Gurney Norman was born in Grundy, Virginia, in 1937. He grew up in the southern Appalachian Mountains and was raised alternately by his maternal grandparents in Southwest Virginia and his paternal grandparents in Eastern Kentucky in several towns, but primarily in the small community of Allais, near Hazard, in Perry County. He attended Stuart Robinson School in Letcher County, Kentucky, from 1946 to 1955. Norman attended the University of Kentucky from 1955 to 1959, graduating with a degree in journalism and English. In 1960, he received a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing at Stanford University where he studied with literary critic Malcolm Cowley and the Irish short story writer Frank O'Connor
After Stanford, Norman spent two years in the U.S. Army. He returned to eastern Kentucky in 1963 to work as a reporter for his hometown newspaper, The Hazard Herald. Leaving newspaper work to concentrate on his fiction writing, Norman took a job with the U.S. Forest Service as a fire lookout in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon in the summers of 1966 and 1967. In 1971, his novel Divine Right's Trip was published in The Last Whole Earth Catalog and subsequently by the Dial Press and Bantam Books. Norman was one of the founders of the Briarpatch Network in 1974, with Richard Raymond and Michael Phillips. 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 as an associate professor of English. He served as Director of the English Department's Creative Writing Program from 2000 to 2014. In 1996 his work as a fiction writer, filmmaker, and cultural advocate was honored at the Fifteenth Annual Emory and Henry College Literary Festival, which celebrates significant writers in the Appalachian region. In 2002 he was honored by the Eastern Kentucky Leadership Conference for outstanding contribution to the advancement of regional arts and culture. In 2007 the Appalachian Studies Association awarded Norman the Helen M. Lewis Community Service Award, which recognizes exemplary contributions to Appalachia through involvement with and service to its people and communities. 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. On May 8, 2011, Norman was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Berea College. On February 13, 2019, he was inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame, which recognizes distinguished Kentucky writers whose work reflects the state's rich literary heritage. He lives in Lexington, Kentucky.
Divine Right's Trip follows DR Davenport and Estelle, a pair of hippie stoners who leave California for eastern Kentucky, where they settle on a farm raising rabbits. The novel was originally serialized in The Last Whole Earth Catalog.
Kinfolks is a book of short stories concerning young Wilgus Collier and his relationships with his family members.
Ancient Creek is a satirical folktale about a rebellion by mountain people against an absurd and oppressive king in a mythical American region.
As writer and presenter
- 1987 - Time on the River - A historical look at the important role the Kentucky River played in the settlement of the state. KET production.
- 1989 - From This Valley - Explores the Big Sandy region of Eastern Kentucky, including its trails, people, history, and literary heritage. KET production.
- 1991 - Wilderness Road - Retraces the route of the famous pioneer trail from Kingsport, Tennessee, to Boonesborough, Kentucky. KET production.
Based on Norman's work
- 2000 - The Wilgus Stories - Dramatization of three Norman short stories--"Fat Monroe," "Night Ride" and "Maxine"—by filmmaker Andrew Garrison.
- Book One From Crazy Quilt: A Novel in Progress (Monterey, KY: Larkspur Press), 1990.
- Divine Right's Trip: A Folk-Tale (New York: Dial Press), 1972. ISBN 0-917788-42-7
- Kinfolks: The Wilgus Stories (Frankfort, KY: Gnomon Press), 1977. ISBN 0-917788-07-9
- Ancient Creek: A Folktale (Lexington, KY: Old Cove Press), 2012. ISBN 0-967542-42-1
- An American Vein: Critical Readings in Appalachian Literature with Danny Miller and Sharon Hatfield (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press), 2005. ISBN 0-8214-1589-1
- Confronting Appalachian Stereotypes: Back Talk from an American Region with Dwight B. Billings and Katherine Ledford (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky), 1999. ISBN 0-8131-2099-3
- Elliott, Allison (March 14, 2009). "Gurney Norman Named Kentucky Poet Laureate". University of Kentucky. Archived from the original on 2012-02-20. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
- "Stuart Robinson School Collection | Special Collections: Hutchins Library - Berea College". Berea.edu. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
- "Gurney Norman | Appalachian Heritage - Berea College". Community.berea.edu. 1937-07-22. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
- Mendes, Guy (November 28, 2001). "Living by Words – Gurney Norman Interview". Kentucky Educational Television. Archived from the original on January 18, 2016. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
- Jones, Malcolm (2007-03-18). "Baby Boomers and Books: A Love Affair With Literature". Newsweek.com. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
- Claude Whitmyer (2007-01-01). "History of The Briarpatch Network aka The Briarpatch Society aka The Briarpatch". Briarpatch.net. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
- "Past Winners | Appalachian Center : Weatherford Award - Berea College". Berea.edu. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
- Courier, The (2009-03-16). "Local News | The Courier-Journal". courier-journal.com. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
- "The Wilgus Stories: The Author – Gurney Norman". Independent Television Service. Archived from the original on March 7, 2009.
- "Eastern Kentucky Leadership Awards – 2002 recipients". Archived from the original on July 26, 2011.
- "Past Award Winners :: ASA ::". Appalachianstudies.org. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
- "Gurney Norman New Kentucky Poet Laureate | Hindman Settlement School". Hindmansettlement.org. 2009-04-24. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
- "Kentucky.gov: Kentucky Arts Council Home Page". Artscouncil.ky.gov. 2012-01-31. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
- Buckner, Jay (2011-05-08). "Appalachian author Gurney Norman tells Berea College graduates to find wisdom in unexpected places". Bcnow.berea.edu. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
- "Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame Inductees 2019". carnegiecenterlex.org. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
- Piercy, Lindsey (2019-01-30). "Norman, McClanahan, Vance Join Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame". uknow.uky.edu. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
- Eblen, Tom (2018-12-11). "They wrote from heart of California counterculture. Now they'll join Kentucky hall of fame". kentucky.com. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
- "Ed McClanahan and Gurney Norman Make the Kentucky Hall of Fame". aceweekly.com. 2019-02-11. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
- webeditor. "April 2000 bookclub@ket". Ket.org. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
- "Ancient Creek". Old Cove Press. Retrieved 2017-09-04.
- "Time on the River". KET. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
- "From This Valley". KET. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
- "Wilderness Road". KET. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
- "The Wilgus Stories". itvs.org. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
- Chaney, Candace "A Man of His Words", Lexington Herald-Leader, Page E1, April 26, 2009.
- Howell, Rebecca Gayle "Gurney Norman: Poet Laureate", Lexington Herald-Leader, page A15, April 24, 2009.
- Arnold, Timothy W. "Hero Trip: Divine Right's Journey of Self", Border States: Journal of the Kentucky-Tennessee American Studies Association, No. 9 (1993).
- Holbrook, Chris. "Gurney Norman Remembers His 'Kinfolks'", Lexington Herald-Leader, April 26, 1992.
- Ward, William S. A Literary History of Kentucky (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press), 1988. ISBN 0-87049-578-X