Authors: James Still

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet, novelist, and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

River of Earth, 1940, 1968, 1978

Sporty Creek, 1977

Short Fiction:

On Troublesome Creek, 1941

The Wolfpen Rusties: Appalachian Riddles and Gee-Haw Whimmy-Diddles, 1975

Pattern of a Man, 1976

The Run for the Elbertas, 1983


Hounds on the Mountain, 1937

River of Earth, 1983

The Wolfpen Poems, 1986

From the Mountain, from the Valley: New and Collected Poems, 2001 (Ted Olson, editor)


The Man in the Bushes: The Notebooks of James Still, 1935-1987, 1988

The Wolfpen Notebooks: A Record of Appalachian Life, 1991

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Way Down Yonder on Troublesome Creek, 1974

Jack and the Wonder Beans, 1977

An Appalachian Mother Goose, 1998


A Kentuckian by adoption, James Still was born in Alabama. His boyhood ambition was to be a veterinarian like his father, and among his earliest recollections were the nights they spent together while nursing a sick animal on some neighbor’s farm. At the age of seventeen, he entered Lincoln Memorial University at Harrogate, Tennessee, paying his expenses by working in a rock quarry and in the school library. After his graduation in 1929, he completed work for his M.A. degree at Vanderbilt University in 1930 and spent a year at the University of Illinois Library School. For the six years following, he was librarian at the Hindman Settlement School in Knott County, Kentucky. One of his duties was to carry boxes of books, twenty to the carton, over mountain trails to supply one-room schools that did not have libraries of their own. During those years, he tramped over every ridge and hollow mentioned in his books, which he sets in the region of hill farms and coal camps scattered along the branch waters of Little Carr and Troublesome Creeks.{$I[AN]9810000032}{$I[A]Still, James}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Still, James}{$I[tim]1906;Still, James}

In 1937 he published Hounds on the Mountain, a book of poems that were highly praised for their regional freshness and the lyric beauty of their style. By that time he had gone to live in a log cabin between Deadmare Branch and Wolfpen Creek, where he worked on his first novel, River of Earth. Covering two years in the life of a mountain family, it is a simple but moving chronicle of Appalachian mountain life presented through the eyes of a boy growing into a realization of the strange, bewildering world of human relationships and of human responsibilities within that world. The story loses nothing in the episodic manner of its telling, and the whole is tuned to a clear colloquial style that holds echoes of old proverbs and hill-born wisdom as well as of the occasional incorrectness of idiomatic folk speech. River of Earth was selected for the Southern Authors’ Award in 1941. On Troublesome Creek is a collection of short stories in much the same pattern and mood, set against a landscape where the lives of men and women follow the round of the seasons in an almost timeless cycle of birth, growth, seed-time, and death.

During World War II, Still served with the U.S. Army Air Force in Africa and the Middle East. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1946, and in 1947, in recognition of “his gift of style and mastery of character and scene,” he received a special award from the Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He subsequently became the librarian at the Hindman School again, as well as a member of the faculty at the annual writers’ conference sponsored by Morehead State University.

In the 1970’s James Still began publishing a series of “Wolfpen” works, beginning with The Wolfpen Rusties: Appalachian Riddles and Gee-Haw Whimmy-Diddles, a collection of folk sayings and riddles from the eastern Kentucky mountains. He continued the series with The Wolfpen Poems and The Wolfpen Notebooks: A Record of Appalachian Life, a collection of journal entries from twenty-one notebooks covering half a century. One of his most popular works and one he often reads aloud to audiences is Jack and the Wonder Beans, a retelling of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale in the Appalachian idiom. Still was recognized for his contributions to literature at the 1994 South Atlantic Modern Language Association convention, and in April, 1995, at the age of eighty-nine, he was appointed to a two-year term as poet laureate of Kentucky. During the 1990’s, he also served as a commentator on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. He died in Hindman at the age of ninety-four.

BibliographyBerry, Wendell. “A Master Language.” Sewanee Review 105, no. 3 (Summer, 1997): 419-422. Berry discusses the works of James Still and their masterful use of dialect and language.Cadle, Dean. “Pattern of a Writer: Attitudes of James Still.” Appalachian Journal 15 (Winter, 1988): 104-143. Cadle presents notes from conversations he had with Still between December, 1958, and December, 1959. Includes Still’s views on writing; also has photographs of Still, his house, and neighbors and friends.Dickey, James. Review of The Wolfpen Poems, by James Still. Los Angeles Times Book Review 1 (December 7, 1986): 19. Dickey states that these poems establish Still as the “truest and most remarkable poet of mountain culture.” Notes his sincerity and modesty and commends him for the feel of the country in his poems. Sees the strength of The Wolfpen Poems collection in that it underscores the necessity of Appalachian culture and its values.Foxfire 22 (Fall, 1988). This special issue on Still concentrates on The Wolfpen Notebooks; it contains an interview and selections from the book (not yet published at the time of the issue).The Iron Mountain Review 2 (Summer, 1984). This issue devoted to Still contains an interview with Still as well as essays on his poetry (“James Still’s Poetry: ‘The Journey of a Worldly Wonder,’ ” by Jeff Daniel Marion) and short fiction and a Still bibliography.Turner, Martha Billips. “A Vision of Change: Appalachia in James Still’s River of Earth.” Southern Literary Journal 24, no. 2 (Spring, 1992): 11. James Still’s writings have established his reputation as a serious, talented writer of the Appalachian region. Still’s portrayal of Appalachia in River of Earth is discussed.
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