O, The Clear Moment

When I was romping hither and yon about the country last fall (2008), pimping O the Clear Moment, my nifty (if I do say so myself) little "fictionalized memoir," I was fond of describing myself as "the world's only living author of a posthumous book."  There's a backstory to that, of course, and here it is:

A few years ago, it occurred to me that, over time, I'd written a number of stories that seemed to me to deserve a wider audience than had so far been afforded them--some of them were unpublished, some had been published but in relatively obscure venues--, and that while I was still "sensible to the pinch" (thank you, Lord Buckley!), I owed it to a bereaved posterity to assemble those stories in a box and stash it away somewhere, so that they might be rediscovered in 
some future archeological dig, sorta like the Dead Sea Scrolls.  
"Eureka!" the lucky finder would exclaim.  "McWhat's-his-name did have another book in him after all!"  At that time, I was plugging along on The Return of the Son of Needmore--my entry for the Pulitzer Prize novel of 2032--, but I immediately set it aside and went off to look for a suitable box.

There was one as-yet-unwritten story, though, that I wanted to put in my reliquary before I sealed it up and stashed it away:  a story about my high school heartthrob, and about seeing her forty years later at a class reunion.  Maybe ten, twelve pages max, I told myself; I'll bang it out in a coupla months, and then get right back to my interminable goddamn novel.  Three years and sixty pages later, I finished the story--"Dog Loves Ellie"--, and suddenly realized that I had a whole new book on my hands ... and lo, I wasn't even dead yet!

Counterpoint Press published O the Clear Moment last fall, with a terrific cover by my friend Ralph Steadman.  Now, back to that goddamn novel ...

Availability:  Amazon.com and (locally) Black Swan Books <www.blackswanbooks.net>, Morris Bookshop <www.morrisbookshop.com>, and Joseph-Beth Booksellers <www.josephbeth.com>

Reviews and comments:

Playful, self-deprecating and wickedly sharp, McClanahan's nine autobiographical short stories delve into youthful shenanigans and poignant first love in the late 1940s in Bracken County, Kentucky. 
McClanahan has an enormously personable style, ambling back in time to his junior year at Maysville High School in Great Moments in Sports, when, mooning about the four Stonebreaker sisters like every other horny goat in town, he experienced his greatest moment of coolness and his greatest humiliation. In Dog Loves Ellie, a high- school reunion of his Class of '51 prompts the author to revisit magnificent, painful memories of his first major crush, Ellie Chadwick, who invited the gangly youth to the Sadie Hawkins dance and then dumped him for a less worthy suitor named Dog. Fondelle, or: The Whore with a Heart of God, the most sparkling of the collection, chronicles the author's early hitchhiking adventure the summer before his senior year in college. A former Merry Prankster, McClanahan muses on the writing life and classic Americana with giddy nostalgia and gently barbed humor.
                                        --Starred Review in Publishers Weekly

The effect of reading Ed McClanahan's new collection, O the Clear Moment, is not unlike listening to a cheerfully erudite, slightly drunken old man reminiscing about his seemingly average life—a life that becomes, in the generosity and intelligence of the telling, something more than average. Formally meticulous and thematically irreverent, O the Clear Moment is a loose collection of autobiographical pieces in which McClanahan reflects on an idyllic childhood in small-town Kentucky, chronicles the successes and humiliations of high school, and opens a few small but well-placed windows onto his adult eccentricities. McClanahan's skills as a humorist are predicated on a deep respect for language, and the book's best moments come when McClanahan indulges in the rhetorical flourishes that make his lowbrow subject matter all the funnier.

Take this parenthetical aside, for example, when recalling a youthful
dalliance: He describes, with a gentleman's discretion, a point in his life at which he "tended to fall in love rather easily" (o, the clear euphemism!), and one of the objects of his affection was a "dark-eyed senorita by the name of Marta in Juarez... (who, I was to discover a few days later, had presented me with a small but rapidly multiplying family of tiny migrant stowaways)." Literary descriptions of acquiring crabs don't get any more elegant.

One of the more poignant works in the collection is about McClanahan's foray into songwriting: What begins as a self- deprecating and free-wheeling account of a song composed on a car radio-less road trip ('Drowning in the Land of Sky-Blue Waters,' 
about a Hamm's Beer sign), ends with an anecdote about a song McClanahan and his young daughter wrote in honor of close friend Ken Kesey, which McClanahan would perform years later on a Merry Pranksters bookstore tour memorializing Kesey. And if McClanahan is to be believed, the story was written with "but one ambition, which is to provide a vehicle that will allow me, when my vast audience clamors for me to read my work in public, to inflict upon them—be warned—the only three songs I've ever written...." So clamor away, Powell's audience, and maybe he'll treat you to a song.

                                                          --Alison Hallett in the Portland Mercury (prior to my reading at Powell's Books)

During the past few years, memoirs have been under fire thanks to the machinations of James Frey and his ilk. Now comes Ed McClanahan's "O the Clear Moment," in which author and teacher (and former member of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters) offers his own singular take on the genre. His is actually a fictionalized memoir or, as he calls it, an implied autobiography.

In these nine short - sometimes very short - pieces, McClanahan tells "coming-of-age to coming-of-old age" stories about his rambling kind of life, a nice twist on an old literary convention.

In his first story, "Great Moments in Sport," he begins his "Personal Best Great Moment," as unlikely a "sporting" event as there ever was. 
It is the spring of 1950 and McClanahan is a high school junior who, a flop on the basketball team, is now turning his attention to the pursuit of female companionship. The teenage McClanahan - here he is given the nickname of Clammerham - is trying to impress a young girl he has his eyes on. He blows smoke rings with his Lucky Strike cigarettes, trying to be as cool as the movie stars he sees on the silver screen. He wears a pompadour, "complete with a lank Tony Curtis forelock that dangles ornamentally over my right eye, and I'm sporting my brand-new oh-so-cool two-tone jacket with the collar turned up - just like Tony's!"

Unfortunately, this only prompts Bernice, the girl of his affections, to ask, "How come you've got your collar turned up that way, Eddie? 
It's not a bit cold in here!"

McClanahan is unfazed until two boys from the basketball team, both named Bobby and both known for their speed, enter the room. I won't spoil the fun but suffice it to say that the boys play a humiliating trick on our smitten hero, who gets his revenge in the end.

"Fondelle or, The Whore with a Heart of Gold" is a shaggy-dog tale, which McClanahan seems to excel in. This time, it's 1954, the summer before his senior year in college, spent, he offers in an aside, at Miami University - "the one in Ohio, alas." In the meantime, he has a summer job at Yosemite National Park and is romantically linked to a young girl from Youngstown. When one of his friends offers a proposition - if he shares the driving chores and helps pay for the gas, the friend would take him as far east as Houston - McClanahan jumps at the chance. Even though geography is not his forte, he realizes that although Houston may not be in Ohio, it is near New Orleans, which, in his estimation, is reason enough to go. This sets in motion another one of McClanahan's rambling tales where he meets all sorts of odd and colorful characters, including a redheaded woman and a balding, one-armed man wearing a Hawaiian shirt; at one point, he is even asked to be the best man at a stranger's wedding.

In "Another Great Moment in Sports," McClanahan is now all grown up, has a family (and a ponytail, he adds), and lectures at Stanford University. At age 36, he looks more like the craggy Illinois senator Everett McKinley Dirksen than his idol, Curtis. McClanahan gets involved in a peace rally. Given that the story takes place during the height of the Vietnam War demonstrations, things get a bit out of hand. As with all of McClanahan's stories, though, it's funny, endlessly entertaining and full of little surprises.

In the longest piece, "Dog Loves Ellie," he reminisces about his high school days and a lost love named Ellie Chadwick, "the loveliest fifteen-year-old who's ever bedazzled my unworthy eyes." Poor McClanahan thinks he has a chance with her until the competition, like teenage vultures circling overhead, snatches her up before he knows what happens. Forty years later, at the high school reunion, though, McClanahan once again enjoys a quiet moment of redemption.

It's classic McClanahan: the tale of the perennial underdog who, despite all odds, redeems himself in the end, snatching a moment of dignity from the clutches of humiliation.

                                                         --June Sawyers, San Francisco Chronicle

The Natural Man - 1983

I wrote the first draft of THE NATURAL MAN in 1961, in the form of a 98-page novella, and published it in 1983, 22 years later, as a 229-page novel. I figured that with a lot of luck, the novel might sell, oh, maybe four or five thousand copies. But it got a great review (by Ivan Gold) on the front page of the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW and many, many other good reviews as well, and today, after another 22 years, it has never been out of print for any significant length of time, has been through numerous printings in three different editions, and has sold over thirty thousand copies. (It was originally published by Farrar Straus & Giroux, and subsequently in paperback by Viking Penguin; Gnomon Press reprinted it in 1992, and has kept it in print ever since.) The process the original story endured (and mostly survived) between its inception in 1961 and its publication in 1983 is described in part in "Characters With Character," which you can read on the "Writings" page of this website.

Availability: amazon.com, Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, Kentucky, or order from Gnomon Press, PO Box 475, Frankfort, KY 40602-0475 (e-mail: jgnomon@aol.com)

Reviews and Comments:

"A triumph of humor, wisdom, and language." — Robert Stone

"Perhaps the freshest bit of Southern-fiction humor since A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES." — KIRKUS REVIEWS

" ... Earthy, life-affirming humor and splendid writing." — CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER

"I predict it will eventually find its place among great coming-of-age books like THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN and CATCHER IN THE RYE." — Ivan Gold, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

" ... A surprisingly elegant novel. Graceful, earthy, and very funny, it is a delightful entertainment." — HARPER'S

"A baroque comic stylist of absolutely the first order." — USA TODAY

" ... Written in a way curiously reminiscent of Eudora Welty in a winsome mood — which is to say that it is written perfectly, with grace and charm." — CHICAGO TRIBUNE BOOK WORLD

Famous People I Have Known - 1985

Meanwhile, during all those years when I was doing hand-to-hand combat with THE NATURAL MAN, I kept the wolf from the door by teaching at a succession of universities— Oregon State, Stanford, Kentucky, Montana — and maintained my writing career on life support by publishing non-fiction pieces (writing in a new-to-me mode which I called, variously, "participatory journalism," "personal journalism," and finally, after Tom Wolfe invented the term, "New Journalism") in ESQUIRE, PLAYBOY, ROLLING STONE, and a host of lesser-known venues. One of the earliest was a piece called "Famous People I Have Known" (ESQUIRE, 1971); it would become the title story for my second book, published by Farrar Straus & Giroux in 1985, in which is gathered a number of these early pieces. A story about a Lexington, KY musician who called himself Little Enis, the World's Greatest Left-Handed Upsidedown Guitar Player, which won PLAYBOY's Best Non-Fiction award for 1974, became the centerpiece of FAMOUS PEOPLE. In later editions of the book, I added an afterword, titled "Furthurmore," about a 1990 trip on my friend Ken Kesey's fabled psychedelic bus, Furthur. FAMOUS PEOPLE I HAVE KNOWN, like NATURAL MAN, has been published in several editions — most recently (2003) by the University Press of Kentucky — , and remains in print.

Availability: amazon.com, Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, Kentucky, or www.kentuckypress.com

Reviews and Comments:

"Mr. McClanahan makes us laugh with his recollections of the innocent beginnings of the 1960s, before the times began a-changing ... and that laughter is a value all by itself." — Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, THE NEW YORK TIMES

"McClanahan has a sharpshooter's eye for the telling detail and a vocabulary that hilariously blends the hipster and the hillbilly. Durn good fun." — KIRKUS REVIEWS

"That McClanahan returned whole and healthy is a blessing for us all. ... This is one of those rare books that gently, humorously describes a man going through the same messes we all wade through to find his place in the world, but doing it with humor and humility and a certain dose of dignity." — ST. PETERSBURG TIMES

"A bittersweet, almost wistful current trickles just beneath the surface of the author's rococo prose, adding texture, continuity, and poignancy to his reminiscences without diminishing their gently humorous gifts." — CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER

"McClanahan's pungent tales of the fools he's known and the fools he's been will linger long in the reader's mind." — NEWSWEEK

"It's a simple notion but one told with a lot of heart and verve. Again and again in FAMOUS PEOPLE we're thrust back to the people themselves— not the trappings of the times, the mood of the era, the notoriety of certain personages, as boldly as they're conveyed, but the great, endless chain of people." — SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

"A warning about this fellow Ed McClanahan. Bad enough that FAMOUS PEOPLE will keep you up all night; you should know that you may attempt to awaken others to read them the best parts." — NEWSDAY

"Your Ken Kesey, Jean Genet, the Revolution, et Moi' is fabulous. I had never heard of Kesey's encounter with Genet before, but in your pages I could see and hear it all. You've captured both of them perfectly. 'Furthurmore: An Afterword' is great stuff, too. In fact, the whole book has a wonderful rollicking momentum." — Tom Wolfe, from a letter to Ed McClanahan

"Most people who have had as much fun as Ed McClanahan are dead." — Bob Edwards

"A curious combination of raw four-letter explicitness and high literary style. ... The combination is exhilarating." — PEOPLE

"As a product of literary art, FAMOUS PEOPLE is unique and great. As autobiography, it is peerless. As social history, it is an act of sanity redeemed by humor. As comedy, it is ever nourished by good sense." — Wendell Berry

A Congress of Wonders - 1996

When A CONGRESS OF WONDERS (Counterpoint, 1996) was published, someone asked me why it had taken me thirteen years to publish my second book of fiction. "Actually," I answered, "thirteen years doesn't even begin to cover it. I wrote the first drafts of these three stories in, respectively, 1954, 1974, and 1962 — which means, when you add it up, that this book was 98 years in the making. Writing" (I went on) "is like performing brain surgery on yourself; it's not something you want to hurry with."

A CONGRESS OF WONDERS consists of three long stories (actually two long stories and a novella), each of which involves to some degree what I'll call The Inexplicable — magic, mystery, clairvoyance, transmigration, rapture — and each of which is rooted to some degree in my own personal experience. The first story, "Juanita and the Frog Prince," is inspired by a guy who lived in the little Kentucky town where I spent my boyhood, and who had, unhappily for him, two noses. The title story has its genesis in another boyhood experience, in a sideshow at the county fair. (This story, "The Congress of Wonders," was made into a prize-winning short film by producer/director Paul Wagner in 1994.) And the novella, "Finch's Song: A School Bus Tragedy" — which, with its transcendent ending, I believe to be the very best single piece of work I've ever written — springs in part from my own brief, miserable stint as a school bus driver some fifty years ago.

Availability: Out of print, but many copies are listed on Abebooks.com and other used book sites. A special slip-cased Sylph Publications edition of A CONGRESS OF WONDERS, with original artwork by me, is available from www.eliotbooks.com. (Check it out below)

Reviews and comments:

"What a treat it is to pick up a book, begin reading, then break out laughing deep from the gut not once, but repeatedly." — BOOK WORLD

"Quaff of this literary elixir. You won't regret it." — NEWSWEEK

"Ed McClanahan's A CONGRESS OF WONDERS is exactly that. The stories are wonderful, to be sure, but the real wonders are the words. Every word is precisely amazing, just right for the job. The writing is a rare pleasure, funny and exhilirating and fulfilling." — Bobbie Ann Mason

"Ed McClanahan proves once again that he is one of our truly fine writers ... a down-home American Original. This book sings with fresh wonders." — James Welch

"Artfully told, these droll, neo-gothic fairy tales are richly embroidered with threads of alchemy — and love." — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

"Inimitable. ... McClanahan's old-timey slang and down-home wit endow his trash, drifters, cons, and rubes with poetry and magic." — KIRKUS REVIEWS

"The marvel is not just that he demonstrates such command of the language, such an obvious joy in its evocation ... but that coupled with all that remarkable prose is such superb story-telling." — LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

A Congress of Wonders - Sylph Publications Edition

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Originally published by Counterpoint Press in May 1996. Ed McClanahan's classic book of stories is Newly available in one of two custom slipcased editions signed by the author.

These stories are set in the fictional world of Burdock County, Kentucky around World War II. Ed McClanahan resurrects character 'Philander Cosmo Rexroat', from his first book, The Natural Man.

ISBN: 1-887178-12-0 (slipcase pictured)

Signed by Ed McClanahan in black ink with original self-caricature drawing below signature. Book boards printed in gold with Ed McClanahan's "CAPTAIN KENTUCKY"  and "FROG BOY" images. Slipcase bound in black Brillianta and silkscreened in gold with Ed McClanahan's  "FROG BOY".
Laid in is an original three color silkscreen of "FROG BOY", lettered and signed by author.

Edition: 26 lettered copies

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ISBN: 1-887178-12-0 (slipcase pictured)

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Signed by Ed McClanahan in black ink with custom slipcase. Slipcase silkscreened in white with "FROG BOY" image and front book board silkscreened in black with "CAPTAIN KENTUCKY" image.

Edition: 50 numbered copies

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My Vita, If You Will: The Uncollected Ed McClanahan -  1998

MY VITA (Counterpoint, 1998) is both a miscellany — an assemblage of short fiction, essays, reviews, and commentary— and a book about a writer (namely me) finding his voice. To quote the jacket copy (which — full disclosure — I wrote): "As an 'autobiography of a voice,' each piece is seasoned with McClanahan's own wry commentary: 'In the earliest stories collected here, the attentive reader may detect ... flashing neon signs, fly-specked mirrors, and characters whose eyes could be likened in various ways to black holes.' In a later essay, 'Empathy Follows Sympathy,' McClanahan reveals how his writing evolved from these gloomy tales to the ribald comedy for which he is well-loved. After McClanahan's exodus from Kentucky to California come his firsthand accounts of the Bay Area hippie culture: 'Grateful Dead I Have Known,' a long prize-winning meditation about Jerry Garcia and the fanatical devotion of his fans; an insider's portrait of beat hero Neal Cassady; and a chronicle of a bus-journey reunion with buddy Ken Kesey and other Merry Pranksters— long-hairs now become gray-beards."

This book would never have come to pass without the invaluable help of my friend and editor Tom Marksbury, who also contributed a fine essay entitled — yes! — "Autobiography of a Voice." And — a bonus — there is a lovely afterword by my lifelong friend Wendell Berry.

Availability: out of print, but many copies are listed, in a wide range of prices, on Abebooks.com and other used book websites. Also available through Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, Kentucky.

Reviews and comments:

MY VITA — of which Robert Stone, in his introduction, says, "This is the writing of a true American original" — was favorably reviewed or featured in PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, BOOKLIST, the LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, the WASHINGTON POST, and elsewhere. As it happened, though, none of these uniformly enthusiastic notices produced the sort of pithy encomia that readily lend themselves to the blurbster's wily arts. So I offer this review from the BOSTON GLOBE as a (cross my heart) representative sample:
" ... This collection is a devil-may-care miscellany of early short fiction, collaborations, reviews, magazine articles, even an irreverent obituary. The short stories are as gaudily excessive as the author cheerfully acknowledges them to be. Of more general interest are the non-fiction pieces, in all their variegated glory.

"The collection includes offbeat sketches of, and cameo appearances by, highbrow writing colleagues such as Wallace Stegner, Wendell Berry, Saul Bellow, and Bernard Malamud. Out of his experience as a part-time Merry Prankster, McClanahan crafts spirited profiles of the hyperactive hipster Neal Cassady, radical journalist Paul Krassner, and the Pied Piper himself, Ken Kesey. When Kesey took McClanahan on a bus tour, it was not the original 1964 trip but the touching geriatric version, decades later, when all the participants were sadder and wiser. In the same vein, the centerpiece of the collection, 'Grateful Dead I Have Known,' a specimen of classic gonzo journalism, is now tinged with retrospective melancholy for good times that were not supposed to end."

Fondelle: or, the Whore With a Heart of Gold

  • Hardcover: Larkspur Press
  • ASIN: B000ASN5YK (2002)

FONDELLE is a what-I-did-on-my-vacation memoir of my adventures in the summer of 1954— my last summer as a college undergraduate— , when I went out west for the first time, to work on a road crew in Yosemite National Park. The story mainly concerns an encounter I had with an extraordinary couple— a West Virginia-born "showgirl" from New York City and a one-armed WWII vet from Oklahoma— while hitch-hiking between Beaumont, Texas, and New Orleans on my return trip to Kentucky.

This beautiful little hand-made book, which is illuminated by four stunning wood engravings by Wesley Bates, was printed/published in a limited edition by Gray Zeitz at Larkspur Press in Monterey, KY. The publisher offers the following information:

This book was handset in Joseph Blumenthal's Emerson type and Frederic Goudy's Goudy Oldstyle for display. It was printed on a hand-fed C&P. 700 copies were printed on Mohawk Superfine paper and cloth bound. 65 copies were printed on dampened paper and handbound by Carolyn Whitesel. ...
Regular edition (700 copies, 72 pages), bound in green Japanese bookbinding cloth: $34.00.

Special edition (65 copies), handbound by Carolyn Whitesel in her own decorated papers over boards. Signed by author and engraver: $135.00.

Larkspur Press
340 Sawdridge Creek West
Monterey, KY 40359
ph. 502-484-5390

Please add $5 for postage. KY residents add 6% sales tax.

Copies are also available from Black Swan Books and Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, Kentucky.


Sylph Chapbook Number 1

An edition of 26 copies of a story set in the south of England in 1984, about an unfortunate convergence of my rental VW Polo with a vacationing Manchester bobbie's Vauxhall. Damage to the automobiles was minimal to non-existent, but the damage to Anglo-American relations would prove irreparable.

This tiny but beautifully produced little volume from Sylph Publications boasts marbled endpapers, with cover and title page artwork by Ralph Steadman. Each copy also includes an original drawing by me, documenting the calamity. The story can be read on the "Writings" page of this website.

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Quarterbound in red Brillianta and hand-made marbled paper.  Cover label artwork by Ralph Steadman.

Edition:  26 lettered copies signed by the author with an original three-color ink drawing of the car accident.

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Sylph Broadside Number 2

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A broadside silkscreen printed in four colors (blue, brown, white, and gray) on Rising Stonehenge (Tan) paper.  Each embossed with the corporate seal of Triangle Towing Company.

Ed McClanahan pays tribute to his mother and introduces us to aspects of her character through her image and personal and business lives.  This collage broadside reproduces the author's handwritten text (including her recipe for "Easy 'East Rolls"), small drawings, flour handprints and smudges (on both sides) through silkscreening.  Each is affixed with a photograph of his mother and embossed with her corporate seal.

Size: 15" x 22" (portrait)

Edition:  50 numbered copies signed and titled in pencil by Ed McClanahan.

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A Descriptive Bibliography

Compiled by
W. E. Bartholomew

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An annotated descriptive bibliography of the works of Lexington, Kentucky author Ed McClanahan. This work is intended for collectors and scholars. Sections include: 

  • Books
  • Contributions to books and periodicals
  • Biographical and critical works
  • Reviews of Books
  • Audio and visual works
  • Foreign translations and archives.

Annotations chronicle Ed McClanahan's development as a writer and lend context to his work, particularly its place among the sixties counterculture and Kentucky literature.

Cloth Edition 
xvi, 88pp., illustrated (Nov1999)
ISBN: 0-9673004-0-1

Signed by Ed McClanahan in black ink with original self- caricature drawing below signature. Bound in orange Almoline with hand-made marbled endpapers. Cover is silkscreened in three colors with printed clear acetate dust jacket. Laid in is an original three color silkscreen  "CAPTAIN KENTUCKY", signed and numbered in pencil by McClanahan.

Edition: 26 lettered copies.  
Silkscreening by Petro III Graphics.

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Paperback Edition

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xvi, 88pp., illustrated (Nov1999)
ISBN: 0-9673004-1-X

Edition: 100 numbered copies in wrappers.

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Spit in the Ocean #7: All About Kesey
(Edited by Ed McClanahan)

"Between 1974 and 1981" begins the SPIT 7 jacket copy (which, once again, I wrote myself), "Ken Kesey self-published six issues of a literary magazine called SPIT IN THE OCEAN. After Kesey's death in the fall of 2001, several of his close friends chose one of their number, writer Ed McClanahan, to put together a final issue of SPIT as a tribute to Kesey's genius, his vast energy, his generous humanity, and his imperturbable spirit. Gathered here are contributions from cultural luminaries — Paul Krassner, Wendell Berry, Bill Walton, Wavy Gravy, Ken Babbs, Larry McMurtry, Robert Stone, Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Rosalie Sorrels, Douglas Brinkley, Gurney Norman, Grateful Dead lyricists Robert Hunter and John Perry Barlow, cowboy poet Paul Zarzyski, filmmaker Gus Van Sant — as well as many vintage Merry Pranksters and regular folks whose lives Kesey touched and influenced, and a dazzling array of previously unpublished pieces by Kesey himself. SPIT IN THE OCEAN #7 is a fitting homage — a loving, many-faceted mosaic portrait of one of the most compelling forces in modern American culture."

A footnote: When SPIT 7 was published (by Viking Penguin) in November 2003, a band of vintage Pranksters, myself among them, took Kesey's bus, Furthur, out of mothballs and put together a splendid little seven-stop book tour/roadshow called the SpitFurthur Tour, featuring ourselves of course, and hit West Coast venues from Portland to Eugene to the San Francisco bay area. The tour was a huge success; we had SRO crowds wherever we went, sold tons of books, and had a gloriously good time as well. It was, as I told someone at the time, "the funnest two weeks of my life."

Availability: www.Key-Z.com (Ken's son Zane's website), Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, Kentucky, or amazon.com

Kesey's Jail Journal: CUT THE M**********RS LOOSE
by Ken Kesey
(Introduction by Ed McClanahan)

This amazing illuminated chronicle — Kesey's last book — of the five months he spent in 1967 in a detention facility called the San Mateo County (CA) Sherrif's Honor Camp, on marijuana charges, is a volatile admixture of Ken's vivid writing and his eye-popping artwork. As I wrote in the introduction: "What was astonishing ... , as we saw more and more of these pages on subsequent visits [to the jail], was that he could sustain such a high level of intensity, page after page after page, each so crammed with words and colors and faces and forms that it seemed ready to explode in your face like a letter bomb. For a jail, the Sherrif's Honor Camp was relatively humane, but as one might suppose, confinement chafed and galled Ken even more than it would most people, and therefore capital-C Confinement is an almost palpable evil presence in the journal, just as all those words and images and colors seem to be in constant struggle with the edges of the page. The text, with its antic spellings and deliberate crudities and fragments of pin-up porn, is like runic scribbling on the jailhouse wall: cramped, volatile, funny, and as conspiratorial as a jailbreak."

Availability: Key-Z.com, Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, Kentucky, or amazon.com

by Gurney Norman
(Afterword by Ed McClanahan)

Gurney Norman's DIVINE RIGHT'S TRIP is by far the best work of fiction to come out of the counterculture of the 1960s. It was originally published in the pages of Stewart Brand's THE LAST WHOLE EARTH CATALOG, and subsequently issued in hardback by The Dial Press. The Gnomon Press edition appeared in 1990.

Availability: amazon.com, Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, Kentucky, or order from Gnomon Press, PO Box 475, Frankfort, KY 40602-0475 (e-mail: jgnomon@AOL.com)

Reviews and comments:

"DIVINE RIGHT'S TRIP shows itself to be a subtly written and morally passionate epic of the counterculture, a fictional explication of the hopeful new consciousness come to birth. ... Divine Right is bigger than life, and in giving the story thus far of a segment of his generation, in prose nicely threaded between the vernacular and the symbolic, Gurney Norman has shown a noble reach and a healthy grasp." — John Updike, THE NEW YORKER

"DIVINE RIGHT'S TRIP stands a good chance of being the book for a generation in the way that ON THE ROAD and CATCHER IN THE RYE were. ... Gurney Norman has unleashed a force that will be felt for a long time to come." — John Deck, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

"Divine Right Davenport is our hero, our Odysseus, our Jason, our Beowulf, our Boone; and his quest for his identity, his Wholeness, is our quest, his struggle our struggle, his triumph ours, too." — Ed McClanahan, ROLLING STONE

by Guy Mendes
(Foreword by Ed McClanahan)

Quoting from my own foreword: "The camera has the reputation of being a cold, objective instrument, but Guy Mendes' portraits are unfailingly warm, good-humored, even playful. His landscapes are serene and spacious, his studies of the textures of light and shadow are adventurously abstract and 'painterly,' his interiors and still lifes are elegantly composed. There's an abundant variety of things to look at in this book: from a trompe l'oeil toad to a famous poet to a Hudson River School landscape to a graceful torso to a crumbling Grecian portico that seems somehow to metamorphose into a tattered fragment of sheet music ... Vision, Swift tells us, is the art of seeing the invisible. Guy Mendes sees it every time— and takes its picture."

Availability: Order from Gnomon Press, PO Box 475, Frankfort, KY 40602-0475 (email: jgnomon@AOL.com)

by James Baker Hall
(Introduction by Ed McClanahan)

In 1963, my then-young friend Jim Hall published his first novel, a funny, charming, poignant tale about a photographer's hyper-adolescent assistant, a darkroom genius who aspires, improbably, to athletic greatness and, impossibly, to a grand sexual conquest. The novel, a sure-fire critical success, died a-borning because of a low-level clerical glitch by the publisher, and basically disappeared for the ensuing 40 years. In the meantime, novelist-poet-photographer Hall published widely, and also made his mark as a much sought-after teacher of writing at UK; he was Poet Laureate of Kentucky, 2001-2003. YATES PAUL, thankfully, resumed its rightful place in the canon when the University Press of Kentucky reissued it in 2002.

Availability: kentuckypress.com, Black Swan Books, Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, Kentucky, or amazon.com

L. to R., Wendell Berry, Jim Hall, Ed and Gurney Norman. Photo by Kit Andrews.


A SPRING-FED POND: My Friendships With Five Kentucky Writers over the Years
by James Baker Hall

"I have been photographing Bobbie Ann Mason, Ed McClanahan, Wendell Berry, Gurney Norman and Mary Ann Taylor-Hall for all the years I have known them. I offer these photographs as a remembrance of what they were in their youth and a tribute to what they have become." — from the Foreword by James Baker Hall

This is a splendid book, lavishly produced, nothing stinted.

Availability: artsacrossky.com, Black Swan Books, Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, Kentucky, or amazon.com


Copyright © 2005 - 2012 Ed McClanahan. All rights reserved.