Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Raymond H. Abbott, November 8, 1992

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:04 - Early life

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

Segment Synopsis: Abbott recalls his early life, including the occupations and lives of his parents and grandparents. The circumstances of his siblings currently are also briefly mentioned.

Keywords: Aunts; Catholic; Cemeteries; Cousins; Fathers; Funerals; Grandfathers; Grandmothers; Graves; Groveland (Mass.); Indiana; Ireland; Irish; Kentucky; Life; Marriage; Massachusetts; Mothers; Newburyport (Mass.); Obituaries; Prejudice; Protestant; Relatives; Robert Burns; Rough River; Siblings; Steamfitters; Stories; Superintendents; Uncles; Western Electric; Work; Yankee

Subjects: Childhood; Families.

00:07:30 - Childhood and early adulthood

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Partial Transcript: Um, what was your childhood like?

Segment Synopsis: Abbott discusses his childhood, including his education in public schools, what became of his classmates, and his time spent in a community college. Abbott's reading habits as a child are then considered.

Keywords: Adventure stories; Books; Careers; Catholic schools; Classmates; Colleges; Community colleges; Construction; Courses; Daughters; Disadvantages; Elementary schools; English; Friends; Journalism; Landmark stories; Manufacturing; Massachusetts; New England; Newspapers; Occupations; One-room schools; Poverty; Public schools; Reading; Real estate; Sales; Students; Subjects; War stories; Working class

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Education, Higher; Employment; Higher education

00:13:02 - Working at a newspaper / possible careers

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Partial Transcript: Well, you said you worked for a newspaper right after college. How did, how did that occur?

Segment Synopsis: Abbott recalls his experience of working for a local newspaper whilst attending community college. Abbott also describes possible career paths he thought of following the completion of his undergraduate degree at UMass Amherst.

Keywords: Co-workers; Colleges; Cook County (Ill.); Fascinating; Guilds; Haverhill Journal; Ideas; New Hampshire Union Leader; Offices; Politics; Right-wing; Union newspapers; University of Massachusetts Amherst; Widows; William Loeb

Subjects: Advertising; AmeriCorps*VISTA; Careers; Choices; County government; Death; Employment; Indian reservations; Newspapers.; Periodicals.; Profit-sharing

00:18:22 - Community college

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Partial Transcript: Which--what was that college?

Segment Synopsis: Abbott talks of his time spent at a community college in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Keywords: Boston (Mass.); Community colleges; Haverhill (Mass.); Northern Essex Community College; Open admissions; Presidents; Programs; Quality

Subjects: Courses and lectures; Education; Education, Higher; High school; Higher education; Students; Teachers

00:20:48 - College / life after college

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Partial Transcript: And then you went directly from there to the University of Massachusetts?

Segment Synopsis: Abbott briefly recalls his time at UMass Amherst. The difficulties of avoiding service in the Vietnam War are also described. Additionally, Abbott discusses his enrollment and subsequent training for the AmeriCorps VISTA program.

Keywords: "Indian country"; Affluent; Appalachia; Assignments; Colleges; Commitment; Deferment; Dormitories; Lyndon Johnson; Massachusetts; Paid; Political science; Presidents; Salt Lake City (Utah); University of Massachusetts Amherst; Useful

Subjects: AmeriCorps*VISTA; Draft; Education; Education, Higher; Higher education; Leaders; Money; Native Americans; Poverty; Relevance; Speeches; Students; Training; Travel; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

00:28:33 - AmeriCorps VISTA

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Partial Transcript: Where was your first experience? VISTA experience.

Segment Synopsis: Abbott reflects upon his first time working on a Native American reservation in rural South Dakota. The environment of the reservation as well as the improvement projects that Abbott was assigned are discussed. Next, a friend of Abbott's on the reservation, who worked as an artist, is described.

Keywords: Alcoholic; Canvases; Cars; County Extension Agents; Drunk; Escape; Jail; Library; Missions; Parmelee (S.D.); Recreation halls; Rosebud (S.D.); Salt Lake City (Utah); Talking; Tribal presidents; Tribes

Subjects: Adult education; AmeriCorps*VISTA; Artist; Behavior; Catholic Church; Electricity; Friend; Heat; Indian reservations; Lighting; Money; Native Americans; Painting; People; Poverty; Rent; Selling; Villages

00:34:31 - Alcoholism and Native Americans / race and writing

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Partial Transcript: The, the problem of--with alcohol on the reservation, is, uh, so severe, that it, that it, it puts everything else in its shadow.

Segment Synopsis: Abbott explains the difficulties of alcoholism within Native American populations. The death of the adopted Native American son of a writer (Michael Dorris) due to complications with fetal alcohol syndrome is also recalled. Subsequently, the relationship between the identity or race that a writer possesses and the subject he or she is expected to concentrate on in writing is deliberated.

Keywords: Admirable; Articles; Emily Dickinson; Michael Dorris; North American Review; Writers

Subjects: Alcoholism; Culture; Death; Experience; Fetal alcohol syndrome; Identity; Indian reservations; Native Americans; New England; Poetry; Race; Son; Stereotypes; Writing

00:37:49 - Similarities between a friend and a character in his book / competition

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Partial Transcript: How closely drawn is your character in "That Day in Gordon" to him?

Segment Synopsis: Abbott explains the similarities between his real life Native American artist friend from the reservation and a character in the interviewee's book called "That Day in Gordon." The publication process of that novel is remembered. Competition that Abbott experiences with other authors in order to become published is then considered.

Keywords: "That Day in Gordon"; "Tie-in"; Books; Car accidents; Drinking; Grim; Highway; John Updike; Manuscripts; Nebraska; Published; Publishers; Styles; Subjects; Writing programs

Subjects: Alcoholism; Artist; Authors.; Character; Competition; Coyote; Death; Editors; First person; Friend; Indian reservations; Native Americans; Novels; People; Present tense; Reviews; Selling; Stories; Themes; Writing; Youth

00:41:54 - Favorite writers / political correctness

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Partial Transcript: What kind of writing do you admire?

Segment Synopsis: Abbott lists some favorite writers that he likes to read. Following this, a discussion of the level of political correctness different types of writing are expected to uphold, from historical fiction to journalism, is provided.

Keywords: Daniel Corkery; Irish writers; Judgement; Louisville Courier-Journal; Material; Newspapers; Powerful; Reviewers; Subcultures; Time periods; W.P. Kinsella

Subjects: Authors; Baseball stories; Books; Competition; Criticism; Editors; Errors; Historians; Historical fiction; Short stories; Stories; Taste; Writing

00:47:42 - Reservation and writing

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Partial Transcript: Okay, um, back to your experience on the reservation, and the name of the reservation, again?

Segment Synopsis: Abbott talks of the influence of living and later visiting Native American reservations upon his writing. The changes that Abbott has witnessed to the reservations throughout the years are also considered.

Keywords: Articles; Changes; Contact; Deceit; Farms; Friends; Government programs; Ideas; Material; North American Review; Novels; Projects; Published; Rosebud (S.D.); South Dakota; Visiting

Subjects: Alcohol; Character; Comparisons; Daughter; Death; Dependency; Dynamics; Essays; Indian reservations; Life; Native Americans; Novels; Sioux; Situation; Violence; Writing

00:51:18 - Problems on reservations

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Partial Transcript: The, the theme, that--or one theme that runs fairly strongly through your novels and your articles, um, is certainly disillusionment.

Segment Synopsis: Abbott outlines some of the main problems that contemporary reservations face, such as poverty and loss of culture.

Keywords: "Americanization"; "White world"; Bureau of Indian Affairs; Community; Disillusionment; Expenses; Exposure; Lakota; Land; Land protection; Needs; Politics; Problems; Projects; Solutions; Termination

Subjects: Children; Culture; Electricity; Federal government; Housing; Indian reservations; Language; Money; Native Americans; Novels; Poverty; Public television; Rural; Television; Themes; Unemployment

00:55:55 - Solutions to Native American problems / culture

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Partial Transcript: Do you see anything that either or both cultures can do, that they could do that they aren't doing, in any of those areas?

Segment Synopsis: Abbott shares his own personal solutions, and the solutions of other people, to the problems that Native Americans currently living on reservations encounter. Additionally, the culture of Native Americans today is considered.

Keywords: Art Show; Customs; Different; Disillusionment; Feelings; Judgement; Land; Perspectives; Problems; Reasonable; Solutions; Thought process; Wade Hall

Subjects: Behavior; Books; Character; Cities; Communities; Culture; Distances; Ethnic groups; Frustration; Identity; Indian reservations; Life; Native Americans; Reading; Situation; Values

01:03:02 - Writing from different perspectives

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Partial Transcript: Well, except there are all the time, um, male writers, uh, choose female protagonists for their stories, or vice versa.

Segment Synopsis: Abbott considers the benefits, drawbacks, and challenges of writing from a different perspective (such as an author who is a woman, who chooses to write from the perspective of a teenage boy). Authors who portray a different perspective realistically are then listed and complimented. An example of this in Abbot's own work is also mentioned.

Keywords: Book; Characters; Difficult; Donna Tartt; Dublin (Ireland); Irish writers; Jim Harrison; Mormon; Novels; Point of view; Salt Lake City (Utah); Suggestion; Willa Cather

Subjects: Adolescence; Authors; Boys; Character; Gender; Men; Mormonism; Native Americans; New York Times; Perspective; Race; Reputation; Teacher; Vices; Women; Writing

01:10:30 - Life after the reservation

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Partial Transcript: What else did you do, during your time on the reservation?

Segment Synopsis: Abbot summarizes his life following his departure from a Native American reservation in South Dakota. During this time period, Abbott began to write novels about Native Americans based upon his experience of living on the reservation.

Keywords: Abandonment; Adjustment; Black Hills; Books; Contracts; Dangerous; Different; Feelings; Housing projects; Indian Press; Journals; Letters; Massachusetts; Novels; Print shops; Reordering; Roles; Salt Lake City (Utah); Social work; South Dakota; Styles; The Denver Post; Unsatisfied; Upstate New York; Visits

Subjects: AmeriCorps*VISTA; Correspondence; Draft; Income; Indian reservations; Life; Mail; Modesty; Native Americans; People; Reviews; Self-publishing; Selling; Short story; Success; Time; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Writing

01:17:36 - Social work

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Partial Transcript: So, you said you were working as a social worker while you were doing this. How--what was your actual job, in that area?

Segment Synopsis: Abbott recalls his social work career, which began when he left AmeriCorps in Appalachia.

Keywords: Appalachia; Boston (Mass.); Breathitt County (Ky.); Case work; County Agency; Department of Public Welfare; Home visits; Massachusetts; Mt. Holyoke; Program; San Francisco (Calif.); Social work; Welfare office; Wife

Subjects: AmeriCorps (U.S.); Draft; Money; Puerto Ricans; Spanish; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Work

01:21:09 - Marriage / work in Louisville, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: When did you marry?

Segment Synopsis: Abbott briefly talks of his marriage. Then, Abbott details his writing career since moving to Louisville, Kentucky.

Keywords: "Death Dances: Two Novellas on Native American Indians"; "In Search of Crazy Horse"; "That Day in Gordon"; Agent; Articles; Berea (Ky.); Books; Changes; Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency; Collections; Department of Veteran's Affairs; Grants; Inexperience; Louisville (Ky.); Massachusetts; Mistakes; Momentum; Move; New York (N.Y.); Nurses; Publishers; Publishing; Rights; University of Idaho Press; Whiting Award; Wife

Subjects: Awards; Books; Collection; Daughter; Literary agents; Marriage; Native Americans; Publicity; Short stories; Success; Transfer

01:28:49 - Published work / becoming published again

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Partial Transcript: Um, everything you have written, published or unpublished, um is, is related to Indian or Native American--

Segment Synopsis: Abbott talks of his successes in getting his work published, as well as the difficulties inherent in becoming published again.

Keywords: "That Day in Gordon"; Agents; Barriers; Beloit Poetry Journal; Boston (Mass.); Collections; Difficult; Genres; Ireland; Literary magazines; Material; Novella; Novels; Obstacles; Politics; Progression; Published; Stories; Submissions; The Denver Post; The Los Angeles Times; Visual

Subjects: Authors and publishers.; Competition; Editors; Essays; Frustration; Letters; Life; Money; Native Americans; New York times; Non-fiction; Plays; Publishers and publishing.; Reputation; Reviews; Self-publishing; Short stories; Themes; Work; Writing

01:37:31 - Writing routine

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Partial Transcript: What is your routine when you write?

Segment Synopsis: Abbott reveals what his writing routine usually is. For instance, when he writes, and if he reads the work of other writers while working on a piece.

Keywords: Cabins; Careers; Colleges; Expensive; Habits; Jewish Hospital; Kentucky; Lawsuits; Longhand; Louisville (Ky.); Magazines; Mail; Production; Proofs; Rough River; Schedules; Schools; Social work; Southern Methodist University Press; Thinking; Typing; Useful; Wife

Subjects: Books; Coffee shops; Computer; Daughter; English literature; Friend; Frustration; Money; Planning; Reading; Time; Work; Writing

01:43:26 - Writers' colonies

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Partial Transcript: You referred earlier to having been to a couple of writers colonies.

Segment Synopsis: Abbott shares his experiences with the various writers colonies that he has attended across the United States.

Keywords: "That Day in Gordon"; East Village; Efforts; Georgia; Islands; Isolated; Letters; Manuscripts; Material; Networking; New York (N.Y.); Nominations; Novellas; Projects; Savannah (Ga.); Seymour Krim; The MacDowell Colony; Virginia Center for the Creative Arts; Whiting Award; Writers colonies

Subjects: Awards; Correspondence; Death; Drafts; Essays; Friendship; Woman; Writing

01:47:24 - Feedback and criticism

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Partial Transcript: Um, what about locally? Do you have friends or family members who are--whose criticism you rely on, or?

Segment Synopsis: Abbott explains why he does not like to receive feedback on his work from people whom he is acquainted with. Abbott then shares what some critics view his literary style to be.

Keywords: Competitive; Editing; Frederick Smock; Friends; Isolated; Leon Driskell; Literary community; Magazines; Muckraking; Politics; Sallie Bingham; Socializing; Stories; Styles; The American Voice; The Thinker (Magazine); Theodore Dreiser

Subjects: Anonymous; Criticism; Embarrassment; Experience; Interest; Journalists; People; Perspective; Writing

01:52:25 - Training writers / new manuscript

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Partial Transcript: You haven't had any kind of formal training as a writer?

Segment Synopsis: Abbott talks of both his own training as a writer and the credentials of other writers. Additionally, Abbott discusses his upcoming manuscript and the attempt to get it published in a university press.

Keywords: "That Day in Gordon"; Copy; Editors; Form; John Updike; Living; Manuscripts; Material; Published; Satisfied; Study; Talking; University of Idaho Press

Subjects: Authors and publishers.; Criticism; Experience; Good; Marketing; Money; Native Americans; People; Publishers and publishing.; Summer; Training; Unique; Vision; Work; Writing

01:56:41 - Nature of creativity and writing / struggles with publishing

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Partial Transcript: Um, I wanted to ask you too, I've been asking everybody I've interviewed this question. And that is: What do you believe the nature of creativity is?

Segment Synopsis: Abbott makes a connection between creativity and the success of a writer. A certain amount of determination is also found to be needed in order to become a successful writer. Lastly, Abbott discusses the difficulties he has encountered publishing his work recently.

Keywords: Anthology; Business Press; Capacity; Development; Difficult; Editors; Immature; Letters; Magazines; Massachusetts; Perseverance; Practice; Published; Rejections; Reservation; Review; Revision; Rewrite; South Dakota Review; Stories; Style; Talent; Tenacity; Typing; Undisciplined

Subjects: Authors and publishers.; Criticism; Dialogue; Discipline; Friend; Money; Native Americans; New York times; Newspapers; Novels; People; Plots (Drama, novel, etc.); Publishers and publishing.; Reader; Story; Students; Success; Work; Writing

02:05:21 - Drive to write / lawsuit

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Partial Transcript: Um, also--(coughs)--I was thinking about, uh, the, the origin of, not necessarily success in terms of publication...

Segment Synopsis: Abbott considers what exactly motivates him to write. Subsequently, Abbott discusses his pending lawsuit against Jewish Hospital in Louisville.

Keywords: Advisers; Appearance; Attractiveness; Books; Complaints; Confidential; Courts; Credibility; Doctors; Ego; Emergency rooms; Injury; Issues; Jewish Hospital; Judges; Lawsuits; Length; Louisville (Ky.); Motivation; Poems; Presidents; Regrets; Settlement; Signs; Social workers; Wife

Subjects: Creation; Daughter; Legacy; Meeting; Opportunity; Prestige; Security guards; Story; Time; Writing

02:13:09 - Writers groups / other writers on the urge to write / writing about self

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Partial Transcript: I've never liked getting into swapping manuscripts or any of that sort of thing...

Segment Synopsis: Abbott briefly reiterates why he does not enjoy collaborating and sharing his work with other writers before a piece of writing is complete. Answers to the question of a writer's motivation to write are shared by authors from past interviews. Next, Abbott explains why he does not write autobiographical or semi-autobiographical work about his early life. Authors who are successful at this are also mentioned.

Keywords: Answers; Autobiographical; Black Hills; Conditions; Dramatic; Gurney Norman; Jim Baker Hall; Leo Tolstoy; Leon Driskell; Past; Politics; South Dakota; Tobias Wolff; Trauma; University of Louisville; Upton Sinclair; Writers clubs; Writers guilds

Subjects: Age; Alcoholism; Attention; Authors; Childhood; Coping; Early life; Envy; Expression; Father; Indian reservations; Lives; Native Americans; Sexual orientation; Successful; Understanding; Writing

02:20:14 - Feelings towards writing profession / types of writers

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Partial Transcript: Um, but no matter whether they--people have felt that they've led basically happy or unhappy lives, whatever that may mean...

Segment Synopsis: Abbott articulates his feelings towards being a full time writer, in comparison to other career paths he could have taken. Following this, different types of writers and how writing style is determined by an author's personal background are deliberated.

Keywords: Audience; Bobbie Ann Mason; Circumstances; Determination; Drive; External; Feelings; Internal; Isolation; Louisville (Ky.); Mayors; Newburyport (Mass.); Politics; Quotes; Social workers; Stories; Talent; Therapy; Timing; Unrewarding; Unsatisfying; Writers

Subjects: Alcoholism; Authors.; Books; Expression; Guilt; Identity; Life; Loneliness; Luck; Occupations; Patience; Poverty; Problems; Publication; Reputation; Self; Success; Writing

02:28:16 - Writing process / new story

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Partial Transcript: But do you get any satisfaction from the process of writing itself?

Segment Synopsis: Abbott describes his writing process, as well as a brief overview of his newest story.

Keywords: Completion; Concern; Editing; Editors; Grimm; Important; Moving; Negative Capability Press; Pace; Phrasing; Polished; Precision; Process; Publication; Publishable; Published; Retyping; Sentences; Thought; Typing; Words

Subjects: Authors and publishers.; Authors.; Collection; Corrections; Indian reservations; Language; Manuscripts; Marketing; Plot; Publishers and publishing.; Reading; Rhythm; Sound; Story; Theme; Work; Writing

02:34:56 - Trying genres

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Partial Transcript: Um, is there anything in terms of subject matter or genre that you would like to write that you haven't?

Segment Synopsis: Abbott talks of experimenting with different literary genres in his work.

Keywords: Commitment; England; Freelance; Genres; Ireland; Irish stories; Novels; Projects; Stories

Subjects: Article; Authors.; Discipline; Essays; Experience; Fiction; Money; Novels; Plays; Pleasure; Research

02:38:01 - Teaching and developing writers

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Partial Transcript: Have you ever had any desire to teach?

Segment Synopsis: Abbott discusses how to develop a writer, and the personal attributes it takes for one to become successful as a writer.

Keywords: Abilities; Assignments; Bobbie Ann Mason; Competitive; Different; Difficult; Edited; Editors; Generations; Ideas; Inheritance; Jobs; Journalism; Louisville Courier-Journal; Magazine Journalism; Magazines; Motivation; Personalities; Preparation; Process; Rejection; Talent; University of Louisville; Wife

Subjects: Artists; Authors.; Competition; Creative writing; Criticism; Critics; Friend; Income; Letters; Men; Money; Opportunity; People; Punctuation; Reading; Secretaries; Story; Students; Success; Teachers; Teaching; Time; Undergraduate; Work; Writing

02:51:32 - Rejected books

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Partial Transcript: I'm sure you've seen that, that little book that talks about all the famous writers of whose novels were rejected how many times before...

Segment Synopsis: The difficulties that Herman Melville had publishing "Moby Dick" are recalled. Abbott talks of some of his books that have been rejected.

Keywords: "That Day in Gordon"; Editors; Herman Melville; Leon Driskell; Published; Rejections; Vanguard Press

Subjects: Authors and publishers.; Authors.; Classic literature; Identity; Moby Dick; Novels; Praise; Publishers and publishing.; Reading; Recessions

02:54:24 - Final thoughts

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Partial Transcript: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you think is particularly important to know about you as a person or as a writer?

Segment Synopsis: Abbott shares his most recent struggle to get some writing published. The troubles with using university presses to become published are described. Abbott also explains the struggles of becoming typecast as a writer of Native American fiction, as well as the experience of another Kentucky writer in this regard (who became well known for cookbooks).

Keywords: "That Day in Gordon"; Agents; Control; Encyclopedias; Ideas; Kentucky; Kentucky writers; Letters; Manuscripts; Novels; Publication; Re-print; Rough River; Southern food; Typing; Uncomfortable; University Press; University of Arkansas Press; University of Nevada Press

Subjects: Authors and publishers.; Authors.; Collection; Cookbooks; Inspired; Labels; Native Americans; Novellas; Publishers and publishing.; Reviews; Short stories; Writing