Mode of Program Participation

Performances and Arts

Participation Type


Session Title

Divine Right's Trip: A Reading and Conversation with Gurney Norman and Susan Isaacs

Session Abstract or Summary

Gurney Norman (University of Kentucky) opens this session reading from his acclaimed 1972 novel, Divine Right’s Trip. Two free spirits--D.R. and his partner, Estelle--journey across the United States from California to Eastern Kentucky in their VW bus named Urge. The author and Susan Isaacs (Union College) will discuss the work, focusing on the episode in which David Ray "Divine Right" Davenport has an extreme psychotic break in the depths of an abandoned Kentucky coal mine. The novel uses themes and symbols drawn from the Appalachian landscape—such as an abandoned "mine" as metaphor for a crisis of the protagonist's "mind"--to render what Joseph Campbell calls the "universal hero journey." Norman will discuss Divine Right's Trip and its debt to Campbell's famous study of mythology, Hero with A Thousand Faces. Susan Isaacs views Norman’s folk motifs from through an ethnographic lens. Reader response theory also lends understanding to her interpretation of D.R., Estelle, and their obstacles. Both presenters will focus their remarks on the novel's ongoing relevance to the study of Appalachian literature and folklore.

Presentation #1 Title

D.R.: The Hero's Journey

Presentation #1 Abstract or Summary

Gurney Norman will read from his work, and talk about D.R.'s heroic struggle in the mine-mind.

At-A-Glance Bio- Presenter #1

In 1971, Gurney Norman’s novel Divine Right's Trip was published in The Last Whole Earth Catalog. In 1977, his book of short stories Kinfolks, which received Berea College's Weatherford Award, was published by Gnomon Press. In 1979, Norman joined the faculty of the University of Kentucky in the Department of English. In 2007 the ASA awarded Norman the Helen M. Lewis Community Service Award. He serves as Senior Writer-in-Residence at Hindman Settlement School's annual Appalachian Writers Workshop. Norman was selected to serve as the 2009-2010 Poet Laureate for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and was officially installed as Laureate on April 24, 2009.

Presentation #2 Title

The Auto-ethnographer Observes Divine Right's Trip

Presentation #2 Abstract or Summary

Auto-ethnography blends cultural interpretation and autobiography. I will address selected levels of meaning in D.R.'s and Estelle's trips; the novel's significance in Appalachian literature and folklore; and my own journeys as an ethnographer in Appalachia.

At-A-Glance Bio- Presenter #2

Susan L. F. Isaacs is tenured professor of English and Communication at Union College in Barbourville, Kentucky, where she has fifteen years of continuous service. Inter-disciplinary by nature, she has taught over thirty different courses in Appalachian studies, undergraduate and graduate composition, literary journalism, literature, and post-colonialism. She is an ethnographer whose academic interests include the environment, culture, folklore, and writing as craft. She is a regular participant in the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop (Hindman Settlement School). Her research includes intercultural communication among African Americans, Latino/as, Asians, and whites in an urban community college; Pennsylvania Dutch folk art; and Jewish communities in France and Ethiopia.

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D.R.: The Hero's Journey

Gurney Norman will read from his work, and talk about D.R.'s heroic struggle in the mine-mind.