Come with me on a journey of exploration and discovery. It’s a Kentucky journey you can take anytime it pleases you—day or night, winter or summer, in sunshine or rain. Open this book and join the adventure at any point—from Daniel Boone’s account of his early years in the Kentucky wilderness to Bobbie Ann Mason’s memoir of her mother’s heroic contest with a fish of epic proportions in western Kentucky. It is a journey that will titillate, irritate, educate, delight, and enlighten you, a journey with a Kentucky accent that has been in the making for over two centuries. Our Kentucky trip is not only geographical and historical but social, political, economic, racial, religious, and literary. It chronicles our interests and aspirations, our achievements and failures, our comedies and tragedies. Indeed, this collection of Kentucky writing seeks to cover a wide spectrum of subjects and events that have made our state unique and American.
Some of the landscape you will recognize as we pass through. Some you will not know, for we will be exploring new ground as we seek to redefine Kentucky’s heritage by claiming territories heretofore shunned or unknown. You will find a road filled with potholes, alluring diversions, and occasional epiphanies. In fact, during our Kentucky journey you will hear Whitmanesque voices of human aspirations, failures, and achievements that are common to us all.
A motley crew of writers will be your guides. In the early years they are hunters, soldiers and adventurers, travelers and tourists, land speculators and Indian fighters, even outlaws; later, they are farmers, lawyers, preachers, physicians, and educators; and more recently they are journalists, historians, playwrights, novelists, and poets. In May 1780 John Adams described the beauties of Paris in a letter to his wife, Abigail, while he was on a diplomatic mission, then added wistfully: “I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Painting and Poetry, Mathematics and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.” Likewise, the early Kentuckians were occupied with basic human needs for the better part of their first century and had little time for the arts.
This is not to say that Kentuckians as early as the 1770s were not writing. In fact, they were writing diaries, letters, laws, sermons, and legal documents. Squire Boone, the preacher brother of Daniel, is alleged to have written . . .