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April 2020 Reviews

April 2020 Reviews


Nelsonville from A to Z edited by Celeste Parsons. Buchtel, Ohio: Monday Creek Publishing, 2019. 26 un-numbered pages (one for each letter!), illustrated in full-color by Hannah Sickles. 11.25” X 8.75” hardback with a pictorial cover. $19.99.

Nelsonville, Ohio, is located in the Hocking Hills in the southeastern portion of the state. Some of my favorite letters include “Q is for Quandry” the last stanza of Ms. Parsons’ poem is “Oh, there are words like “Quaint”/But unique to Nelsonville it ain’t./And how would you illustrate it?/I Quit.” I also like “G is for Good Vibrations.”  The author credits 15 different people for coming up with letters, but these two are all hers. “Longtime poets and first-time writers, of all ages, contributed to the written and visual art you hold in your hands. This beautiful book is a tiny glimpse of what a community-driven arts education program can do. Stuart's Opera House's Arts Education program is proud to support this book. -  Tim Peacock. “The making of this treasured book, Nelsonville from A to Z, is an inspiration for all communities. You will want to see firsthand how local talents of all ages contributed outstanding artwork and creative poetry to not only highlight cherished elements of the city but to impact the excellent programming of Stuart's Opera House. It is an honor to endorse this must-have for your collection and to not miss the opportunity to feel a part of this amazing philanthropic project. -  Cara Dingus Brook. The author, Celeste Parsons, lives outside Nelsonville and enjoys gardening, sewing, reading, and bicycling. This is her first published book.



All This Marvelous Potential: Robert Kennedy’s 1968 Tour of Appalachia by Matthew Algeo. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2020. 264 pages with an Index, Sources, and lots of photos. Hardback in dust jacket, $28.99.

Four months before he was murdered, in February, 1968, Bobby Kennedy toured Eastern Kentucky for two days. He stopped at one-room schools in Wolfe County and Breathitt County, in an African-American neighborhood in Hazard, at strip mine in Perry County, and at Alice Lloyd College in Knott County during the first day. The second day he gave a brief talk on the steps of the Letcher County Courthouse in Whitesburg, convened a hearing in Neon, visited three families between there and Prestonsburg where he gave another short talk on the Floyd County Courthouse steps. “All this marvelous potential” is what he told his audiences he saw in Eastern Kentucky on this trip. For this book, the author, Matthew Algeo, sought out those who interacted with Kennedy on the trip, so the book in many respects is a compilation of the ways that grass-roots people recall what happened on the tour and what has happened since as well as the contrasts between Kennedy and other politicians. “I’ve been waiting thirty-five years, since I was a young reporter at the Courier-Journal in Louisville, for someone to do justice to Bobby Kennedy’s milepost trip across eastern Kentucky. Matthew Algeo’s new book makes it worth that wait.” Larry Tye. "a concise historical analysis through which stories of Appalachia's coal country, and its residents' poverty, make clear the challenges of the past and the legacies that shaped a more hopeful future."— Foreword Review. The author, Matthew Algeo, is a reporter for National Public Radio. This is his fourth book


Try and Be Somebody: The Story of Dr. Henry Lake Dickason, Second Edition, by Becky Hatcher Crabtree. Anchorage, Alaska: Fathom Publishing Company, 2019.153 pages with an Index, appendices, charts, maps, and lots of black-and-white photos.  7.5” X 9.75” trade paperback, $14.95

This book is entitled Try and Be Somebody” because that was the advice that his father gave Henry Lake Dickason (1887-1957) when he left the farm where he grew up and where his enslaved paternal grandparents had worked and remained after emancipation. Dickason knew all four of his grandparents, all of whom were born enslaved. His family lived in a log cabin on Peters Mountain in Monroe County, West Virginia. He started school in a one-room schoolhouse where his father served as teacher. Since there were not high schools available for people of color where he lived, at 16 he became a residential student at Bluefield Colored Institute (BCI). He graduated in three years and returned to his family’s farm. The following year, BCI began offering a program to train teachers, and Dickason returned. His math teacher, Grace Robinson, urged him to go to college, and he was accepted at Ohio State University. In 1913 he earned a Bachelor’s degree and in the following year a Masters, both in math. Then he returned to BCI as a teacher and married Grace Robinson. In 1919, she died. In 1931 the school became Bluefield State Teacher’s College, and the next year Dickason married another teacher there, Flossie Mack, and assumed the position of Dean. In 1936 he became President of Bluefield State at a time when most African-American colleges had white presidents. In 1952 at the age of 65, he retired and his family moved to the farm on Peters Mountain where he was raised. The next year he was recruited to become President of Morristown College, and held that position until his death in 1957. “Dr. Henry Lake Dickason was somebody . . . Crabtree’s well researched and, above all, sensitive narrative of Dickason’s journey evokes the warmth of family, the love of place, and the depths of a young man’s striving soul.  – Vicki Lane.  The author, Becky Hatcher Crabtree, was born in Bluefield and worked as a teacher in several West Virginia locations and on the north slope of Alaska. This is her fourth book.


Wheeling’s Polonia: Reconstructing Polish Community in a West Virginia Steel Town by William Hal Gorby. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2020. 331 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, tables, maps, and photos. Trade paperback, $32.99.

The word, Polonia, means a Polish community. This book explores the impact of the Polonia in Wheeling upon Roman Catholicism there as well as the labor union movement. It also demonstrates that the Polonia did not enjoy equal protections under the laws, in particular the prohibition laws.  “Wheeling’s Polonia is an important work. Gorby skillfully makes the case for why this story is significant, not just for labor and working-class history but also (by implication) for today’s electoral map. He shows a sensitivity to these workers and to the various facets of their identity as they evolved over time that many scholars and pundits often lack.”—Donna T. Haverty-Stacke. The author, William Hal Gorby, teaches history and directs undergraduate advising at West Virginia University.


Heeding the Call: A Study of Denise Giardina’s  Novels by William Jolliff. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2020. 215 pages with an Index, Bibliography, and Notes. Trade paperback, $29.99

Six of the eight chapters deal in detail with one of Giardina’s novels. The first chapter gives a biographical sketch and then explores what Jolliff considers the three most important thematic complexes of Giardina’s work 1. Regional, 2. Political, and 3. Theological perspectives. He notes that only two of her novels are set in West Virginia, and the rest in Europe, but argues that all view her settings and her characters’ ties to these settings with appropriate depth. “In the last chapter, Jolliff returns to those three dimensions of Giardina’s novels while explaining the title of his book.  “Giardina’s fiction is her art, to be sure, but it is also, by her own confession, her call: her way of serving the needs of a suffering world by working hard for a better one.” Then Jolliff quotes Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous optimistic prophecy, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” With that in mind, Joliff ends his book on this uplifting and affirming sentence: “Denise Giardina’s work presents readers with models of women and men who keep their eyes on justice and who work courageously to hasten the bending of the arc.”  “A needed book, Heeding the Call offers acute commentary on all of Giardina’s novels and ties them together with overarching themes. Educators, students, scholars, and readers alike will find it useful.” - Theresa L. Burriss. The author, William Jolliff, is an English professor at George Fox University who has published a book of poetry and edited a book of John Greenleaf Whittier criticism.


I’m Afraid of That Water: A Collaborative Ethnography of a West Virginia Water Crisis edited by Luke Eric Lassiter, Brian A. Hoey, and Elizabeth Campbell. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2020. 255 pages with an Index, maps, and photos. Trade paperback, $29.99.

In January of 2014, more than a quarter million residents in a nine-county region of West Virginia, including the state capitol and largest city, Charleston, found their water supply contaminated by a chemical used to clean coal. Immediately officials warned residents not to use the water for drinking, cooking, bathing or ways that would lead to physical contact with people or pets. Five days later, officials notified residents that, if they flushed their water systems, they could again use their tap water. Rumors spread that the flushing process would release chemicals into the air that would make them sick, so the effects for residents lingered. And many residents were worried that the close relationship between the coal industry and civic officials might have led to a premature resolution to the crisis that could endanger the citizenry. This book is an ethnography of the crisis in that it is a compilation of grass-roots reactions and stories. It is collaborative in that the three editors and the other contributors to essays in this book reveal the reactions of more than fifty people impacted by the crisis. “A great example of a multiauthored and intersubjective ethnography of toxic suffering, this book is a model for future disaster ethnographies.” - Peter Little. “A unique, moving, and highly readable account of community reactions to a technological disaster. Authors weave together powerful and highly personal narratives that reveal the tensions of coping with ongoing environmental uncertainty. With a novel, collaborative approach, they make meaningful connections between the experiences of local residents and the systems and institutions that produce and perpetuate disasters and their aftermaths. Readers of all stripes will find it as enlightening as it is poignant.” - Melissa Checker. The three editors are Luke Eric Lassiter, Brian A. Hoey, and Elizabeth Campbell. Lassitere is a professor of humanities and anthropology at Marshall University; Hoey also teaches anthropology at Marshall, and Campbell is chair of the department of curriculum and instruction at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina.


Backwoods Witchcraft: Conjure & Folk Magic from Appalachia by Jake Richards. Newburyport, Massachusetts: Weiser Books, 2019. 211 pages with a bibliography. Trade paperback, $18.95.

The author is serious about this. He is a professional who makes his living as the owner-operator of Little Chicago Conjure, in Jonesborough, Tennessee, a supplier of Appalachian folk magic supplies and ingredients and lectures on the subject. He grew up in East Tennessee but spent considerable time with his great-grandmother in Western North Carolina, and traces some of his ancestors back three-hundred years in the region. Chapters include, “Folk Recipes and Remedies,” “Living by Signs and Omens,” and “Connecting with the Land.” “Engaging, sincere, and delightfully friendly, Jack Richards brings the unified spirit of all magick workers into your hands. A must-have for those interested in folk magick practices, whether for educational, enlightenment or practical use. – Silver Ravenwolf.


Shelter from the Machine: Homesteaders in the Age of Capitalism by Jason G. Strange. Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 2020. 304 pages with Index, Bibliography, Notes and photos. Trade paperback, $22.95

Homesteaders - not survivalists, not commune dwellers, not really farmers, not simply rural people. More like “back-to-the-land” folks, but including “never left the land folks.” because it considers the two main distinct kinds of homesteaders – “hippies” and “hicks.”  At the beginning of his Introduction, Jason Strange defines a homestead as “a piece of land on which people grow food and build a home and otherwise provide for some of their own needs.” And why would a book about those folks – especially one that is based on a U.C. Berkeley dissertation – make its way into a list of books about Appalachia? Well, for starters, before the author lived as a homesteader while a young adult, he lived as a homesteader as a kid in Eastern Kentucky. More importantly, most of the quotations and the information in this book is gleamed from residents of places south and east of Berea, Kentucky. To protect the innocent and guilty and to make the book less confusing and cumbersome, these places are all referred to as Bear Lick Valley. This book really is centered there although the author has interviewed homesteaders all over America and even beyond and he feels free to refer to some of his experiences beyond Kentucky. “An intimate but sprawling, profound but accessible gem of a book, Shelter from the Machine provides a useful and accessible critique of our 'macroparasitic' political economy and a timely reminder that transformative change is as possible as it is necessary.”—Shaunna L. Scott. “An important and much needed addition. Strange does a strong job of providing the historical context for homesteading and the reasons why it is so significant today. But even more important are his willingness to ground the book in the words and deeds of the homesteaders themselves and his own history with homesteading, and to go beyond a historical description to explore the role of class and capitalism in explaining the homesteaders' differences.”—Stephen L. Fisher. The author, Jason Strange is a professor at Berea College.



Wanting Radiance by Karen Salyer McElmurray. Lexington: South Limestone/University Press of Kentucky, 2020. 256 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $24.95.

This novel starts when Miracelle Loving is 15 in 1973. She and her mom are living in Swannanoa, North Carolina, but soon to leave. It takes up again twenty years later in Knoxville, and Loving is taking up her murdered mother’s craft of working as a card reader. When her mother’s ghost appears, Loving is again on a quest, this time for the answers to the questions her mother never answered about her father and her origins. She works as a waitress and finds companions, but seldom for long, and finds Radiance, a town in the coalfields where her grandfather lived. The novel ends in Knoxville in 1994 as open-ended as it has been all along. “What drew me in was the language—of song, of tarot and spirituality, of longing and of seeking. Karen McElmurray’s prose sings with poetic force, her characters resonate with energy, and the descriptors of setting draws the reader into the world of Miracelle and her mother Ruby. Days after I finished the book, the story stayed with me, like the lyrics to a deeply felt song.” – Shauna Hambrick Jones. “This book is brimming with haints, lives full of magic, and Karen McElmurray‘s storytelling is the most haunting of all” – Crystal Wilkinson. The author, Karen Salyer McElmurry teaches at Gettysburg College and at West Virginia Wesleyan’s Low Residency MFA Program. Her non-fiction book, Surrendered Child: A Birth Mother’s Journey, was published before any of her novels.


Miss Julia Knows a Thing or Two by Ann B. Ross. New York: Viking/Penguin Random House, 2020. 322 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $27.00

This is the 22nd Miss Julia book in thirty years. Seriously. What a charming lady Ann B. Ross is, and what an endearing series this is!  The lead character that Kirkus Reviews called “a chronic meddler,” decides, in this book, to stop prying into the business of others and to end her busybody ways. Can she keep her resolution? "Written with Ross’s signature Southern charm and wit, the newest Miss Julia will delight long-time fans of the series and will entice new readers to get to know her.” –Booklist. "As fast, feisty, and full of personality as its heroine." –Kirkus Reviews.  "Ann B. Ross develops characters so expertly, through quirks, names, and mannerisms, that they easily feel familiar as the reader is gently immersed into the world Miss Ross has created . . . A delightful read."--Winston-Salem Journal. "Miss Julia is one of the most delightful characters to come along in years. Ann B. Ross has created what is sure to become a classic Southern comic novel. Hooray for Miss Julia, I could not have liked it more."  --Fannie Flagg. The author, Ann B. Ross, lives in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Formerly on the literature faculty of the University of North Carolina at Ashville, she earned a doctorate in English at the University of North Carolina.