TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY
By Jeff Noble / staff writer
For an hour Monday, voices filled with the written words of Christmases past filtered through the Corbin Public Library.
They came from two Kentucky writers — James B. Goode and Steve Vest — among 37 of the state’s best who are featured in the holiday book, “Kentucky’s Twelve Days of Christmas.”
The program gave those attending a chance to hear excerpts of some of the stories in the book, which was published last year. Along with the readings, copies of the book were on sale, with Vest and Goode sticking around afterwards to sign the books and to meet and greet with people.
Goode, a native of Benham in Harlan County, edited the book which is divided into 12 chapters — each chapter for one of the “12 Days of Christmas.”
Before the program began, Goode noted he liked the challenge of bringing the stories together in one volume.
“We intended to put together an anthology of Kentucky writers, and we wanted to put together the pieces in a Christmas anthology of writers, such as Robert Penn Warren, a Todd County native who wrote the novel ‘All the King’s Men,’ and who won the Pulitzer Prize three times. And we succeeded,” said Goode, who’s currently a professor at Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington.
He added that of the 37 writers featured in the handsome red leatherette-bound book, bound with gold-foil lettering, 17 are living today.
“Some are icons, like Wendell Berry, and we have several national and regional writers, like Thomas Merton and Sallie Bingham, Goode mentioned.
Filled with short fiction stories, excerpts from novels, poetry, and some songs, “Kentucky’s Twelve Days of Christmas” contains works from state authors like James Still, Irvin S. Cobb, Tammy Ramsey, Frank X. Walker, Crystal Wilkinson, John Jacob Niles, and Allen Tate.
Goode stated, “I thought there was enough fruit to be picked, so we did.”
“We wanted to represent all of Kentucky, and we have material from the 1800’s to today. We started looking for these stories, who wrote the stories and who has the copyright for them. It took us about a far to put it all together. We sold out last year, so this is the second printing of this book,” said Vest, a Louisville native now now lives in Frankfort.
Vest is also editor and publisher of Kentucky Monthly magazine.
The book can also be ordered online at the magazine’s website, www.kentuckymontly.com.
Along the way, they discovered some other facts about the Commonwealth’s authors. One in particular — best known for a classic tune heard about this time every year.
“We discovered that James “Haven” Gillespie wrote the song, ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town.’ He lived in northern Kentucky. Covington to be exact,” Goode pointed out.
Vest mentioned, “He lived in the basement of a house on Third Street in Covington, between Madison Avenue and Russell Street. Gillespie wrote the song while he lived in New York City, and wrote it during a 15-minute subway ride.”
Both Vest and Goode then did readings from some of the book’s contributors. One Vest did — “Ode to a Purple Aluminum Christmas Tree” — was penned by Harriette Simpson Arnow, who was born in in Monticello and raised in neighboring Pulaski County.
Arnow was best known for her 1954 novel “The Dollmaker,” that became a made-for-TV movie in 1984.
When Goode read a poem he penned called “Gathering Christmas,” he recalled when U.S. Steel had not only a mine in the Harlan County community of Lynch, but also had a coal prep plant in Corbin.
His poem spotlighted his father’s penchant for picking out ugly Christmas trees.
One such tree his dad brought back home back then was especially hideous.
“It was the ugliest Christmas tree I ever saw in my life. It was worse than the Charlie Brown Christmas tree,” Goode told the audience.
It was Vest who finished the program with a non-fiction story he wrote about his spunky, tell-it-upfront aunt, which he called “101 Christmases.” He named the story in her memory. When she died, his aunt was a few days shy of celebrating her 101st birthday.
Corbin was the second stop for Vest and Goode on the first day of the book’s tour, which began early Monday afternoon in Lexington. They’ll be in Morehead Tuesday, and will appear in Louisville three times this weekend. The book readings and signings will also be held at Joseph-Beth Booksellers locations in Lexington and the Greater Cincinnati area, before it closes out next Friday, Dec. 13 in Paducah — the home of author and humorist Cobb, who died in 1944.
Vest said a performer impersonating Cobb would be at the Paducah book reading.
“It’s been 70 years since he Irvin S. Cobb died, and he’s coming back to be with us in Paducah. On Friday the 13th,” he noted.