William Lynwood Montell taught in the folk studies program at Western Kentucky University from 1969 to 1999. He graduated from WKU in 1960, and received an M.A. and Ph.D. from Indiana University. In addition to WKU, he taught at Campbellsville College and briefly at UCLA and the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of 22 books, including Singing the Glory Down: Amateur Gospel Music in South Central Kentucky, 1900-1990; Killings: Folk Justice in the Upper South; and Ghosts across Kentucky. In the summer of 2001, he was inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, located in Renfro Valley, Kentucky, and in March 2003, he received the Governor’s Award in the Arts.
A master story collector, Montell has travelled across the commonwealth interviewing ordinary people about their lives and experiences. While he no longer teaches, he continues exploring the state, collecting tales, writing books, presenting lectures, and giving storytelling presentations. “As I tell people, I could care less writing about kings, queens, and presidents,” said Montell. “I write about local culture, life, and times as described by persons whom I interview.” A constant topic of conversation is work, and Montell specifically collected stories from six different professions to collect into books. Now, all six have been released in paperback:• Tales from Kentucky Lawyers
• Tales from Kentucky Doctors
• Tales from Kentucky Nurses
• Tales from Kentucky One-Room School Teachers
• Tales from Kentucky Sheriffs
• Tales from Kentucky Funeral Homes
Each book contains over 200 first-hand accounts handed down to Montell in the oral tradition. The stories are relayed nearly verbatim, maintaining the language each interviewee used. In addition, each book groups thematically similar stories and contains an introduction by Montell, which explains his process and gives background information on the projects. He also meticulously documents when and where he recorded each story and includes biographies of his subjects.
Ranging from wildly funny to deeply tragic—often at the same time—these tales make up an uncommon and invaluable addition to Kentucky’s rich local history. The stories he collects represent every part of the state, from Pikeville to Paducah, and the experiences he records range from the early twentieth-century to the present. Together, they preserve a meaningful record for future generations, and entertain while they do so.