Restoring the James Still Cottage | #KyGives

One of the Settlement’s projects for Kentucky Gives Day 2021 is to restore the historic James Still cottage on our campus in order to preserve the legacy of our longtime writer-in-residence and the man who brought about a renaissance for Appalachian literature during his prolific career.

When complete, the restoration will preserve this historic structure, provide a proper home for his extensive collection of books and folk art, and serve as a hermitage for regional authors to retreat for short or extended periods of time to be immersed in the surroundings that inspired Still. We are excited for this space to continue hosting the greatest literary minds in the region along with new voices.

While many have heard of James Still, you may not be fully familiar with the story of how he came to Hindman. Still was a poet, novelist, short story writer and folklorist who was born in Alabama but came to Knott County, Kentucky, in 1931 with one of his Vanderbilt classmates, poet and social activist Don West, to work with children for the summer. However, when summer was over, the librarian here at the Settlement School resigned. Still gladly accepted the position and, except for a stint in the Army in Africa and the Middle East during World War II, lived the next 70 years in Knott County.

Still wrote his masterpiece novel River of Earth (1940) in a rented log cabin in Knott County. The novel is set in Appalachia as it transitioned in the early 1900s from subsistence farming to coal mining.  River of Earth received the Southern Author’s Award soon after publication, sharing it with Thomas Wolfe’s book You Can’t Go Home Again.

Still’s stories and poems appeared in The AtlanticThe Yale ReviewSaturday ReviewThe Saturday Evening PostEsquireThe Virginia Quarterly Review and in many other publications as well as in textbooks and anthologies.

Still died at age 94 and is buried on the campus of Hindman Settlement School beside longtime school director Elizabeth Watts, who hired him.

We hope that you will choose to support this Kentucky Gives Day project with a gift of any size. Donations of $200 or more will entitle the donor to a weekend stay in the renovated cottage. While you’re here, pick up a copy of one of Mr. Still’s books in our online store!

Credit: Carengie Center for Literacy and Learning | Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame