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January 2022 Reviews

January 2022 Reviews


The Trail of Tears by Beatrice Harris. New York: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2022. 32 pages full of color pictures and includes a Timeline, Glossary, and Bibliography of books and websites. Trade paperback.

This contribution to critical race theory features left pages with about 35 words each describing the Trial of Tears – the forced migration of Cherokee people from the Southern Appalachians to Oklahoma in the 1830s – and right pages with maps and other illustrations along with smaller-print captions. It is kinda like illustrated Cliff Notes for kids.


Abandoned Coal Towns of Southern West Virginia by Michael Justice. Mount Pleasant, South Carolina: America Through Time/Arcadia Publishing, 2021. 96 pages profusely illustrated with black-and-white and a few color photos by the author. Trade paperback.

This is a picture book, most with captions, and half-page introductions to each of the nine chapters. The chapters include, “Coal Company Store and Office,” “Thurmond,” “The Powerhouse,” and “Miscellaneous: Hidden Treasures on the Way to the Prize.” Michael Justice is a photography enthusiast who is from West Virginia and now lives in East Tennessee. He insists, “no buildings were harmed in the making of this book.”

African American Workers and the Appalachian Coal Industry by Joe William Trotter, Jr. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2022. 157 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, Appendix, and photos. Hardback in dust jacket.

Joe William Trotter, Jr., is a pioneering Black scholar best known for his book, Coal, Class, and Color: Blacks in Southern West Virginia, 1915-32, published in 1990 by the University of Illinois Press. The five chapters and the Epilogue of this new book bring together thirty years of seminal research and writing by Trotter from a variety of academic sources. “Joe William Trotter Jr.’s African American Workers and the Appalachian Coal Industry is more than a topical collection of essays by a pioneering scholar summarizing the history and historiography of Black coal miners. At a time when race, class, labor, and structural violence are coming back into sharp thematic focus due to the disproportionate effects of a major global pandemic on many communities of color, Trotter’s work is also a prescient—and deeply personal—exploration of the formation and growth of Black working-class communities, institutions, social and cultural networks, and political movements for reform and liberatory change over time.” - Clarence Lang. “Joe Trotter has had a profound impact on the way I approach African American history both as a scholar and as a teacher. A collection of his groundbreaking work is long overdue.” - Robert H. Woodrum. The author, Joe William Trotter, holds an endowed professorship at Carnegie Melon University.

John Henry and His People: The Historical Origin and Lore of America’s Great Folk Ballad by John Garst. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2022. 274 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Appendix, a Foreword by Art Rosenbaum, and photos and illustrations. Trade paperback.

West Virginians are gonna hate this book whose sole purpose is to argue that John Henry challenged a steam steel drill with his muscles in an Alabama railroad tunnel, fifteen miles east of Birmingham. It includes chapters on the case for West Virginia alongside chapters on the case for Virginia and Jamaica, as if they are comparable! You gotta admit, there is a lot of railroad and music and African American history in this book. “John Henry and His People is the definitive work on the most famous ballad of all time. With eloquent prose and a keen eye for detail, John Garst traces the history of the ballad and identifies both its location (the Oak Mountain Tunnel in Alabama) and its hero―John Henry Dabney, a black man born on the Burleigh Plantation in Hinds County, Mississippi. Generations of black and white musicians have sung about how John Henry drove steel into the mountain with his ten-pound hammer and beat the steel-driving machine. Thanks to John Garst and his fine book John Henry and His People, we now know the history of this epic ballad.” ―William Ferris. “Like many folk enthusiasts, I have listened to literally hundreds of recordings of John Henry as a story, a song, and an American legend. In John Henry and His People, John Garst presents a comprehensive and definitive examination of an actual event that may have inspired the song. While that is worth the price of admission, the book takes you on a much deeper journey. It reveals that the storyteller is at times just as mysterious as the story itself. John Henry and His People shows the way this original tragedy became a symbol of freedom that still resonates at the foundation of the American ideal.” ―Dom Flemons. The author, John Garst, is professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Georgia. He lives in Durham, North Carolina, and his research interests include not only the historical bases of ballads, but also shape note hymnody.

Lost Cove, North Carolina: Portrait of a Vanished Appalachian Community: 1864-1957 by Christy A. Smith. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2022. 183 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, Appendix, and many photos. Trade paperback.

This is number 53 in McFarland’s Contributions of Appalachian Studies series of books that illuminate our region in a way that combines great human interest and important scholarship. Lost Cove, North Carolina, never had a road into it, and that is why by 1957, 93 years after white people first settled there, they had all moved on. The fact that the trails into the community all originated in Unicoi County, Tennessee, made the prospect of a road into a community located in Yancey and Mitchell Counties in North Carolina, a difficult case for the residents to argue, though they did work hard to make the case. The author interviewed former residents during four different years of the decade from 2007 to 2017 and searched all kinds of records, including those of the Carolina, Clinchfield, and Ohio railroad. “The well-done research and interviews conducted by the author ensure that Lost Cove is not forgotten. A truly wonderful book.” – Booklist. The author teaches Appalachian Studies part-time at King University in Bristol, Tennessee.

Sons of East Tennessee: Civil War Veterans Divided and Reconciled by Jack Brubake. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2022. 229 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, Foreword by Jack Neely, and photos. Trade paperback.

John Jay Bernard and Henry McCorkle, Knoxville residents and alumni of the University of Tennessee, both died in Cuba, during a Spanish-American War battle on July 1, 1898. University of Tennessee President, Charles Dabney, presided over a ceremony at their burial in the Knoxville National Cemetery. What was unusual about this was that Bernard was a Union soldier in the Civil War and McCorkle was a Confederate soldier, so this ceremony happened in the context of efforts to reconcile soldiers who had fought for opposing armies and their families. This book explores the lives of these two men and the way that their deaths in Cuba on the same day contributed to reconciliation efforts.

Sticker by Henry Hoke. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2022. 132 pages with an Index and Notes. A 4.75” X 6.5” trade paperback with cover flaps like a dust jacket.

This book is included in Electric Lit’s “The Most Anticipated LGBTQ+ Books of 2022.” It is part of the “Object Lessons” series about the “hidden lives of ordinary things” – like stickers. 20 stickers illuminate this memoir of growing up a gay youth in Charlottesville, Virginia, traumatized by the deadly convergence of neo-nazis on his hometown. “Hoke (The Groundhog Forever) offers up an evocative reflection on queerness, race, and his hometown of Charlottesville, Va. . . . his book uses the humble sticker as a metaphorical linchpin for a series of essays that [offer] a unique perspective on one of the most infamous cities in recent American history.” ―Publishers Weekly. “Funny, nostalgic, and weird in the best possible way, Henry Hoke's Sticker weaves evocative personal moments with hometown lore and racial reckoning, all while making you want to dig up your old-school sticker collection-the puffy, the glowy, especially the scratch and sniff.” ― Jocelyn Nicole Johnson. “Henry Hoke examines gender, sexuality, music, and the depths of humanity with exuberant whimsy and charm. Sticker pulses with ghost stories, lamplit streets and pine, boyhood, blood. Startlingly original and gorgeously rendered, I will never forget this book.” ―T Kira Madden. “Hoke's keenly constructed memoir-in-essays is really a memoir-in-stickers, from the glow-in-the-dark stars and coveted Lisa Frank unicorns of childhood to a Pixies decal from his teenage years. The book also peels back the complicated notoriety of the author's hometown, Charlottesville, Virginia, juxtaposing Dave Matthews' fire dancer emblem against a truck emblazoned with the words “Are You Triggered?” on its back window heralding the infamous white supremacist march.” ―Electric Lit. The author, Henry Hoke, now lives in New York. This is his fourth book.

Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia by Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr with Darcy Orr. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, a 2021 Second Edition of a 2014 release. 357 pages with a Foreword by Dolly Parton, an Index, Bibliography, Notes, Discography, Notes on Illustrations, Resource Centers, A Contextual Timeline, a Glossary of Less-Familiar Musical Terms, and mostly full-color photographs on practically every other page. An 8.5” X 11” trade paperback.

When the first edition of this book appeared, it was a New York Times best-seller. This second edition differs from the first in that it is paperback, not hardback, that instead of a cd in the inside back cover, it refers the reader to a Spotify playlist, and it has a new three-page Afterword. Co-author Fiona Ritchie was born and educated in Scotland and came to the United States where she worked in broadcasting and presented a Thistle and Shamrock Concert Tour before returning to Scotland where she continues to promote traditional music and is host of a weekly Thistle and Shamrock program that is broadcast in the United States on National Public Radio. Her co-author is Doug Orr, President Emeritus of Warren Wilson College where he founded the Swannanoa Gathering of music workshops. Those two are the perfect partners to pull off this splendid book that features 43 musical artists that exemplify the way that traditional music has jumped the pond.  “Essential . . .A gorgeous gift book.”The New York Times. “Ritchie and Orr strike all the right chords in this pleasantly tuneful survey.”—Publishers Weekly. "A story remarkable for its breadth and depth, conveying the drama of Scottish emigration via Ulster to Appalachia, by a people who clung to the music and song they held dear, and bequeathed it to America. It is for us to keep our eyes and ears open to see how this river carries on."—Scottish Life Magazine. "If you love Appalachian music; if you're Scots-Irish and wonder about your roots; if you're curious about the words and traditions of the music and how many miles and years the songs have traveled to get here, this handsome book is your most trusted servant, your indispensable encyclopedia and your entertaining Bible."—Charlotte Observer. "Except for my family, there is nothing I love more than being a part of the 'living tradition' captured in this book."—Rosanne Cash. “Ritchie and Orr have created a beautiful book filled with poetic prose, stunning images, and anecdotal gems from some of the most revered figures in Celtic and American music.”--West Virginia History. “Filled with maps, woodcuts, paintings, and photographs of impossibly picturesque Scottish and Irish locales, the book is a treasure trove of imagery and information. Music lovers, prepare to be transported.”—BookPage. “Represents an extraordinary feat of research, together with copious interview material. . . . a joy to read from cover to cover, it also rewards just dipping in and out.”--fRoots


In the Valley Stories and a Novella Based on Serena by Ron Rash. New York: Anchor Books/Penguin Random House, a 2021 reprint of a 2020 release. 220 pages. Trade paperback.

The New York Times has called Ron Rash, “One of the great American Authors at work today.” The Wall Street Journal dubbed him "As good as any contemporary American novelist I've read. No wonder. His story collection, Burning Bright, won the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award as the best of that genre written that year in the English language, and another of his six story collections, Chemistry, was a finalist for the 2007 PEN/Faulkner Award, as was his New York Times best-selling novel, Serena. It was made into a Hollywood movie, and another of his seven novels, The World Made Straight, was also made into a movie. Ron Rash is also the author of five poetry collections. This book is a collection of nine short stories, averaging 14 pages each and a 93-page novella, the title piece, which serves as a sequel to his novel, Serena. Last year, when it was published in hardback, this book, In the Valley, was named the winner of the 2020 Thomas Robinson Prize for Southern Literature and both a Garden and Gun and an Atlanta Journal Constitution best book of the year. “Mesmerizing...In the Valley takes Serena to such a fever pitch of destruction that in a lesser writer's hands it might seem overheated. But Rash maintains the deep keel that has always distinguished him...He's one of the best living American writers, and his laconic understatement is much more powerful than excess…Haunting and darkly funny.”—Janet Maslin. "Pure craft...An accomplished book by a grounded, unsentimental master.”—Highbrow Magazine. “Revelatory...In simple but eloquent prose, Rash describes the vulnerabilities, fears, and desires of his characters and shows how often they unite persons from vastly different walks of life and social strata. The skillful craftsmanship of these tales and their subtle but powerful climaxes make for profoundly moving reading. —Publishers Weekly (starred review). "At turns dark, craggy, and heart-wrenching, Rash's writing is never easy, but it is also lovely, moving, and rich in history and culture, just like the Appalachian region it so beautiful captures."—Library Journal. Ron Rash holds an endowed professorship at Western Carolina University.

The Truth of Who You Are by Sheila Myers. Castroville, Texas: Black Rose Writing: 2022. 244 pages. Trade paperback.

This novel is told in the first person by the protagonist, Ben Taylor who is looking back on his life that was highlighted by his upbringing in the Smoky Mountains and his work for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The author was inspired by the story of William Walker who tried the preserve the old growth trees on his land and the Walker Sisters who lived together in the old-fashioned ways in what became the National Park. She was also inspired by the diaries of Emma Bell Miles. "Beautifully written with careful attention to historical detail, this book is one I highly recommend." -Gail Olmstead. "Set primarily during the Great Depression and in what is now known as the Smoky Mountains National Park, The Truth of Who You Are is a sweeping family saga full of love, heartbreak, hard times, and the sustaining power of family." -M.K. Tod. "Author Sheila Myers crafts a coming-of-age saga of both a young man fighting to keep his family intact, and of the entire Great Smoky Mountains region. She also captures the spirit of the Civilian Conservation Corps, its rejuvenating impact on the landscape, and its transformative influence on the young men who served." -Robert Hilliard. "The Truth of Who You Are is an emotional tale of loyalty and family told through the eyes of a country boy with a big heart. Myers uses emotional stakes and lively historical details to take us on an adventure through America's turbulent 20th Century." -Kerry Chaput. The author, Sheila Myers, is the author of four novels. She teaches ecology at Cayuga Community College in New York.


Revised Light by Sharon J. Ackerman. Charlotte, North Carolina: Main Street Rag, 2021. 61 pages. Trade paperback.

Sharon J. Ackerman is a child of the Appalachian migration whose summer visits to Perry County, in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, affected her powerfully and provide the material for almost all of these poems. They focus on the natural world and the people she encountered there. Ackerman is currently a registered nurse who works for the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “Sharon Ackerman’s Revised Light is a search for meaning in the gathered fragments of what has gone missing from our lives. From the loved ones we have lost to a sense of place skillfully crafted from the lush, often sensual imagery from the heart of Appalachia, Ackerman’s is a world where who we are and where we are from are the same, time being the only thing that separates the two, time and the hope (from “Ode to the Missing Piece”) that if one of these fragments “went missing//the whole picture wouldn’t vanish.” --James Alan Riley. “’For what is faith but hickory smoke/and continuity, one of these hills running/into the next, never-ending?’ Sharon Ackerman asks in her gorgeous new collection, centered on the Appalachian Mountain community of her grandparents. . . . Ackerman maps her childhood here in these lyrics, recording every detail of that world. It’s the ground of her making, despite where she has lived for most of her life. ‘The ground has final say,’ she says, and so it does, and it ‘…calls out names to the verge/where stars disappear/and return young again.’ No matter where you call home, these poems call you there, with a longing like no other. --Rita Sims Quillen

Standing on the Outcrop by Joyce Compton Brown. Hickory, North Carolina: Red Hawk Publications, 2021. 53 pages. Trade paperback.

Joyce Compton Brown writes about real mountains. Hills do not have outcrops!  And, yes, her stance is considering the whole picture, the forest as well as the trees. What she mostly sees are the ordinary people who live down in the valley, and from her vantage point she can sum them up perfectly, telling aptly-crafted and succinct stories that use key incidents in their lives to illuminate both them and their place and telling the stories of the neighborhoods that sometimes nurtured them and sometimes even martyred them. “Like a farmer searching for water, in these poems Joyce Brown delves deeper and deeper into her spirit country between Linville and Honeycutt Mountains. Voice, time, and landscape merge, and the essence of the place is revealed, becomes our spirit country too. Brown is one of our state’s finest poets.”—Ron Rash. “Standing on the Outcrop herself, Joyce Compton Brown looks out over the vast peaks and deep valleys and long swoops of land she knows like the back of her hand, it IS her hand, bone and blood---and the voices she hears are her own voices coming from way back.... the underside of history, the inside of history. Yet somehow Joyce has the great gift of writing them down and bringing them to us just as they were, just as they are still, peopling those vast and ancient hills. Standing on the Outcrop is a treasure.”—Lee Smith. “‘Here the stories linger’ opens Joyce Brown’s lovely collection, a line fulfilled on every page. This book is immersed in place, the shadow of Honeycutt and Linville mountains, the beautiful valley where people till the ‘ever cloying earth’ or work the mills or own them. They are named and unnamed–Cherokees ousted from their land, Italian railroad workers, Black men and women ‘bought or hired,’ murdered strikers, shadows in photos or lost under trees and rock. There’s joy in language here, whether a tale of loss bluntly told, the lyrical testimony of the laborer released by a stroke to reveal his true nature, or the linguistic dazzle of the Clinchfield railroad singing its siren song– ‘and you can/ work shifts /work shifts /work shifts…’ You’ll remember these people and hear their voices long after you’ve closed the covers.”—Valerie Nieman. “Each poem is a masterful piece of a multi-colored quilt like the valley of North Cove in the Fall seen from the precipice above, a vantage point from which to view the stories of people where ‘their legends are the landscape of a burnt-off mountain whose trees will rise again.’ Brown skillfully sews together stories of beetle blight and wildfires to those of perseverance. She never forgets the forgotten as ‘shadows in backgrounds of old photos’ or names etched on stone grave markers worn away by time. All the while, a train threads the mountain in and out of tunnels with its grief of coal, soothed by its sound of a ‘deep bass note pitched beneath the coyote’s tenor note.’ With such rich imagery as, ‘Burnt trees stand like/ straight black sticks/ as if someone had tried/ to fool around/ for language on the mountain wall/ and failed,’ Brown succeeds in telling what the landscape only, prior, held to itself.”—Hilda Downer