Kilgo’s writing grew out of observations recorded in his private journals, from which developed his personal narrative style. Much of his early work consisted of reflections on the outdoor life and his hunting experiences.
Essayist, novelist. Born on June 27, 1941, in Florence County, Kilgo was the son of John Simpson Kilgo and Caroline Lawton. He grew up in Darlington, attending St. John’s Grammar and High School from first grade through graduation. He received his undergraduate degree from Wofford College in 1963 and then attended graduate school at Tulane University, earning his M.A. in 1965 and the Ph.D. in 1972. While working at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, during the summer of 1961, Kilgo met Jane Guillory, a coworker from Memphis, Tennessee. They were married on August 27, 1963. The marriage produced three children.
While writing his doctoral dissertation, Kilgo moved to Athens, Georgia, to accept a teaching position in the English department at the University of Georgia. On completion of the dissertation, he was offered a position on the English faculty at Georgia, where he played a pivotal role in the development of the university’s creative writing program. He remained at Georgia until his retirement in 1999, when he devoted himself full-time to writing.
Kilgo’s writing grew out of observations recorded in his private journals, from which developed his personal narrative style. Much of his early work consisted of reflections on the outdoor life and his hunting experiences. When he was in his late thirties, he was asked to write a series of outdoor columns for the Athens Observer, a fledgling weekly newspaper. The resulting columns formed the foundation for what would be Kilgo’s first book of essays, Deep Enough forIvorybills (1988). A second book of essays, Inheritance of Horses, followed in 1994.
Kilgo’s novel, Daughter of My People (1998), a fictionalized retelling of a story retrieved from the hidden lore of his own family, was a finalist for the Lillian Smith Award for fiction and the Stephen Crane Award for first novel, and it was the winner of the Townsend Prize, awarded by Georgia Perimeter College and the Chattahoochee Review. The Hand-Carved Crèche and Other Christmas Stories (1999) is a collection of Christmas stories and memories gleaned from the author’s Darlington childhood and the traditions that shaped it. In addition, Kilgo’s essays have been included in numerous publications, including the Georgia Review, Gettysburg Review, and Sewanee Review.
“You can’t write unless you have a story to tell,” said Kilgo. He stressed that it must be the writer’s story, not necessarily a lived story, but one that engages the writer’s passion. He died of cancer on December 8, 2002, in Athens, Georgia.
Obituary. Columbia State, December 12, 2002, p. B4.