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December 2004
A Kentucky Christmas
edited by George Ella Lyon

Christmas Gift
by George Ella Lyon

Dick Jackson, the editor who 20 years ago invited me to write children’s books and subsequently became my teacher and my friend, says, “Writing is an act of generosity.” Nowhere has that been more evident to me than in working on A Kentucky Christmas. The wealth of wisdom and memory, joy and anguish, grit and vision that I was privileged to help bring together was stunning to me. In fact, when Jennifer Peckenpaugh, then acquisitions editor [at University Press of Kentucky], first offered me the job, over curried chicken at Kashmir, I said no. It was too much!

I knew that Kentucky is not only great ground for growing racehorses; it produces an amazing number of fine writers as well. Maybe the limestone in the water causes people to crave ink. Maybe it’s because we’re on the cusp between North and South, East and West. We’ve been seen as the frontier and the backwater; we stretch from the Appalachians at one end to the Mississippi at the other, with the Ohio rippling all along the top. Rich in contrasts and paradox—miners and farmers, millionaires and migrant workers, a church on every corner and an economy known for whiskey, tobacco, and the track—we still have roots. We remember where we’re from. And that’s crucial.

One woman who bought the book joked, “I think I’ll do one for my home state: A New Jersey Christmas.” Then she laughed ruefully and said, “No, I don’t think so.” This isn’t because New Jersey can’t claim some wonderful writers—William Carlos Williams, Joyce Carol Oates, Alicia Ostriker, and Gerald Stern, to name a few—but except for Williams, they are not identified with New Jersey the way James Still and Harriette Arnow, Robert Penn Warren and Bobbie Ann Mason, Silas House and Frank X Walker are with Kentucky. Our state has produced not only writers but a literature of its own.

For my part, I have been blessed to work with these generous spirits, editing not only already published work but pieces that had never before appeared in print, including many written for this book. I’ve had the fantastic support of the folks at the University Press, whose labor, from planning to acquiring permissions, from proofreading to promoting, have made it such a success. And I’ve had the unexpected delight of taking part in group readings and book signings with writers such as Dr. [Thomas] Clark and Bobbie Ann Mason that have turned into celebrations of new and renewed connections. Thus a book meant to showcase the wealth of Kentucky writing has, in small measure, increased it by strengthening bonds between the writers themselves. My thanks to everyone involved—most especially to those for whom ink is heart’s blood they are laboring to share with us.

Copyright 2004, George Ella Lyon



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