Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Other Life of Russell Kirk

Russell Kirk is best known as one of the intellectual founders of modern American conservatism; his best known work is The Conservative Mind, and it was one of the thirteen books I chose to assign in my survey of U. S. Intellectual History Since 1865 (we just had our discussion of it yesterday). It was far from his only contribution to this tradition, however: he also wrote a column in the National Review in its early years, edited his own conservative journal called Modern Age, and wrote a lot of other books on conservative thought, and so forth. Like William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater, Kirk is one of the intellectual founders of contemporary American politics, of enormous influence.

But Russell Kirk was also a fantasy writer, specializing in ghost stories; reviewer Michael Dirda, who knows whereof he speaks, called Kirk "the greatest American author of ghostly tales in the classic style". And, as I found out when preparing my lectures for this week, his story "There's a Long, Long Trail A-Winding" actually won the World Fantasy Award in 1977 for best short story (the same year Ray Bradbury got a lifetime achievement award). It's included in a collection of Kirk's short fiction called Ancestral Shadows, and also in David Hartwell's anthology The Dark Descent (which I've owned for years, and have read a lot, but not all, of -- and not this story, nor did the identity of its author ever penetrate my consciousness; this shouldn't have been a surprise to me -- but it was).

I'm fairly certain he's the only author we're reading this semester who won a major F/SF award. I wouldn't be surprised if he's the only person I'm so much as mentioning in the class who ever won a major F/SF award.

Strange world.

1 comment:

John Rocha said...

Russell Kirk is one of those few men of letters who lived in the one world, the world of scholarship...dipped his toes in a cadmic and politics, but found his nourishment in writing stories. Worthy of looking at is a review of his ghost stores recently republished: Ancestral Shadows can be found at