This author holds a deep yearning for the hills of east Kentucky

Several times each year I make presentations to various groups. Recently I gave a talk at the Yellow Springs branch of the Greene County Public Library. My audience that day were members of a local book club. After the event was over I was chatting with one of the ladies from the group, she asked me why I had never reviewed a book by one of the other women who had been in attendance that day.

Once I determined which book she meant I tracked down a copy. It is a collection of stories written by Jo Ann Kiser. The title of it is “The Guitar Player and Other Songs of Exile.” I began reading it and was impressed. I finished it then invited the author, who lives in Yellow Springs, to appear as a guest on my radio program on WYSO. So she did.

Kiser was born into a large family in Pike County in east Kentucky. The family moved around, her father depended upon finding work in about the only industry in the region, coal, and they eventually relocated to Ohio where her dad obtained a factory job. The author might have moved away from the beauty of those green Kentucky hills but they have remained near to her heart.

These stories are beautifully written with a jewel-like quality. They feature Kentucky hills as actual backdrops or as stuff of memories for some dislocated former residents coping in urban settings like Columbus, Chicago, and New York City, while recalling with fondness people and places left behind.

Her story “Paradise” features this typical exchange: “‘I’ve never been to Lexington,’ Fanny said apologetically. ‘Fanny’s from the hills,’ Audrey said. ‘Ah. What does your father do there?’ ‘He works in the mines...’”

During our interview Kiser talked about her time in New York in the 1960′s and 1970′s where she found work as a fact checker for the New Yorker. If you are familiar with the calibre of stories in that magazine perhaps you’ll get a sense of how Kiser writes. She doesn’t waste words, the literary quality is exceptional.

In “Sunday Afternoons” Abraham, an Ohio factory worker, heads back every weekend to familiar Kentucky: “On a lazy summer night, tired but at ease, he pulls into the yard. The sun has gone down, but something mellow lingers. Tree frogs are chirruping everywhere. An owl cautiously intones. By the road, he has seen tidy rows of corn. In front of him, welcoming light obscures the windows. His wife steps on the porch. Always, is that you. Abe? Foolish woman. In his gratitude, he rushes up onto the porch and gives her a bear hug, hiding his sweaty face beside her freshly washed neck.”

There’s something comfortingly old fashioned and nostalgic in many of these stories. There’s still heartbreak, and struggle, but overwhelmingly the enduring desire is to find a place that is safe and secure, that feels just like a home should feel. Even if that place is now only a memory.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit Contact him at

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