By Larry Muhammad
September 1, 2009
Maybe he's no Hunter Thompson, but at least the Lexington-based
writer Ed McClanahan aka counterculture figure Captain Kentucky in
the 1960s and 70s is still alive.
"Hunter was a trip," said McClanahan, author most recently of the
story collection, "O The Clear Moment". "Whatever his reputation was,
he lived up to it. I was teaching in Montana, he came up there, and
we ended up spending the night running around Missoula, and it was a blast."
A congenital wit and gifted storyteller whom reviewers compare to
Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., McClanahan is no angel himself.
He fell in with Ken Kesey's hippieband, The Merry Pranksters, in the
1960s as a Stanford University student, a group including Neal
Cassady and Allen Ginsberg that sometimes lived communally, used
psychedelic drugs and famously travelled the country in a
weirdly-painted school bus called Furthur.
Now 76, he's one of its surviving members.
"There are others," he said, "primarily Ken Babbs (Kesey's best
friend of co-author with him of "Last Go Round"), George Walker, and
Mountain Girl (Carolyn Adams). She was Kesey's squeeze, as it were,
but also Jerry Garcia's wife."
When Kesey, probably best known as author of "One Flew Over the
Cuckoo's Nest", died in 2001, McClanahan was drafted to edit "Spit in
the Ocean #7" a memorial edition of a literary magazine Kesey had
founded in 1973 and sporadically self-published, ending with #6 in 1981.
Contributors included Thompson, Tom Wolfe, Kentucky Poet Laureate
Gurney Norman, folksinger Rosalie Sorrels, filmmaker Gus Van Sant,
and novelist Larry McMurtry.
"This was a chore that I just loved, really enjoyed doing it, and I
think of that as a book that I'd written," said McClanahan, who also
credited the project with interrupting work on his novel-in progress,
"The Return of the Son of Needmore", a book he once dubbed "my entry
for the Pulitzer Prize novel of 2032" some indication of his work ethic.
He's published a handful of books in 50 years of writing his debut
novel, "The Natural Man", was started in 1961 and published 22 years
later in 1983 and has blithely described his literary output as
"just a slightly hyper attempt to capture you attention."
His latest, a collection of stories out last year, "O The Clear
Moment", was published by Counterpoint Press and bears a nifty cover
drawing by Ralph Steadman. The 9-story pocketbook volume received
charitable reviews for its colorful characters and backwoods charm.
One story, "Dog Loves Ellie", involves a class reunion featuring high
school basketball heroes in Maysville and the object of an enormous
As McClanahan writes, "the door to Miss Wallingford's 10 o'clock
English class opened and into my life stepped be still, my heart!
Ellie Chadwick! All that semester in English class, she sat in the
row to the left of mine, one seat ahead, so that for fifty minutes
every morning her immaculate profile was before me, a lovely
enigmatic ivory cameo. In homage to its alabaster perfection, I
taught myself to write "Ellie" in the margins of my grammar workbook
in fat, overlapping letters resembling nothing so much as a handful
of amorous caterpillars at the height of mating season."
Some reviewers however noted that "O The Clear Moment" contained
stories recycled from previous collections "Another Great Moment in
Sports" and its predecessor "Great Moments in Sports" were both from
his 1998 collection "My Vita, If You Will", and "And Then I Wrote…"
from "Famous People I Have Known" in 1985.
McClanahan said in a telephone interview, "It's true that some of
those stories have resurfaced from other works, but the fact is that
the ones that have been published before had been published in what I
would consider pretty obscure places. The story 'Fondelle or, The
Whore with a Heart of Gold' is a long story, novella length, and that
was published in a limited edition, fine press book but they only
printed 700 copies and I couldn't see any reason in the world why I
couldn't put that before a larger audience if I could. Same thing is
true of 'Great Moments' and "Another Great Moment'. Those two stories
were in my book 'My Vita', which was certainly not a bestseller, it
didn't have a wide audience, but I like them and thought they
deserved a bigger audience too. I am far from apologetic."
Native of Brooksville, Ky., McClanahan graduated University of
Kentucky in English and attended Stanford on a Wallace Stegner Fellowship.
He's taught creative writing and English at University of Kentucky,
Northern Kentucky University, Stanford, University of Montana and
Oregon State University.
His reviews, essays and stories have appeared in Esquire, Rolling
Stone, and Playboy.
He lives in Lexington with his wife, Hilda, a concert pianist and
teacher from Belgium whom he met at a Derby party in 1991. He has
five grown children from two previous marriages.
He's been known to lecture creative writing workshops in full Captain
Kentucky regalia and continues to plug away on his unfinished novel,
"The Return of the Son of Needmore".
His website includes uncollected writing such as "This Just In! Old
Hippie Gets New Hip!", and much of his work is admitted autobiographical.
"Son of Needmore" is set in a factional town based on Brooksville,
And he's described "Clear Moment" as "an implied biography",
explaining, "I remember when my friend Gurney Norman published his
book of stories, 'Kinfolks', about a young boy who rose to manhood,
editors wanted to call that an implied novel. Quite clearly they were
separate stories, but all were about the same young man and he does
progress through them. And that's the way the stories in 'Clear
Moment' are. It's an implied biography because those stories are
clearly about me."