Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: BIOGRAPHY – Visitors
James Still (July 16,1906 – April 28, 2001)
Published 2021-07-18 aae


TAGS: James Still, visitors to PMSS, poets, writers, authors, folklorists, Hindman Settlement School, tilt-top tables, Knott County KY, librarians, Lincoln Memorial University, Vanderbilt University, Illinois Library School, Don West, Morehead State University, World War II, poet laureate of Kentucky, awards, Appalachian literature

It is no wonder that James Still, a poet, novelist, and folklorist was a frequent visitor at Pine Mountain Settlement School. Having lived most of his life, beginning in 1939, in an age-old log cabin surrounded by a forest in nearby Knott County, Kentucky, he must have felt at home among the log houses on Pine Mountain’s verdant campus and the welcoming staff and students.

Evidently, James Still’s years as a librarian at Hindman (KY) Settlement School led him to understand and appreciate the mission of settlement schools. In his book of short stories, Sporty Creek, written in 1977, he expresses that appreciation through a conversation between members of a poor but proud Eastern Kentucky mountain family during the Great Depression: 

James Still Visitor

“If Dan is to have a chance,” Uncle Jolly said, “teachers such as Duncil Hargis and his sort won’t help. And with school closed on Sporty, Buffalo Wallow is a far piece to walk. I say send him to the Settlement School at the forks of Troublesome Creek. There the scholars work out their room and board.”

Dan pursed his lips. “I haint a-going.”

Uncle Jolly turned solemn. “Listen,” said he, “The Settlement’s teachers are the knowingest. They will do for you. They’ll fit you for living in a hard world .…

Still, James. Sporty Creek. Putnam, 1977. The general book collection at Boys House Library, Pine Mountain Settlement School, holds a copy of this book. [Image: goodreads.com]

JAMES STILL Visitor: Biography

James Still managed to attend college by working at jobs such as a quarryman and library janitor. He graduated from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, in 1929. He went on to earn an M.A. from Vanderbilt University in Nashville in 1930 and then did post-graduate work at the University of Illinois Library School.

In 1931 Still joined his friend, poet and civil rights activist Don West, to organize recreation for children at a Bible school in Knott County, Kentucky. He soon gravitated to volunteering as librarian at the Hindman Settlement School. At the end of the summer he was hired as a librarian by the School. This was a fortunate turn for Still during a time when the Depression caused a scarcity of jobs.

James Still Visitor
“River of Earth” by James Still, 1940.
(Image: goodreads.com)

Around this time, he moved into the two-story log house that once belonged to Jethro Amburgey, a well-known dulcimer-maker. There, Still worked on his 31 acres of land, studying and experimenting with the natural world. Meanwhile, he was always writing. He was first known for his poems, which were collected in Hounds on the Mountains and published in 1937. This was followed by River of Earth in 1940, a novel that portrays in sensitive but powerful terms the struggles of mountain people as they transitioned from subsistence farming to coal mining in eastern Kentucky. His stories and poems, some written for children, appeared in a variety of publications and won him many awards. [See Bibliography below.]

During World War II, his writing was interrupted by a stint in the U.S. Army Air Corps, when he served in Africa, then the Middle East, from 1942 to 1944.

By the 1960s Still was working at Morehead (KY) State University, where he taught literature for ten years. He also served as an inspirational member of the Morehead Writer’s Workshop. Besides writing and teaching, he traveled the country giving readings and conducting workshops. Although he was rooted in his Kentucky place, he took several breaks from his writing to visit Central America and Europe, where he studied two of his favorite subjects, the Mayan civilization and World War I battlefields.

In the 1970s Still was writing works of fiction as well as poetry. His children’s book, Jack and the Wonder Beans, was chosen as one of the Best Illustrated Books of the Year by The New York Times. A year later he received the Weatherford Award for lifetime contribution to Appalachian literature. He continued writing into the 1990s and was named Poet Laureate of Kentucky in 1995.


James Still was born on July 16, 1906, in LaFayette, Alabama. He was the sixth of nine children of J. Alex Still and Lonie (Lindsey) Still.

As a young man, James Still came to Knott County, Kentucky, where he lived for the rest of his life. He died on April 28, 2001, at the age of 94 and is buried on the Hindman Settlement School campus.

James Still Visitor
James Still celebrating his 90th Birthday, June 12, 1996, at Hindman Settlement School. Tilt-top tables to left and right. [still_james_hindman_001jpg]


James Still

Alt. Title





Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

James Still ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; poets ; writers ; authors ; folklorists ; Hindman Settlement School ; 90th birthday ; tilt-top tables ; Knott County KY ; librarians ; Lincoln Memorial University ; Vanderbilt University ; Illinois Library School ; Don West ; Morehead State University ; World War II ; Poet Laureate of Kentucky ; Weatherford Award ; Appalachian literature ;

Subject LCSH

Still, James, — 1906 – 2001.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.
Authors, American — 20th century.


2021-06-20 images added by hw ; 2021-07-18 written & published by  aae ;


Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.




Collections ; text ; image ;


Original and copies of documents and correspondence in file folders in filing cabinet.


Series 09: Biography – Visitors




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 09: Biography – Visitors.

Coverage Temporal

1906 – 2001

Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Knott County, KY ; Hindman, KY ; Harrogate, TN, Nashville, TN, Illinois, Morehead, KY ; Central America ; Europe ; Africa ; Middle East ; LaFayette, AL ; Hazard, KY ;


Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.




Core documents, correspondence, writings, and administrative papers of James Still ; clippings, photographs, books by or about James Still.




”Identification of Item],” [Collection Name] [Series Number, if applicable]. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.

Processed By

Helen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;

Last Updated




VISITORS GUIDE to Consultants Guests Related Friends of PMSS.” Series 09: Biography – Visitors. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

“Completely Kentucky Wiki.” Fandom: https://completely-kentucky.fandom.com/wiki/James_Still (Accessed 2021-07-14). Internet resource.

Lyon, George Ella. “The James Still’s River of Earth: A viewer’s guide to the KET Documentary,” 1997. https://silo.tips/download/the-james-still-notebook (Accessed 2021-07-17). Internet resource.

“James Still.” Wikipedia.org: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Still#Bibliography (Accessed 2021-07-14). Internet resource.

Selected Bibliography

Hounds on the Mountain (poems). New York: Viking Press, 1937. Reprinted by Anvil Press, Lexington, KY, 1965.

Jack and the Wonder Beans. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1977. Illus. Margot Tomes. Rpt. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 1996.

River of Earth (novel). New York: Viking Press, 1940. Rpt. Popular Library, New York, 1968, and by University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 1978.

On Troublesome Creek (stories). New York: Viking, 1941.

Way Down Yonder on Troublesome Creek: Appalachian Riddles and Rusties. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1974.

The Wolfpen Rusties: Appalachian Riddles and Gee-Haw Whimmy-Diddles. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1975.

Pattern of a Man and Other Stories. Lexington, KY: Gnomon Press, 1976.

Sporty Creek: A Novel About an Appalachian Boyhood. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1977.

The Run for the Elbertas. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1980.

River of Earth: The Poem and Other Poems. Lexington, KY: Workshop of the King Library Press, 1982-83.

The Wolfpen Poems. Berea, KY: Berea College Press, 1986.

The Wolfpen Notebooks: A Record of Appalachian Life. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1991.Autobiographical essay. Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series; vol. 17, pp. 231–48. Gale Research, 1986.

See Also

Appalachian Heritage, Fall 2021. James Still is the featured author. Print.

Wykle, Helen. “Dancing in the Cabbage Patch III PLACE.” A post on PMSS Collections website containing an excerpt from River of Earth. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

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