Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Martha Bennett Stiles, February 27, 1993

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:13 - Early life

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

Segment Synopsis: Stiles recalls her parents and various aspects of their lives, such as their careers.

Keywords: Blackboards; Books; Charleston (S.C.); Columbia (S.C.); Eyes; Family; Injury; Mayors; Remedial reading; San Juan, Metro Manila, (Philippines); Thesis; U.S. Navy; University of Virginia; World War II

Subjects: Art school; Early life; Families.; Father; Mother; Occupations; Parents; Rank; Sister; Teacher; World War, 1939-1945

00:05:01 - Family

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Partial Transcript: Uh, how many siblings did you have, and where are you in there?

Segment Synopsis: Stiles talks of her siblings and their lives currently. Stiles also discusses her maternal grandfather, who was a prominent author in South Carolina. The influence of the interviewee's grandfather upon her own writing is also considered.

Keywords: Boonville (Ind.); Charleston (S.C.); El Paso (Tex.); Family; Jobs; John Bennett; Los Angeles (Calif.); Munich (Germany); Ohio; Poland; Relatives; Siblings; The South Carolina Academy of Authors; Virginia

Subjects: African Americans; Books; Children's books; Fame; Families.; Folk tales; Grandfather; Grandmother; Grandparents; Influences; Language; Life; Sister; Writing

00:10:39 - Childhood / beginning of writing career

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Partial Transcript: Um, uh, what was your childhood like?

Segment Synopsis: Stiles reflects upon her childhood experiences. Stiles also briefly talks of when she began her writing career, before returning to a discussion of her childhood.

Keywords: Bluffs; China; English courses; Family; Farms; Husbands; Illustrators; Orchards; Rivers; University of Michigan; Virginia; Writers

Subjects: Childhood; Children's books; Chores; English; Families.; Father; Goats; Housewives; Marriage; Mother; Naval Officer; Privacy; Sheep; Writing

00:15:45 - Early education

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Partial Transcript: Um, before that, what was your early education like?

Segment Synopsis: Stiles illustrates her educational experiences, beginning with elementary school and ending with high school.

Keywords: Colleges; Elementary schools; Friends; Handwriting; Phonics; Recess; Schools; Smithfield (Va.)

Subjects: Artist; Books; Children; Drawing; Education; English; Money; Multiplication--Tables; Parents; Reading; Second grade (Education); Work

00:20:07 - Writing outside of school / education continued

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Partial Transcript: When did you start writing outside of just English assignments in school, writing on your own?

Segment Synopsis: Stiles reveals when she began to write outside of school for the first time. Stiles then continues to discuss her education, focusing upon her favorite teachers in elementary school, as well as her overall experience in high school. Additionally, the interviewee's gap year working as a telephone operator before entering university is described.

Keywords: Adults; Bicycles; Cambridge (Mass.); Colleges; Disagreeable; Elementary schools; Friends; Jobs; Lunches; Miserable; Norfolk (Va.); Nursing schools; Radcliffe College; Strength; University of Michigan; Weight; Worthless

Subjects: Baseball; Blood pressure; Father; Fourth grade (Education); Grandfather; High school; Jingles (Advertising songs); Marriage; Money; Praise; Reading; Retirement; Social; Teachers; Telephone operators; Third grade (Education); Writing

00:26:45 - Books

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Partial Transcript: Was--is the father in, in "Kate of Still Waters," does he have any of the characteristics of your father?

Segment Synopsis: Stiles explains the inspiration behind a character in her novel called "Kate of Still Waters." The intended audience and message of this novel are also discussed. Finally, another novel called "Sarah the Dragon Lady" and its message are deliberated.

Keywords: "Kate of Still Waters"; "Sarah the Dragon Lady"; Audience; Failures; Family; Farm crisis; Fighting; Hardships; Husbands; Macmillan Press; Quotes; Reassuring; Scenes; Strain; Tired

Subjects: Abyss; Characters and characteristics in literature; Children; Children's books; Families.; Farms; Father; Hay; Homework; Life; Parents; Psychology; Sheep; Speech

00:33:15 - College

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Partial Transcript: What made you decide to go to William & Mary? Were you--did you--had you decided you didn't want to be a nurse then, or?

Segment Synopsis: Stiles provides an explanation and an overview of why she decided to attend the College of William & Mary.

Keywords: Ancestry; College of William & Mary; Grades; Great-grandmothers; Nurses; Orators; Paychecks; Presidents; Scholarships; United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC); University of Michigan; William Jennings Bryan

Subjects: Ambition; Anecdotes; Children; Education; Education, Higher; Girls' schools; Higher education; Marriage; Men; Money; Mother; Telephone operators; Work

00:37:33 - University of Michigan / family members' careers

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Partial Transcript: When I transferred to Michigan, I didn't have to work a bit harder to get the same grades.

Segment Synopsis: Stiles chronicles her time at the University of Michigan, after transferring from the College of William & Mary. Subsequently, Stiles briefly mentions various relatives who have gone into nursing (which was the career the interviewee's family wanted her to originally pursue).

Keywords: Aunts; College of William & Mary; Dean of Women; Electives; Enrichment; Majors; Nursing schools; President's assistants; Richmond (Va.); Richmond Professional Institute; Scholarships; Sophomore year; Trains; Universities; University of Michigan

Subjects: Botany; Careers; Chemistry; Courses and lectures; Education; English; Father; Homesickness; Money; Mother; Parents; Professors; Sister; Staff; Transfer; Tuition; Undergraduate

00:42:57 - Creativity / marriage

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Partial Transcript: What was your, your plan in terms of majoring in chemistry? What did you think you would do with the degree?

Segment Synopsis: Stiles makes a connection between chemistry and creativity, as well as creativity in the arts. Stiles then summarizes her life at the end of her engagement, and subsequently, at the beginning of her marriage.

Keywords: Advisers; Ann Arbor (Mich.); Co-eds; College of William & Mary; Creative; Dormitories; DuPont USA; Engaged; Faculty; Husbands; Ideas; Majors; Organic chemistry; PhD; Richmond (Va.); Scene; University of Michigan

Subjects: Apartments; Brain; Chemistry; Education, Higher; Genetics; German language; Higher education; Interests; Learning; Logic; Marriage; Research; Students; Teaching; Trigonometry; Work; Workshops; Writing

00:51:12 - Move to Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: And, and what brought you to Kentucky?

Segment Synopsis: Stiles explains why she and her husband decided to move to Kentucky, and what kind of an impact relocating had made upon her writing.

Keywords: Community; Fellowships; Frankfort Arts Foundation; Husbands; Kentucky; Kentucky Arts Council; Kentucky writers; Residencies; University of Michigan

Subjects: Authors.; Awards; Horses; Leave of absence; Life; Resignation; Writers; Writing

00:53:42 - Early writing career

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Partial Transcript: When I was in school, I didn't have time for, for writing.

Segment Synopsis: Stiles chronicles the start of her writing career whilst living in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Keywords: "The strange house at Newburyport"; Advice; Apartments; Charles Dickens; Encouraging; Humpy Dumpty Magazine; Husbands; Jobs; Joyce Carol Oates; Published; Revision; Story; Typewriters; University of Michigan; Virginia Quarterly Review

Subjects: Authors.; Chemistry; Endings; English; Life; Literature; Professors; Research; Short stories; Writing

01:00:46 - Publishing history / research

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Partial Transcript: Um, what about your publishing history?

Segment Synopsis: Stiles discusses her publishing history, as well as the research that shes does for her children's novels.

Keywords: "The strange house at Newburyport"; Books; Boys; Characters; Cookbooks; Enjoyment; George Ella Lyon; Kentucky; Unambitious

Subjects: Authors and publishers.; Authors.; Children; Children's literature; Father; Influences; Inter-library loans; Interlibrary loans; Mother-in-law; Novels; Publishers and publishing.; Reading; Research; Writing

01:06:09 - Young adult books

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Partial Transcript: As, as I said earlier, th--I'm particularly interested in the, the social commentary in your young adult books.

Segment Synopsis: The primary themes and context of several of the interviewee's young adult novels are explored. Titles include: "Darkness over the land," "The strange house at Newburyport," and "One Among the Indians."

Keywords: "Darkness over the land"; "The Painted Bird"; "The strange house at Newburyport"; Ancestors; Aryan; Attitudes; Bad; Characters; Complexity; Conquest; Cotton mills; German culture; Germany; Jerzy KosiƄski; Jewish; Moral questions; Morals; Red Guards; Social commentary; Theory; Tribes; World War II

Subjects: Authors.; Childhood; Children; Culture; Dialogue; English; Fiction; Good; Huguenots; Learning; Native Americans; New England; Perspective; Powhatan, approximately 1550-1618; Propaganda; Reader; Research; Slavery; Spanish; Teachers; Themes; Violence; World War, 1939-1945; Writing; Young adult fiction

01:18:32 - Morals / trends in genre

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Partial Transcript: You can be wrong, you can be right.

Segment Synopsis: Morals in the novels of Stiles are briefly mentioned. Following this, the trends in young adult fiction are compared to the work of Stiles herself within this particular genre.

Keywords: "Sarah the Dragon Lady"; Complexity; Conflict; Morals; Problems; Unambitious; Unhappy; Useful

Subjects: Authors.; Childhood; Children; Comparisons; Point of view (Literature); Sacrifice; Writing; Young adult fiction

01:20:43 - "Cold Mountain" manuscript (later published as "Lonesome Road")

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Partial Transcript: As I've told you, I'm most impressed with your recently accepted manuscript for your adult novel, "Cold Mountain." Will you discuss that book and the research you did for it?

Segment Synopsis: Stiles explains the inspiration and context behind her upcoming novel entitled "Cold Mountain," which was later published under the title "Lonesome Road."

Keywords: "Cold Mountain"; "Lonesome Road"; Articles; Deaf people; Editors; Etan Patz; Family; Kidnappings; Librarians; Loss; Manuscripts; Novels; Past tense; Revisions; Soho, New York (N.Y.); Strain; Third person

Subjects: Authors.; Death; Dilemma; Families.; First person; Friend; Hearing; Missing children; Perspective; Present tense; Readers; Son; Statistics; Tragedy; Women; Writing

01:25:24 - Ending to "Cold Mountain" ("Lonesome Road")

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Partial Transcript: And perhaps you'll remember the chapter where she's standing by the fence after the barn roof falls in.

Segment Synopsis: Stiles discusses the ending to her upcoming novel called "Cold Mountain," which was later published under the title "Lonesome Road." The decision to revise the ending is also explained.

Keywords: "Cold Mountain"; "Dover Beach"; "Lonesome Road"; Agents; Audiences; Books; Chapters; Children; Conclusion; Contractors; Farms; Husbands; Kidnappings; Matthew Arnold; Mood; Resolve; Revisions; School buses; Schools; Tattoos; Third person; Time Magazine; Uncles

Subjects: Authors.; Beginning; Current events; Endings; Literature; Mailbox; Missing children; Present tense; Readers; Walking; Writing

01:34:10 - Research for "Cold Mountain" ("Lonesome Road") / writing style

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Partial Transcript: You were mentioning to me the other day about how you did your research for the snake handling scenes. Can you talk about that for a minute?

Segment Synopsis: Stiles details the methods and resources that she used to research the snake handling scenes in "Cold Mountain," which was later published as "Lonesome Road." Additionally, Stiles describes her literary style and the authors that have shaped it throughout the years.

Keywords: "Cold Mountain"; "Lonesome Road"; Characters; Eudora Welty; Flannery O'Connor; Foxfire Magazine; Great-grandfathers; Husbands; Library; Novels; Snake handling; Victorian; Vladimir Nabokov; William Faulkner; Witty

Subjects: Authors; Books; Influences; Money; Mother; Reading; Research; Short stories; Snakes; Style; Writing

01:36:59 - Feedback

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Partial Transcript: Is, is he a critic of your work?

Segment Synopsis: Stiles considers the level of feedback that her husband provides to her in terms of revising her writing.

Keywords: "Cold Mountain"; "Julie of the Wolves"; "Kate of Still Waters"; "Lonesome Road"; "Sarah the Dragon Lady"; "The Blue Island"; Advice; Auctions; Bidders; Chapters; Computers; Gifts; Girls books; Harsh; Helpful; Horses; Husbands; Numbers; Price; Revision; Writers

Subjects: Authors.; Children; Children's books; Christmas; Criticism; Dogs; Generations; Girls; Grandmother; Lambs; Manuscripts; Reading; Value; World; Writing

01:41:26 - Writing habits

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Partial Transcript: I, I was going to ask you about your writing habits. What, what are they? When do you write and what do you write with?

Segment Synopsis: Stiles outlines her writing habits, both when she lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and currently on the farm in Kentucky.

Keywords: Advantages; Ann Arbor (Mich.); Contemporary fiction; Copies; Disadvantages; Farm wife; Farms; Hours; Kentucky; Mornings; Schedules; Typewriters; University of Michigan

Subjects: Attention; Authors.; Books; Comparisons; Life; Paper; Reader; Rural; Setting (Literature); Work; Writing

01:46:32 - Sports and horses

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Partial Transcript: Uh, you've also published dozens of short stories in magazines as well as magazine articles. Will you discuss those?

Segment Synopsis: Stiles briefly summarizes her experiences with sports as a child with her family. Subsequently, the interviewee's interest in horses is examined.

Keywords: Articles; Baltimore (Md.); Baltimore Museum of Art; Family; Farms; Husbands; Johns Hopkins University; Navy; Thoroughbred Record Magazine; University of Michigan

Subjects: Article; Athletics; Auctions; Brother; Childhood; Discipline; Families.; Father; Football; Horse racing; Horses; Interest; Kentucky Derby; Mother; Sporting art; Stallions; Tennis; Tennis courts; Work

01:49:59 - Awards / judging literary competitions

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Partial Transcript: --earned for your work. Uh, you've, you've earned other prizes as well. You've received an Al Smith fellowship, at least--didn't--haven't you?

Segment Synopsis: Stiles discloses which literary awards and prizes have been the most important to her. Then, the interviewee shares her experience of judging literary competitions.

Keywords: "Cold Mountain"; Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship; Committees; Discouraged; Frankfort Arts Foundation; Prizes; University of Virginia

Subjects: Anonymous; Authors.; Awards; Competition; Encouragement; Fiction; Friend; Judges; Literature; Money; Poets; Short stories; Son; Submission; Work; Writing

01:55:34 - Teaching and students

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Partial Transcript: Uh, you've also, uh, taught creative writing in numerous school and university settings as well as at writers conferences throughout the country.

Segment Synopsis: Stiles relays her background in teaching English, as well as literature at the collegiate level. Stiles' most successful former students in the writing profession are then described.

Keywords: "Cold Mountain"; "Darkness over the land"; "Lonesome Road"; "Writing for children"; Audiences; Carnahan House; Courses; Lexington (Ky.); Novels; Published; Random House Publishing; Rewrites; Southern Methodist University; University of Kentucky; University of Louisville; University of Michigan

Subjects: Authors.; Children's books; Creative writing; Criticism; English; Library science; Literature; Professor; Reading; Students; Summer; Teaching; Writing

02:03:51 - Writers workshops / creativity

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Partial Transcript: Uh, you also, uh, helped conduct or, participated in, in workshops.

Segment Synopsis: Stiles talks of her participation in various writers workshops, and how this impacts her writing. Stiles also considers the nature of creativity, and hears of answers from other Kentucky writers. Current methods of teaching creative writing to undergraduates are also detailed.

Keywords: Answers; Burning buildings; Childhoods; Expectations; Family; Gardens; Gurney Norman; Husbands; Ideas; Incidents; Jim Baker Hall; Joyce Carol Oates; Leon Driskell; Navy; Needs; Revisions; Therapy; Trauma

Subjects: Analogies; Authors.; Boring; Chemistry; Creative writing; Death; Education; Father; Interests; Luck; Mental illness; Science fiction; Students; Swimming; Teachers; Teaching; Time; Undergraduate; Work; Workshops; Writing

02:14:10 - College writing courses / visualizing reading

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Partial Transcript: That's my theory, and I, believe it or not, get numerous freshmen who don't know how to--

Segment Synopsis: The discussion of creative writing at universities is continued. The issue of students unable to visualize while reading, and the cause of this are both explored.

Keywords: Abstract thought; Elementary education; Freshman English; Scenes; Writing classes

Subjects: Age; Brain; Creative writing; Education; Education, Higher; English; Genetics; Higher education; Imagination; Middle class; Mother; Professors; Reading; Reasoning; Sister; Students; Teachers; Teaching; Undergraduate; Writing

02:17:21 - Current work / future work

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Partial Transcript: Um, what work are you--what are you working on now and, and--

Segment Synopsis: Stiles discusses both her current and future writing projects.

Keywords: "Cold Mountain"; "The star in the forest"; Charles Laughton; Donovan Scholars; France; Georgetown (Ky.); Japan; Projects; Rehearsed; Solutions; Toyota; Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc.

Subjects: Americans; Ancestors; Authors.; Children; Culture; Enthusiasm; Historical novel; Huguenot; Lectures; Manuscripts; Picture books; Short stories; Work; Writing

02:21:06 - Advice for writers / trying genres

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Partial Transcript: What advice would you give to beginning writers?

Segment Synopsis: Stiles explains why her advice for an aspiring writer would be not to pursue writing as a full-time career. Additionally, Stiles talks of possible genres that she would like to try writing within sometime.

Keywords: Action; Aunts; Concise; Dana Hall School; Excitement; Family; Fun; Genres; Novels; Recognition; Relaxing; Reviewing; Uncles; Writers

Subjects: Authors.; Careers; Children; Drama; Drawing; Families.; Grandfather; Happiness; Interest; Marriage; Money; Pain; Playwriting; Protection; Reviews; Satisfaction; Writing

02:29:33 - Final thoughts / favorite Kentucky writers

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

Segment Synopsis: Stiles shares her final thoughts on both herself personally and as a writer. Following this, Stiles lists her favorite Kentucky authors.

Keywords: "One Among the Indians"; Adults; Anachronisms; Complexity; George Ella Lyon; Harriette Arnow; Helpful; Jim Wayne Miller; Karen Osborn; Kentucky writers; Robert Penn Warren; Useful; Virginia

Subjects: Authors.; Children; Children's authors; Historical novels; Letters; Novels; Poetry; Writing

02:33:15 - Sense of place in writing / research

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Partial Transcript: Uh, what did you say?

Segment Synopsis: Stiles considers the importance of place and setting within her work. The manner in which Stiles conducted research while living in Michigan is compared to how she currently accomplishes this task in Kentucky.

Keywords: "A star in the forest"; "Cold Mountain"; "Lonesome Road"; "Sarah the Dragon Lady"; Accuracy; Books; Bourbon County (Ky.); Farms; France; Inventory; Kentucky; Library; Place; Privileges; Renew; Storage; University of Kentucky; University of Michigan; Virginia; Wolfe County (Ky.)

Subjects: Authors.; Comparisons; Fiction; Historical fiction; Life; Place attachment; Reading; Research; Setting (Literature); Writing