By Stephen Burnett
For more than half a century Ed McClanahan has spun tales about many topics: his own life and travels, local color and literary fantastic fiction. Last month he sat down to try a much different genre: offering copies of his own works on CD, and perks such as meals and tours with himself, to anyone who pledges certain amounts to McClanahan’s month-long Kickstarter campaign.
Literary author Ed McClanahan recently traded his keyboard for a microphone, recording two of his works to distribute only to supporters of his ongoing online campaign. (Photo submitted)
“It’s been a lot of fun,” McClanahan said. “It’s been a fun-raising project as well as a fund-raising project. … I had a good time, cooking up the rewards for contributing to it. They were fun to write. ‘Ed takes you to lunch and buys you an o’round,’ that kind of thing.”
The lunch-with-Ed-who-buys-you-an o’round pledge (for $250) is already taken. But less than a week is left — until 3:13 p.m. Tuesday, July 17 — the window will be closed.
McClanahan and his publisher for this effort, Old Cove Press out of Lexington, both believe they will succeed in raising enough to cover the costs of something he has anticipated for a long time: limited-edition spoken-word albums of his works.
“I am of the opinion that a lot of people have discovered my writing by having happened to hear me read my works somewhere,” he explained. “I like the connection with the audience and the sense that you’re getting instant feedback. You say something funny and people laugh. … I enjoy doing it so much that I wanted the recordings to be a little piece of my literary legacy. I mean, I’m almost 80 years old. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”
The 30-day campaign began on June 17, and as of Monday, July 9, the campaign had $2,000 more to raise. By Wednesday they had only $675 to go. Kickstarter campaigns require a project be fully funded to gain the total funding. McClanahan is sure they’ll reach their goal in time.
Then he will have more work to do: a celebratory party for Kickstarter supporters and more than a few appointments to keep with campaign pledgers.
McClanahan said he expects to be good company for those lunch and dinner dates. “I’m a good talker!” he exclaimed with a laugh. “I enjoy meeting people and so forth. And I’m looking forward to this. I like bringing people into my office and showing them all this stuff in here, for one thing. There’s 10 million interesting things in this room that are interesting to me, and every one of them has a story behind it. … I’m surrounded by autobiography in some way.”
Born in Brooksville, Ky., in 1932, McClanahan quickly found he loved studying and using the English language. In 1955 he gained his bachelor’s degree from Miami University, and three years later had added a master’s in English. Then he set to traveling the nation, teaching where he could and adding to his life acquaintances, literary friends and experiences.
“I went out west in 1958 and taught for four years at a college up in Oregon, Oregon State University,” he recalled. Then he joined the creative writing program at Stanford and was invited to teach. He remained there for nine years, frequently re-visiting his home state. “Then in the early ’70s, I taught at UK for a year, filling in for my friend [and novelist] Wendell Berry.” Finally, after teaching at the University of Montana for three years in the early 1970s, McClanahan worked his way back to Kentucky more permanently, to a house in Henry County.
After the breakup of his second marriage in 1990, he traveled out west again. But apparently his state of origin had to be his state of completion. He bought in Lexington, intending it to be his bachelor pad and perhaps last living location, but he ended up getting married again.
All along he was writing and has so far published seven books. Though all his books remain in print, the first, his novel “The Natural Man” (1983), remains his best seller. “But I primarily write about myself and my own personal life experiences,” he said. “I write a lot about my youth, and I’ve written a lot about my experiences out west with the pranksters and so forth.”
Those works include “Famous People I Have Known” in 1985 and “O the Clear Moment” in 2008. His last, published last year, is “I Just Hitched In From the Coast: The Ed McClanahan Reader.”
Even his most fantastic fiction is based on some real life experiences. “A Congress of Wonders” (1996) is a collection of three stories, with elements as speculative as the transubstantiation of souls and people going off to heaven on the backs of a flock of tiny golden birds, McClanahan said. “There’s a guy with two noses in one of the stories,” he continued. “I knew a guy with two noses!” During McClanahan’s early Kentucky years, that man murdered someone.
A pair of gold cowboy boots, custom-made for country singer Hoyt Axton and passed to author Ken Kesey and then to Ed McClanahan, is the reward for the (currently unclaimed) top pledge at Kickstarter. Anyone who pledges support will receive audio copies of McClanahan’s works 'Fondelle, or The Whore with a Heart of Gold' and 'A Congress of Wonders.' (Photo submitted)
But it’s only “A Congress of Wonders,” plus his short and semi-autobiographical story “Fondelle, or The Whore with a Heart of Gold” that will be distributed in audio form to Kickstarter supporters. Those stories won’t be available commercially, McClanahan confirmed.
The project began a few years ago when Jack Wright, a former Ohio University film school professor and audio producer, heard McClanahan read and approached him about recording some his work. They recorded McClanahan’s novella “Fondelle” in a studio at Kentucky Educational Television.
“Fondelle” was actually the first story he tried recording, at the Kentucky Educational Television studio quite some time ago.
“We got pretty good at this, so we were able to do it in one afternoon,” McClanahan recalled.
McClanahan later asked Wright to expand the recording project to include all three stories in his book “A Congress of Wonders.” Old Cove Press publisher Nyoka Hawkins suggested organizing a Kickstarter campaign to fund publication of the CDs.
Wright and McClanahan recorded “A Congress of Wonders” at Arthur Rouse’s studio and video-editing services in Lexington. That project took about nine hours, and much learning, for McClanahan as he read, he said.
“When we first starting doing it, I would make a mistake and not really realize how dumb that would sound on the record. The sound engineer would have to stop me and say: ‘Back up; let’s try that again.’ But we got to the point where I was able to recognize my own mistakes.”
“Fondelle” will be all on one CD, accompanied by album artwork showing four woodcuts that a Canadian artist made for the original book. “A Congress of Wonders” will comprise four CDs.
As of last Thursday afternoon, 95 people had pledged support in varying amounts.
“We browbeat our friends, for starters,” McClanahan said with a laugh. “I sent them to writer friends of mine, east in Pittsburgh and out west.” But McClanahan’s work, and this particular audio project, isn’t just for those who know him and his writing already, he said.
Listening to a story, he insisted, not reading it, is a unique way to experience a creative work.
“I would try to persuade them that they would enjoy hearing the story read by the author, and hearing it as the author imagines that he would like to hear it heard,” he continued. “It’ll be a different experience from just reading it to one’s self, I think. … It adds another dimension to it.
“If you like language that can both laugh at itself and take itself seriously,” McClanahan added, “you’d like these recordings.”