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00:00:00 - Biographical information / memories of chickens

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Partial Transcript: This is an oral history interview with Leon Driskell being conducted by Linda Beattie for the Kentucky Writers Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell lists biographical information for himself and his parents. He recounts some memories of growing up around a chicken breeding operation.

Keywords: "Wilson's Red Farm"; Hatching eggs; Incubators

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Chickens; Depressions--1929.; Driskell, Leon V.,1932-; Families.; Parents

00:05:50 - Family

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Partial Transcript: Can you tell me what you remember about your grandparents, or aunts and uncles, other relatives?

Segment Synopsis: Driskell describes his maternal grandfather, an uncle, an aunt, paternal grandmother, and his brother.

Keywords: Aunts; Grandfathers; Grandmothers; Siblings; Uncles; Writers

Subjects: Athens (Ga.); Authors, American--Kentucky; Brothers; Childhood; Families.; Family History; Grandparents; Writing

00:12:38 - Childhood / early education

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Partial Transcript: You talk a little bit about your childhood, what it was like, and where it was spent.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell talks about growing up in the country with unfettered access to the outdoors. He recounts his early experiences with literature and his early days of schooling.

Keywords: Animals; Books; Chicken pox; Country; Farms; Fields; Latin; Music; Reading; Schools; Woods

Subjects: 1932-; Athens (Ga.); Authors, American--Kentucky; Childhood; Driskell, Leon V.; Education; Literature; Rural

00:18:58 - University / beginning to write

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Partial Transcript: Um, what about your education beyond eighth grade and, and when did you start writing on your own?

Segment Synopsis: Driskell discusses his experience as a fifteen year old attending the University of Georgia. He talks about working for the newspaper and the social circle he was part of. He discusses his early writing experiences, including his attempts at writing humorous pieces, poetry, and his work on the high school newspaper. He talks about the lack of classes in creative writing during his time at the University of Georgia, and the attitude toward American literature.

Keywords: Colleges; Creative writing; English; French; Friends; High schools; Humor; Journalists; Newspapers; Short stories; Universities

Subjects: American literature; Authors, American--Kentucky; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Education; Education, Higher; Higher education; Journalism.; Literature; University of Georgia; Writing

00:27:22 - Early writing influences

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Partial Transcript: Um, you had once told me about a, a woman in Georgia who was very influential in your literary development.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell talks about several writers who had an influence on him when he first began writing.

Keywords: Book reviews; Books; Influences; Journalists; Mentors; Newspapers; Poets; Role models; Writers

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Frost, Robert, 1874-1963.; Journalism; Mentoring of authors; Parks, Aileen Wells; Sandburg, Carl, 1878-1967.; Writing

00:34:40 - His wife, Sue Driskell

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned that you met her in school, with you in Georgia.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell recounts how he met his wife, Sue Driskell, and briefly describes their lives in terms of where they have lived, employment, and when their children were born.

Keywords: Children; Colleges; Driskell, Sue; Geography; Geology; High schools; Maps; Marriages; Painters; Painting; Visual arts; Wife; Wives

Subjects: American Telephone and Telegraph Company.; Athens (Ga.); Authors, American--Kentucky; Birmingham (Ala.); Birmingham-Southern College; Cartography; Driskell, Leon V.,1932-; University of Georgia

00:39:04 - University / early career path

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Partial Transcript: Um, going back to college, uh, after college what happened? What did you do directly after graduation?

Segment Synopsis: Driskell talks about his work history as a journalist and how a professor convinced him to complete his master's degree simultaneously with his baccalaureate degree. He also talks about tutoring athletes and briefly being an athlete himself.

Keywords: Athens Banner Herald; Athletes; Colleges; Editors; Employment; Jobs; Journalists; Master's degrees; Newspapers; Teaching; Universities

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Bachelor of arts degree.; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Education, Higher; Higher education; Journalism; Tutors and tutoring.; University of Georgia

00:44:21 - Early experiences with social justice and race relations

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Partial Transcript: Before there was a twelve year high school requirement, one could leave high school at fifteen or sixteen and have their first degree at twenty with no problem.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell explains how he was interested in social justice and goes on to recount his experiences growing up in the South with race relations and segregation.

Keywords: Deep South; Elections; Friends; Newspapers; Parents; Politics; Schoolboy patrols; Students

Subjects: African Americans--Civil rights; African Americans--Social conditions; Athens (Ga.); Authors, American--Kentucky; Blacks--United States.; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Progressive Party (U.S. : 1948); Race relations; Racism; School safety patrols.; Segregation in education; Social justice; Wallace, Henry A. (Henry Agard), 1888-1965.; Writing

00:54:18 - Dating / deciding on graduate school

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Partial Transcript: I remember once you, you told me about having dated a, a woman from India, another student.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell talks about dating non-white women in college. He also talks about his path to graduate school in Austin, Texas, interrupted briefly by his time in the military.

Keywords: Austin (Tex.); Colleges; Dating; Driskell, Sue; Graduate schools; Graduate studies; Indian women; Interracial relationships; Jewish women; Marriages; Ph.D.

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Careers; Doctor of philosophy degree.; Draft.; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Military; United States. Army.; Writing

00:59:16 - Health issues

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Partial Transcript: I was also being drawn to remain in Georgia because I had some interest in going to medical school and had discovered that I could indeed get in to medical school.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell talks about having chronic headaches, avoiding brain surgery, unsatisfactory diagnoses, and getting out of the Army Reserves.

Keywords: Augusta (Ga.); Brain tumors; Chronic headaches; Diagnoses; Diagnosis; Exploratory neurosurgery; Medical schools; Military; Seizures

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Epilepsy; Health; United States. Army--Reserves.

01:01:33 - Graduate school at the University of Texas, Austin (Tex.)

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Partial Transcript: What was your time like in Austin?

Segment Synopsis: Driskell recounts his extremely enjoyable time in Austin, Texas during graduate school.

Keywords: Academics; Austin (Tex.); Cuban revolution; Dissertations; Fellowships; Friends; Graduate schools; Graduate students; Protesting; Protests; Studying; Teaching; Universities

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Education, Higher; Higher education; Literature; University of Texas.; Writing

01:12:58 - Dissertation

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Partial Transcript: My Ph.D. dissertation, at which I occasionally look, was much much better than I thought it was at the time.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell explains his dissertation thesis topic.

Keywords: Graduate schools; Graduate studies; Neoclassical; Ph.D.; Prose style

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Intellectual life; Seventeenth century; Thesis and dissertation

01:16:02 - Living for two years in Alabama

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Partial Transcript: Um, when you left Austin did you go directly to Cincinnati?

Segment Synopsis: Driskell recounts the two years he spent teaching in Alabama, focusing on race relations and how he was persecuted for being a desegregationist.

Keywords: Babysitters; Colleges; Deep South; Friends; Houses; Neighborhood protective associations; Police; Segregationists; Teaching

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation--Alabama; Authors, American--Kentucky; Birmingham (Ala.); Blacks--United States.; Civil rights--Alabama; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.; National Science Foundation (U.S.); Nineteen sixties.; Race relations; Racism

01:27:05 - Living in Cincinnati, Ohio

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Partial Transcript: So from there we went to Cincinnati and there too I can tell you the racial climate was not much better.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell briefly talks about moving to Cincinnati and how the race relations were not much better than in Alabama.

Keywords: "Blackballed"; "Negro nursery"; Children; Houses; Moving; Racial climates

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Cincinnati (Ohio); Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Race relations; Racism

01:29:10 - "Passing Through" (novel)

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Partial Transcript: We may be getting out of chronological order here in terms of when you wrote various work but your book "Passing Through," that was published in the early '80s, wasn't it?

Segment Synopsis: Driskell talks about the meaning of his book, "Passing Through," and also about the influences for writing the book, which include encouragement from friends and inspiration from his community surrounding his farm in Owen County (Ky.).

Keywords: "Passing Through"; Agents; Belonging; Best American Short Stories list; Buddhism; Carolina Quarterly Fiction Award; Characters; Communities; Creative writing; Discovering self; Farms; Influences; Manuscripts; Messages; Neighbors; Plots; Reviews; Rootedness; Writers; Writing workshops

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Books.; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Humor; Novelists; Novels; Owen County (Ky.); Short stories; Writing

01:42:11 - Women who have influenced him / concerns for human civilization

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Partial Transcript: I wanted to also talk to you about your story, "The Blue You Thought in Kentucky," um, featuring a character from "Passing Through." Um, when was that written?

Segment Synopsis: Driskell talks briefly about his story, "The Blue You Thought in Kentucky." There is a break in the recording and then Driskell discusses the influence of several women writers and how he shares their visions of concern for the failure of civilization.

Keywords: "Passing Through"; "The Blue You Thought in Kentucky"; Art; Characters; Creativity; Dedications; Feminine; Gender; Humans; Love; Patriarchy; Sequels; Vision; Women; Writers

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Books; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; O'Connor, Flannery.; Porter, Katherine Anne, 1890-1980.; Sarton, May, 1912-1995; Short stories; Writing

01:49:10 - The nature of creativity, filling voids, and being an artist

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Partial Transcript: Right, I was also wondering about, um, these women, uh--well also, how you believe that their, their quest, their vision--well you've, you talked about Katherine Anne Porter's how it, uh, is like yours.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell discusses the nature of creativity and his work as a writer to fill the gap, void, or lack that he believes exists in humanity, as well as the notion of the suffering artist.

Keywords: "The Tattooed Artist"; Creativity; Fulfillment; Gaps; Japanese Maples; Life; Losses; Meanings; Metaphors; Nature of creativity; Photographs; Poems; Self discovery; Shadows; Suffering; Tattoos; Understanding; Visions; Voids; Women; Writers

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Creative writing; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Hall, James Baker, 1935-2009; O'Connor, Flannery.; Poetry; Porter, Katherine Anne, 1890-1980.; Suffering in literature.; Writing

01:55:55 - Being understood by others

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Partial Transcript: Um, your poem entitled "To Sue, Whose a Real Love Poem," in which you refer to her sustaining you in the season, quote, "despite of my sudden winter of thought," unquote. Would you discuss that winter of thought and how you have indeed transcended it with her help?

Segment Synopsis: Driskell reflects on his wife Sue Driskell's impact on helping him to navigate the creative drive to seek understanding, and how being understood by others through writing is the strongest desire. He explains the meaning behind the "winter of thought."

Keywords: "Winter of thought"; Analytical processes; Being understood; Communication; Creative drive; Driskell, Sue; Mama Pearl; Meanings; Poems; Reading; Understanding; Wife; Wives

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Intellectual life; Poetry; Writing

02:00:35 - Earning / Flannery O'Connor / comedic literature

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Partial Transcript: I'm kind of interested in the notion of earning.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell comments on the notion of earning something through literary work. He also talks about Flannery O'Connor's influence on his writing and, in particular, the strength of the comedic theme.

Keywords: Absurdity; Acceptances; Comedic; Comedy; Comic; Earnings; Existences; Funny; Humor; Influences; Matters of life and death; Mothers; Philosophy; Poems; Readers; Stories; Story

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Literature; O'Connor, Flannery.; Poetry

02:06:16 - "Signing Across the Dark" (poem) / reaching out and outreach

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Partial Transcript: Uh, in the poem you referred to a minute ago, "Signing Across the Dark," a poem dedicated to May Sarton and to your mother, you write addressing May Sarton, quote, "You are assigned to me, you say there is a way out of the cave, you tell me words need more than meaning, they need fingers in the dark, or the half dark." Will you comment on that?

Segment Synopsis: Driskell comments on his poem, "Signing Across the Dark," and his thoughts regarding reaching other artists through his work and teaching.

Keywords: "Signing Across the Dark"; Arts; Classes; Communication; Connections; Language; Objectification; Outreach; Producing; Reaching out; Sharing; Teaching

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Poetry; Sarton, May, 1912-1995

02:08:16 - "Nunc dimittis" (poem)

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Partial Transcript: Um, will you discuss your poem, "Nunc dimittis," with its biblical references, its references to Don Quixote, and its fatherly advice. Who and what was its inspiration?

Segment Synopsis: Driskell discusses his poem, "Nunc dimittis," and the inspiration for writing it.

Keywords: Biblical references; Book of Job; Challenges; Enemies; Fatherly advice; Inspirations; Poems; Spiritual sons; The Gospel

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Intellectual life; Poetry; Quixote, Don (Fictitious character)

02:10:14 - "Reading Names at the Museum" (poem)

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Partial Transcript: Your poem, "Reading Names at the Museum," is incredibly moving and obviously the experience about which you wrote moved you.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell comments on his poem, "Reading Names at the Museum."

Keywords: "Reading Names at the Museum"; AIDS epidemic; AIDS quilt; Family values; Gay community; Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS); Poems; Same-sex unions; Straight allies

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; J.B. Speed Art Museum; Louisville (Ky.); Poetry

02:11:44 - "A Minor Treasure," "Martha Jean," and "No Time Like Now" (short stories) / spirituality and spirits

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Partial Transcript: Um, the themes in much of your recent work include death, spirituality, and religion in a more somber sense than they did before.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell discusses his short stories, "A Minor Treasure," "Martha Jean," and "No Time Like Now." He talks about his more current writing focus on themes including death and spirituality.

Keywords: Characters; Death; Heroines; Hope; Narrators; Recent works; Somber; Spirits; Themes

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; O'Connor, Flannery; Religion; Short stories; Spirituality

02:19:46 - Influence of Henry James

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Partial Transcript: In a few of your earlier stories, such as "The Note," "The Gift of Time," and "Hester's Keep," I sense a strong Jamesian influence.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell talks about how Henry James has influenced his work.

Keywords: Annual Best American Short Stories; Art of fiction; Influences; Poems; Writers

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; James, Henry, 1843-1916. Art of fiction; Poetry; Short stories; Writing

02:22:37 - Writing plays

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Partial Transcript: I understand that your poem "Letter from Cape Town" has been placed in dramatic form in Actors Theatre of Louisville short play collection.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell talks about writing short plays.

Keywords: "Letter from Cape Town"; "Passing Through"; Dramas; Dramatic forms; Mama Pearl; Poems; Short plays; Students

Subjects: Actors Theatre of Louisville; Authors, American--Kentucky; Dramatists; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Plays; Poetry; Theater.; University of Louisville; Writers on writing. Playwrights

02:27:03 - Current and future work

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Partial Transcript: Uh, what work are you--what are you working on now and do you have things planned for the future?

Segment Synopsis: Driskell speaks about currently working on a sequel to "Passing Through" and a collection of his short stories. He talks about feeling it is more important to do the work than to actually publish, and not feeling rushed. He also talks about currently being tasked with writing the introduction to a collection of stories put out by the Lexington Press.

Keywords: "A Gift of Time"; "Passing Through"; AIDS; Best American Short Stories; Colleagues; Collection; Comedy; Death; Future; Inspirations; Kentucky poets; Lexington Press; Mama Pearl; Matters of life and death; Mortality; Novels; Publishing; Sequels; Students; Teaching; Tobacco farming; Working; Writers

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Books; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Families; Fiction.; Short stories; Writing

02:38:01 - Work habits

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Partial Transcript: That brings up your work habits. When do you write, on what do you write, with what do you write?

Segment Synopsis: Driskell explains his process of writing and talks about using a typewriter.

Keywords: Brother 411; Drafts; Electronic typewriters; Nights; Paragraphs; Revisions; Structures; Triple spaced; Work habits; Working

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Typewriters; Typewriting

02:44:40 - Preference for poetry

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Partial Transcript: Do you have a preference for a particular genre?

Segment Synopsis: Driskell talks about wanting most of all to be a poet, but recognizes that his poetry likely will never be regarded as important. He talks about finding poetry within works of prose writing.

Keywords: Poems; Preferences; Prose

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Poetry; Poets.; Wordsworth, William

02:53:06 - Being an ordained minister / pre-marriage counseling / spirituality

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Partial Transcript: I also wanted to ask you--we've talked about spirituality in your writing and your, your own views--um, about your ordination as a minister.

Segment Synopsis: Driskell explains how he became an ordained minister, how he does pre-marriage counseling with couples before he will officiate their wedding, and talks about his religious and spiritual views.

Keywords: Churches; Confessions; Counseling; Driskell, Sue; Families; Marriages; Mass; Ordained ministers; Ordination; Sacrament; Service organizations

Subjects: Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Episcopal Church.; Ministers; Religions; Spirituality

03:00:53 - His children

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Partial Transcript: Uh, is there anything that we haven't discussed that you think is important?

Segment Synopsis: Driskell talks about how his children helped him to be a better writer.

Keywords: Driskell, Sue; Writers

Subjects: Authors, American--Kentucky; Children; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Families; Fathers; Intellectual life; Parenthood; Parenting; Writing