; Moviemaking; Screenplays; Screenwriting; Short films

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; McClanahan, Ed.; Publishers and publishing.; Screenplays.; Short films.

00:41:00 - Thoughts on the success of "The Natural Man"

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Partial Transcript: Going back to "The Natural Man" for a minute. Uh, it was such a success when it was published and it has continued to be.

Segment Synopsis: When asked, McClanahan gives his thoughts on why "The Natural Man" was successful--that it was amusing but touching, and dense but short. From here, he tells what other people have said about what it is to be a writer, particularly a mature writer.

Keywords: Kentucky writers; Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; McClanahan, Ed.

00:44:07 - More on future publication plans / more on the "The Natural Man" publishing debacle

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Partial Transcript: The--(coughs)--the three stories that you're working on now that you're hoping to have published as a book, do you have, uh, a publisher waiting for this, or--?

Segment Synopsis: After talking a bit more about future publication plans, McClanahan resumes and concludes the several segment-long discussion of the publishing debacle regarding "The Natural Man." From here he discusses a potential re-release of that book and "Famous People I Have Known."

Keywords: Kentucky writers; Literature; Publishing

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; McClanahan, Ed.; Publishers and publishing.

00:47:47 - Method of writing

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Partial Transcript: You've talked a little bit about this in conjunction with your books, but I was wondering about your, your method of composition.

Segment Synopsis: McClanahan says that he considers himself a slow writer, persistent but not diligent. He is constantly tinkering with his prose, an aspect of his writing that was greatly enabled by his delayed acceptance of the advent of the word processor. He does tell the story of how he wound up writing the first draft of "The Natural Man"--his one time writing diligently, in a "white heat" of productivity.

Keywords: Kentucky writers; Literature; Writing

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; McClanahan, Ed.

00:52:25 - On creativity

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Partial Transcript: Um, could you comment on what you think the nature of creativity itself is?

Segment Synopsis: When asked, McClanahan gives his thoughts on the balance required for creativity--nature vs. nurture, history vs. imagination, as well as the particular balance he tries to strike himself for his own writing. He writes, he says, "to examine his own experience so he might learn from it." He gives an example of how his "fantastical" writing might come from childhood experiences, such as with a Ouija board.

Keywords: Creativity; Kentucky writers; Literature; World War II

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; McClanahan, Ed.; World War, 1939-1945

00:59:06 - Kentucky oral storytelling / other literary influences

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Partial Transcript: How do you think being a Kentuckian has influenced your work?

Segment Synopsis: McClanahan discusses the impact of being a Kentuckian on his writing, by way of the strong oral storytelling tradition. This leads into him speaking on the various writers - past, contemporary, Kentuckian, not Kentuckian - who have influenced him or whom he admires.

Keywords: Gurney Norman; James Baker Hall; James Still; Jim Miller; Karen Osborn; Kentucky writers; Wendell Berry

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Berry, Wendell, 1934-; Faulkner, William, 1897-1962; Hall, James Baker, 1935-2009; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; McClanahan, Ed.; Miller, Jim Wayne; Norman, Gurney, 1937-; O'Connor, Flannery.; Osborn, Karen; Still, James, 1906-2001

01:05:25 - Augusta, Kentucky writers conference

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Partial Transcript: Um, you had mentioned your, um, writers conference you do annually in Augusta. Could you talk a little bit more about that?

Segment Synopsis: McClanahan discusses the writers conference he helps run in Augusta, Kentucky, and lists some of the numerous people who have given the keynote speech and the various workshops.

Keywords: Augusta (Ky.); Drama; Fiction; George Ella Lyon; Gurney Norman; Kentucky writers; Literature; Nikki Finney; Noah Adams; Poetry; Sallie Bingham

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Kentucky--In literature.; McClanahan, Ed.

01:19:07 - Teaching writing

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Partial Transcript: You said you enjoyed readings. What about, um, teaching, y'know, by the semester?

Segment Synopsis: McClanahan talks about teaching college creative writing, and all the varying struggles that come with teaching different levels, but concludes that beginners are more fun to teach. The Hindman Settlement School's Writer's Conference associated with James Still is mentioned.

Keywords: Education; Gurney Norman; Hindman (Ky.); Hindman Settlement School; James Still; Kentucky writers; Literature; Miami University

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Education.; Hindman Settlement School; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; McClanahan, Ed.; Miami University; Norman, Gurney, 1937-; Still, James, 1906-2001

01:23:21 - Concluding remarks

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Partial Transcript: Um, what is the most important thing for people to know about you, do you think?

Segment Synopsis: When asked the most important thing for people to know about him, McClanahan says, "that I'm a good guy," and elaborates on that.

Keywords: Kentucky writers; Lexington (Ky.); Literature

Subjects: American literature--Kentucky.; Kentucky--In literature.; Literature.; McClanahan, Ed.