Distinguished Alumni


James Still

James Still was an American poet, novelist and folklorist. He lived most of his life in a log house along the Dead Mare Branch of Little Carr Creek, Knott County, Kentucky. He was best known for the novel River of Earth, which depicted the struggles of coal mining in eastern Kentucky.  Still was considered a quiet child but a hard worker. He along with his nine siblings worked the family farm. They farmed cotton, sugar cane, soybeans and corn. At the age of seven, Still began grade school.  After graduating from high school, Still attended Lincoln Memorial University of Harrogate, Tennessee. He worked at the rock quarry in the afternoons and as a library janitor in the evenings. He would often sleep at the library after spending the night reading countless literature.

Upon graduation in 1929, he began graduate work at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. While at Vanderbilt, he became involved in a controversial miner strike in Wilder, Tennessee. The miners were starving due to holding the picket line; Still delivered a truckload of food and clothing for the miners. Still graduated with an MA in English in 1930. He later completed additional graduate work at the University of Illinois.

Still tried various professions including the Civil Service Corps, Bible salesman, and even a stint picking cotton in Texas. His friend Don West—a poet and civil rights activist, among other things—offered Still a job organizing recreation programs for a Bible school in Knott County, Kentucky. Still accepted the position but soon became a volunteer librarian at the Hindman Settlement School. Knott County would become Still’s lifelong home, though for many years he was the creative force behind the Morehead Writers' Workshop at nearby Morehead State University, where he taught literature during the 1960s.

Still received the Southern Author's Award shortly after publication, which he shared with Thomas Wolfe for Wolfe's work You Can’t Go Home Again. Still went on to publish a few collections of poetry and short stories, a juvenile novel and a compilation of Appalachian local color he collected over the years. The children's book "Jack and the Wonderbeans" was adapted for the stage by the Lexington Children's Theatre in 1992. Still participated in one performance, reading a portion of the book to open the show. He died April 28, 2001 at the age of 94.