Saving Granddaddy’s Stories: Ray Hicks, The Voice of Appalachia by Shannon Hitchcock
Ray Hicks (1922-2003) was the most authentic and celebrated teller of Jack tales and other mountain tales of his time which - largely due to his old-time charisma – was the time when old-fashioned story telling became a powerful movement. He lived his whole life in the same house on Beech Mountain not far from Boone, North Carolina. The title refers not to the author, Shannon Hitchcock – or a protagonist of her book - being the grand-daughter of Ray Hicks, which she is not. Rather, it refers to the mission of Ray Hicks, who absorbed his own grandfather Ben’s tales, passed down to him in the 1800s, and authentically re-telling them to his audiences. The author, a North Carolina native, has recently moved to Asheville. She is the author of four middle-grade novels.
New York, Reycraft Books, 32-unnumbered pages. Illustrated in full color by Sophie Page. 11.75” X 9.25” hardback in dust jacket.
Death in the Holler by John G. Bluck. Livermore, California: self-published. 391 pages. Trade paperback.
Set in 2029, the protagonist of this novel is Luke Ryder, an alcoholic Eastern Kentucky game warden whose only friend is county sheriff, Jim Pike. On the first day of muzzle-loader hunting season, a Latino is shot and killed, and the Sheriff not only seeks Luke’s help in solving the case, but also holds out a promise of a deputy job to Luke, if he quits drinking. That’s an important incentive since Luke is pretty sure he’s fixing to be fired. “The author describes the holler in such a way that you can see, hear, and smell it. His writing is such that it brings the reader into the story immediately.” - Mark Tarte. “. . .readers will be pulling for Luke Ryder as he works to reveal the killer.” – Delores Fox Clardelli. The author was born and raised in Eastern Kentucky and now lives in California.
How Fire Runs: A Novel by Charles Dodd White. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2020. 271 pages. Trade paperback.
No novel could be more timely than this suspenseful thriller that follows a delusional white supremacist who gathers an army of supporters who seek to turn an East Tennessee community into a bastion of his racist percepts. Antagonism within the community builds as environmental issues compound racial antagonism in ways that reveal many political exigencies until conflict escalates into violence. “Although a deftly crafted work of fiction, How Fire Runs offers a sobering perspective on America today. A compelling and original work… especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections.”—Midwest Book Review. “How Fire Runs in saner times might read as a cautionary tale against the lure of authoritarianism and racist agitators. As it stands, however, the novel instead reads like reportage from the front lines of an increasingly polarized and frightening political and social landscape… White delves headfirst into the difficult questions of how a community must respond to a threat anathema to what they believe.”—Jim Coby. “Moments of introspection from White’s well-delineated characters help How Fire Runs straddle successfully the contingent and the literary, transcending the ‘ripped from the headlines’ nature of many works dealing with political issues. Loss and the need to build an identity through connections that are more intimate than ethnic kinship is a theme that pulsates just as strongly in the personal stories of Kyle, Gavin, and Delilah’s partner, Harrison. Coupled with the tense pacing of a thriller and an apocalyptic ending [that] pits its characters against the fury of nature, White’s novel is an artful and suspenseful page turner.”—Gonzalo Baeza. Charles Dodd White teaches at Pellissippi State in Knoxville. This is his fourth novel.
Pop: An Illustrated Novel by Robert Gipe. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2021. 336 pages, illustrated by the author. Hardback in dust jacket.
Nobody has captured contemporary Eastern Kentucky life as authentically as Robert Gipe. And nobody in Appalachian fiction has come up with a literary innovation as refreshing and enticing as his illustrated novels that feature his own rough caricatures to illustrate his well-chosen words. This is the third and final novel in his trilogy featuring the endearing but complicated protagonist, Dawn. She now has a seventeen-year-old daughter. Adding to the thematic depth and appeal of this novel, it is set around the time of the 2016 election. “A headlong tumble into a proud and problem-plagued Appalachia, this addictive illustrated novel by Gipe (third in a series after Weedeater) is a delightful gabfest.… Comedy and tragedy make way for unexpected uplift in this richly detailed story of people determined not to be forgotten.”—Publishers Weekly. “Robert Gipe is Appalachia’s Willy Wonka. Pop is your golden ticket. It will crack your smile, break your heart, and rouse your soul all in the space of a page.”—Wesley Browne. “Haints and heroes dominate Robert Gipe’s Pop, the last installment of a trilogy that takes everything you thought you knew about Appalachia and turns it on its sunburned ear. It’s a satisfying ending to a tribute to misunderstood people in a place where beauty is both tremendous and tattered as a dog-pawed quilt. Gipe’s stories and drawings crackle with a full-throated reverence that is stereotype bending, unsentimental, and utterly original. When the crotch grabbers get their due, you will laugh, cheer, and shake your head.”—Beth Macy. “Robert Gipe adopts us into a family of characters so endearing, we can’t help but wade with them into the mess of life. A sensitively folded narrative, Pop is layered with the whimsy of Jacktales and a reckoning of the human spirit’s quest to upend society’s injustices. As always, Gipe’s voice is honest, true, and unflinching.”—Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle. Gipe - nobody who knows him calls him “Robert,” let alone, “Bob” -grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee, but taught for thirty years at Southeast Community College in Harlan County, Kentucky, where he created Higher Ground, a grassroots community performance series that has brought his community together in an innovative way.
What They Yearn For: Volume Two by Victor Depta. Frankfort, Kentucky: Blair Mountain Press, 2021.321 pages. Trade paperback.
Vic Depta grew up on Buffalo Creek – yes, the Buffalo Creek that was flooded in 1972 when Pittston Coal Company’s coal slurry impoundment burst, killing 125 people, injuring over a thousand and leaving more than 4,000 homeless. He taught at the University of Tennessee at Martin and has retired to Frankfort, Kentucky. He is a prolific author of poetry and fiction and a devoted opponent of strip-mining for coal. He is also the publisher of Blair Mountain Press. This novel features elderly female professors who become sleuths when they cannot be convinced that the wife of their department chair at their Eastern Kentucky University died of suicide. Depta has divided this novel into two parts: “Where to Run, Where to Hide” and then “The Temple of Scattered Lives.”
Zed by Larry Alderman. Mt. Juliet, Tennessee: Aldersong Publishing. 134 un-numbered pages. Trade paperback.
Larry Alderman was born and raised in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, but spent a lot of time with his grandparents who lived in Carroll County, Virginia, on the western slope of the Blue Ridge. Into his fiction, he incorporates tales that he heard not just from his mountaineer grandparents, but great-grandparents as well. This is Book Four of Alderman’s Blue Mountain series. Like the rest of the series, it presents European Americans in friendships with Cherokees, but this time, his protagonist travels briefly not just beyond the mountains, but into the Caribbean. The author, Larry Alderman, is best known as a Nashville song-writer and singer.
Appalachian Fiddler Albert Hash: The Last Leaf on the Tree by Malcolm L. Smith with Edwin Lacy. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2020. 194 pages with a Foreword by Wayne Henderson, an Index, Bibliography, Notes, Appendices, and photos. Trade paperback.
Hailing from Whitetop Mountain in Grayson County, Virginia, near the North Carolina line, Albert Hash (1917-1983) was not just an old-time musician, but also an expert at making and repairing old-time instruments. He built over 300 fiddles and many other instruments as well. A machinist., he even fashioned machines to use in the instrument-building process. There is an annual Albert Hash Festival to honor his memory. This book’s subtitle, “The Last Leaf on the Tree” is based on the premise that never again will anyone rise from such old-fashioned humble mountain beginnings to become such a standard-bearer as both a musician and luthier. The author, Malcolm L. Smith, is a professor and old-time musician from rural Virginia.
Bigfoot and Woolybooger Tales 2 edited by Judith Victoria Hensley. Harlan, Kentucky, self-published, 2020. 287 pages with photos and illustrations. Trade paperback.
I have placed this collection of essays in my non-fiction section, not in short stories, because the authors are telling their own experiences that they believe really happened. Personally, I doubt that a species of mammal, especially a large one, could possibly be elusive enough to avoid contact with biologists. Anyway, it makes for fascinating reading. This is the second collection of bigfoot stories by the editor. Judith Victoria Hensley is a Harlan County native who is a retired science teacher at Loyall Elementary School there. An innovative teacher, her first editorial accomplishments were to produce collections of the writings of her students. These books were loved by the students, their kinfolks, and community members as well as by scholars and readers. She became interested in bigfoot slowly over time as she believed she saw panthers that others felt were no longer native to Harlan County. After compiling a couple of panther anthologies, she began to make more and more contact with others who claimed to have made other kinds of sightings.
The Cherokee Supreme Court: 1823-1835 by Matthew W. Martin. Durham, North Carolina:
Carolina Academic Press, 2021. 228 pages with an Index, Appendix, and photos. Trade paperback.
From 1823 until 1831, the Cherokee Supreme Court met in New Echota, Georgia, until the Cherokees were run out of Georgia. Then for the next four years, it met in Red Clay, Tennessee, from 1831 until 1835 until the Trail of Tears forcibly removed the vast majority of Cherokees to Oklahoma, and those who remained were basically hiding out from the rampaging racists. During those twelve years the Cherokee Court considered 213 civil cases and 24 criminal cases. How this court juggled American jurisprudence and tribal culture makes for a fascinating study that also illuminates, for example, the role of women and of African-American slaves in Cherokee life. “I recommend Judge Martin’s excellent legal history. Indian law practitioners and legal historians need to know more about the real origins of modern tribal justice, not merely the mythologies perpetuated by the Supreme Court.” -- Matthew L. M. Fletcher. “Judge Martin’s work is invaluable to those who wish to understand the full context of tribal court power and the role of Cherokee Courts in the comprehensive exerciser of Cherokee sovereignty.”-- Stacy Leeds. The author retired in 2013 after more than ten years serving the Tribal Court of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.
Decisions at Antietam: The Fourteen Critical Decisions that Defined the Battle by Michael L. Lang. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2021. 306 pages with and Index, Bibliography, Notes, Appendices, maps, and illustrations. Trade paperback.
The Battle of Antietam, which took place on September 17, 1862, was the bloodiest day in American military history, leaving more than 22,000 soldiers, dead, wounded or missing. Prior to this battle, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, was winning victories in his drive into U. S. territory. General George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac attacked Lee’s forces just a few miles north of the river for which his army was named in Maryland, sending him scurrying back into Virginia and ending his venture northward. Four days later, Lincoln, buoyed by this victory, issued his Emancipation Proclamation which was crucial to the eventual Union Victory. Freed Southern enslaved people, not only significantly aided the Union Army, they also demoralized and economically devastated the South. The author is a FedEx manager and successful photographer. By concentrating on crucial decisions made, this book provides goes beyond historical narrative providing a perceptive analytical framework for understanding the battle.
Decisions of the Tullahoma Campaign: The Twenty-Two Critical Decisions that Defined the Operation by Michael R. Bradley. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2020. 135 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, Appendices, maps and illustrations. Trade paperback.
This is the eighth in this series that brings a thoughtful and analytic vibe to Civil War study. In this campaign, decisions were made in Sewanee, Cowan, Winchester, Decherd, Estill Springs, Tullahoma, Wartrace, Liberty Gap, Bell Buckle, Hoover’s Gap, and Murfreesboro. The campaign was an effort by Union General William S. Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland to force Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee to leave Middle Tennessee and thus put pressure on Chattanooga. He did succeed in the Summer of 1862. The author, Michael R. Bradley taught history at Motlow State College in Tullahoma and has written several books on the Civil War.
The East Tennessee Veterans Memorial: A Pictorial History of the Names on the Wall: Their Lives, Their Service, Their Sacrifice by John Romeiser with Jack McCall. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2020. 389 pages with an Index, Selected Bibliography, Glossary, Notes, and photos. 7.5” X 10.5” Hardback in dust jacket.
In 1981 a neighborhood between the University of Tennessee and downtown Knoxville was urban-renewed to make way for the site of the 1982 World’s Fair. After the Fair, the area was developed into a city park. One of its features is a memorial to East Tennessee Veterans of foreign wars beginning with World War I. 6200 names of veterans are inscribed there. In this book, we learn the stories of 300 of them, including all 14 East Tennessee recipients of the Medal of Honor. “At last! A reliable, well-researched, and thoroughly engaging source to some of the most compelling accounts of East Tennessee heroism and sacrifice. Military historians and casual readers alike will find hours of thoughtful, informative reading in this ambitious and compassionate regional study.” —Lisa M. Budreau. The author, John Romeiser, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Tennessee, and Jack McCall is a Knoxville lawyer.
Panther Tales 3 edited by Judith Victoria Hensley. Harlan, Kentucky: self-published, 2020. 327 pages with photos and illustrations. Trade paperback.
As a science teacher at Loyall Elementary School, one of the most innovative classroom exercises she created happened when controversy arose about whether strip mining should be allowed on Kentucky’s highest mountain, Black Mountain. She assigned her kids to prepare testimony to give at state hearings on the topic, taking whichever side they wished to take. And they really did go to the Kentucky state capitol and some of those who had parental permission did testify. It was as a teacher that she first decided to edit books composed of a selection of the folklore, humor, fictional stories or actual experiences of her students. Since her retirement, she has personally authored some books, but also put together anthologies of contributions from other adults around the country and in Europe. This is her third collection of stories of encounters with Panthers. She got interested in this topic when she personally saw a big cat in Harlan County at a time where there was no consensus among biologist as to whether or not their habitat remained within the county boundaries.
So Much to Be Angry about: Appalachian Movement Press and Radical DIY Publishing, 1969-1979 by Shaun Slifer. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2021. 279 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, Appendix, and illustrations. 7.5” X 9.25” trade paperback.
Apparently, in this title, DIY means “do it yourself.” I don’t think that’s very appropriate there, BUT, I like pretty much everything else about this book. I even approve of the ways that author Slifer mentions and quotes me on eight pages of the book. The Appalachian Movement Press was a collective that printed pamphlets that advanced the social movements of the southern mountain region in the 1970s. It was a crucial part of the infrastructure that supported social action during that decade when Appalachian activists arguably accomplished as much or more than any other group of predominantly European Americans from any American region have accomplished since the Civil War. In 1972, Arnold Miller was elected the President of the United Mine Workers in a reform campaign whose courage was evident from the fact that the incumbent he was running against was later convicted of hiring the murder of his previous opponent along with the opponent’s wife and daughter. Of Miller’s running mates on his reform ticket, one is the current President of the AFL-CIO, and another is the current President of the United Mine Workers. Earlier that year, Miller was one of the leaders of the movement that secured the Black Lung Compensation Bill. In 1977 working class Appalachian activists saw President Jimmy Carter sign two laws. One regulated strip mining, and the other secured better health and safety provisions for deep miners. These laws, like the black lung bill, brought not only better health and safety, but also money and economic development into the coalfields. When I consider the importance of any group of pamphleteers, like the Appalachian Movement Press, I am reminded not only of an American tradition going back to Thomas Paine, but also of conversations I’ve had over the decades with Wendell Berry in which he has consistently brought up that need. Shaun Flier does an excellent job of putting the Appalachian Movement Press into context and following its accomplishments, including reprinting a couple of its pamphlets in their entirety. “So Much to Be Angry About is an example of the best impulses of people’s history, careful and caring in its attention to people and places, disposing of nothing, casting a loving and critical eye and turning over stones, not just of movement history and its ideas, but also of the labor of the craftspeople, artists, and makers whose work spurs us on but sometimes goes without examination. I love how this book traces generational knowledge, complete with lessons, pitfalls, dynamism, and complication for those of us currently making and joining community, art, and resistance in Appalachia.” Madeline ffitch. “The Appalachian Movement Press has been an inspiration for almost everything we do. An activist press focused on labor and art, and it was based in West Virginia? That’s something we all need to hear about! Especially anyone unpacking the region’s deep history of exploitation.” Dwight and Liz Pavlovic. “This is a history of Appalachian Movement Press and also a fascinating look into Appalachian history, regional radical politics, and print history. The fire of creation can be passed down through books like So Much to Be Angry About, and maybe this retelling of AMP’s story could spark something else like it down the line.” Lucas Church. The author, Shaun Slifer is a museum professional based in Pittsburg.
Talking to Shadows by Ron Houchin. Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 2020. 54 pages. Trade paperback.
To have most of his eight previous poetry collections published by an Irish publisher is indeed a tribute to their craft and weight, but this publisher, LSU Press, is widely known as the pinnacle publisher of poetry in the South. Ron Houchin is a retired schoolteacher who lives on the banks of the Ohio River across from Huntington, West Virginia, where he grew up. This collection was a runner-up for the Weatherford Award in poetry for 2020. In the title poem, Houchin asserts that “to speak to shadows is to remain still in their reshaping the world,” as he takes an evening walk. In the rest of the poems, he continues to observe, from different vantage points, other phenomena, and his responses demonstrate his appreciative attitude towards the world around him. “Conjured from time’s liminal territories, Houchin’s poems drift in from alleys and dank wells, snowfields and leaden rivers, empty churches and cemeteries. . . . All knock hard at the door, intent on stirring our keenest state of remembrance.” – Sherry Cook Stanforth. This book also wins the prize for the prettiest cover this month!
Mingo Town and Memories by Larry Smith. Huron, Ohio: Bird Dog Publishing, 2020. 88 pages with photos. Trade paperback.
This is a book of poems about the author’s hometown, Mingo Junction, Ohio, on the Ohio River apposite the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. Despite the “Rust Belt” setting, these accessible poems are mostly upbeat, many revealing insights gleaned from that background. Larry Smith, the author, has written over 20 books in many genres. A former professor, he directs Bottom Dog Press.
Working It Off in Labor County by Larry D. Thacker. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2021. 209 pages. Trade paperback.
The seventeen short stories in this volume often portray the same characters and the same settings. The Eastern Kentucky setting, where the author has lived most of his life, earns its fictional name, Labor County, from the vocations of its residents. “A rollicking portrayal of small-town Kentucky life . . . unified by strong narrative drive and well-crafted prose. Fans of George Singleton will love this.” Publishers Weekly. “There’s a country song on every page. . . . These characters want out, want in, yearn for some luck, lose whatever fortunes appear in their lives. This collection’s a keeper, worthy of shelf space between Larry Brown and Merle Haggard.” -George Singleton. “Thacker’s linked collection is a carnival ride of southern gothic tales and freak-show oddities . . . Hilarious, yes, but it’s also a thoughtful exploration of the residents of Labor County, Kentucky, who are desperate to pull meaning out of loss.” – Marie Manilla. The author, Larry Thacker, is the author of two chapbooks, four poetry collections, and Mountain Mysteries.
The Long Way Home: Stories by Ron Lands. Huron, Ohio: Bottom Dog Press, 2021. 166 pages. Trade paperback.
These fifteen stories are set in a town reminiscent of the small Upper East Tennessee town where the author, now a mostly retired oncologist in Knoxville, grew up. Home stands both for the small town setting, but also for the home that all of us are heading for – those with cancer perhaps sooner than they had previously anticipated. That gives these stories a depth, as well as wisdom, not always encountered in this genre. “These stories take place in the homes, doctor's offices, and hospital rooms of a small Tennessee town, where doctors intimately know their patients, and patients exist in a generational no-mans' land between house calls and contemporary medicine. Lands' ability to explore their humanity as his characters navigate the unfamiliar makes these stories shimmer. Beautifully rendered sentence after sentence, The Long Way Home is the work of an expert in his fields”. --Susan Perabo. “Ron Land’s luminous meditation on the physical pain and suffering of the residents of Oak Grove, Tennessee . . .is an astounding literary triumph that will break your heart and then mend it with its deep abiding affection for small towns and the closely-knit souls who live, love, and die in them. Deeply resonant stories touched with humor, filled with grace.” – Sheryl Monks.