River of Earth, 1940, 1968, 1978
Sporty Creek, 1977
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.
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.