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Catlettsburg Honors Billy C. Clark A True Champion of Literary Brilliance

Catlettsburg Honors Billy C. Clark

 A True Champion of Literary Brilliance

By: Sasha Bush

The Ashland Beacon


This past weekend at the start of Catlettsburg Kentucky’s Annual Freedom  Celebration, the wife of Billy C. Clark, Ruth Bocook-Clark was presented with a plaque honoring her late husband’s accomplishments and legacy. “My husband would have loved this. This place (Catlettsburg) is his birthplace. It’s so nice that the people of Catlettsburg wanted to do this for him. I am thankful for all that is here, and this just means a lot to a part of such a great community.” Shared an emotional Bocook-Clark.

What made this special presentation even better was that this year’s Freedom Fest Celebration marked the 175-year anniversary for the City of Catlettsburg, The Catlettsburg Leadership Community Development Council and the City of Catlettsburg is proud be able to host this event each year.

Billy C. Clark is responsible for writing several memoirs, fiction pieces, and poetry that reflects his time spent in Catlettsburg Kentucky and the rich river culture that runs along the Kentucky-West Virginal border line.

On Dec. 19, 1928, a pregnant Bertha Clark (Billy Clark’s mother) found herself in Kenova, West Virginia, shopping for secondhand clothes for her children. While shopping Bertha began to experience intense labor pains and she then quickly gathered her purchases and boarded nearest streetcar, urging the driver to hasten across the U.S. 60 bridge to Catlettsburg, as recounted by Clark’s friend, James M. Gifford, CEO and senior editor of the Jesse Stuart Foundation. In 1992, the bridge Bertha had rushed across was renamed in honor of Billy Curtis Clark, who is also commemorated in a mural on Catlettsburg’s floodwall. His mother was insistent that he be born on the Kentucky side of these rivers.

Born into poverty, Clark's father was a shoemaker and fiddler, while his mother took in laundry. Leaving home at 11, Clark spent the next five years on the third floor of a city government building in Catlettsburg, working odd jobs to support his schooling. His tasks included cleaning jails, winding the town clock, and serving as a volunteer firefighter. He also supplemented the family income by fishing and trapping.

After serving three years in the United States Army, Clark went to the University of Kentucky on the GI Bill in 1952. Although he left without a degree three years later due to financial constraints, he turned to writing. Within four years, he had successfully sold five books to New York publishers- Song of the River (1957), The Trail of the Hunter’s Horn (1957), Riverboy (1958), Mooneyed Hound (1959) and A Long Row to Hoe: The Life of a Kentucky Riverboy (1960).

  In 1956, Clark married Ruth Bocook while he was working at what was then known as Ashland Oil. A cool fact that many may not know is that Clark had a very renown cousin who like Clark had the gift of literary talent. Jesse Stuart, and his wife Naomi Deane went to the wedding of Clark and Bocook in 1956.

Returning to the University of Kentucky in 1963, Clark completed his degree and served as a writer in residence, publishing three more books- Goodbye Kate (1964), The Champion of Sourwood Mountain (1966) and Sourwood Tales (1968). After graduation in 1967 Clark began his teaching and writing career at Somerset Community College. Clark taught there for a total of 18 years.

In 1985, the Clarks moved to Farmville, Virginia, where Clark taught at Longwood University and then later, he taught at Hampton-Sydney College. By 1991 Clark had already published many works of literary excellence. The Jesse Stuart Foundation, which is located at 4440 13th Street, Ashland Kentucky, is responsible for publishing the majority of Clarks works.

Clark published seven more books after returning from a 30-year break from producing any new works. Among those seven books was … To Leave My Heart at Catlettsburg (1999), By Way of the Forked Stick (2000), Creeping from Winter (2002), Miss America Kissed Caleb: Stories (2003), To Find a Birdsong (2007), To Catch an Autumn (2007) and A Heap of Hills (2011).

On March 15, 2009, Clark moved on from this earthly place and went on to be with the Lord at the age of 80. While Clark’s physical body is no longer with us … the legacy that he has left behind is still inspiring people from all around. Maya Angelou once said, “If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.” Billy C. Clark has certainly done just that. His legacy will live on for many years to come through his great works and love for the city of Catlettsburg Kentucky.

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