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Reviews: October 2016

Reviews: October 2016

POETRY

Galaxie Wagon by Darnell Arnoult. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2016, 67 pages, trade
paperback, $18.
Darnell Arnoult was once called the Mary Kay of writer's workshops because of her willingness to lead writers in living rooms or any other venue. She teaches at Lincoln Memorial University and directs the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival each June. Her previous poetry collection, What Travels with Us, is the only poetry book to ever win a Weatherford Award as the year’s outstanding publication from Appalachia before Poetry became a separate category for the award. Her novel, Sufficient Grace, has been continuously in print since it was published ten years ago by Simon and Schuster. Maurice Manning called this book “An absorbing and exultant book of true poetry. Whereas the frailties and strains of life are the primary subject matter, the poems in this collection are determined to arrive at love and grace. Such heights are made evident by the resonant images and precise phrasings that ring like bells on every page.”

performance pieces by doris davenport. Lexington, Kentucky: self-published, 2016, 52 pages, trade paperback, $10.00.
The author of about a dozen poetry collections, doris davenport is best known as a performance poet who has appeared at over 100 venues. A native of northeast Georgia who has lived in Greenville, South Carolina, and Asheville, North Carolina, she holds a PhD from the University of Southern California and has published several articles which, like her poetry and performances, focus on her heritage as an African-American woman.

Knead: Poems by Sue Weaver Dunlap, Charlotte, N.C.: Main Street Rag Publishing Co., 2016, 77 pages, trade paperback, $14.
Sue Dunlap lives on a cattle farm near Townsend, Tennessee. She is a retired high school English teacher who is very active in regional literary events. She previously published a chapbook. Like the title, these poems in Knead are full of layers of meaning whether rendered in dialect of school-teacher English. And like the concept of kneading bread so that it can rise fully, they leaven in meaning and hark back to a simpler time.

Believe What You Can: Poems by Marc Harshman. Morgantown, West Virginia:
Vandalia Books, an imprint of West Virginia University Press, 2016, 91 pages, trade
paperback, $17.
Marc Harshman, a former school teacher in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia, is the poet-laureate of his state and the author of thirteen well-received children’s books. “Harshman’s poetic sophistication is clear and shows the insight and wisdom of an experienced poet who treats the forces of death, disruption, and dissonance with the seriousness and humor they deserve.” – Eddy Pendarvis.

Dark Energy by Robert Morgan. New York: Penguin, 2016, 80 pages, trade paperback, $18.
Robert Morgan is a Cornell professor who grew up in rural Henderson County, N. C. and has distinguished himself not only as an exemplary poet, but as an outstanding story-writer, a best-selling novelist and a delightful and substantive non-fiction writer as well.

Poems {New and Selected} by Ron Rash. New York: Ecco, and imprint of
HarperCollins, 2016, 171 pages, hardback in dust jacket, $25.
Ron Rash’s publishing career began in 1998 with a volume of poetry, Eureka Mill, which focused on the South Carolina mill where his parents worked after leaving their North Carolina mountain farms. This is his fifth poetry collection eclipsed, for some, by six very successful novels and six celebrated story collections. It reprints some poems from his earlier works and some which have been published in periodicals. “The lyric encapsulation of story [is] precisely and lovingly rendered. . .Wise and beautiful.” – Claudia Emerson. “My admiration for [Rash’s] achievement is without limit, and in my view this book deserves the enthusiastic notice of anyone interested in American poetry.” – Anthony Hecht. Rash teaches at Western Carolina University.


NON-FICTION

Fighting King Coal: The Challenges to Micromobilization in Central Appalachia by
Shannon Elizabeth Bell. Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 2016, 326 pages with an index, bibliography, maps, charts, and photos, trade paperback, $32. Hardback,
$65.
Yes, this book is published by MIT Press! Shannon Elizabeth Bell is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies at the University of Kentucky. The depth of the scholarship that illuminates this study is illustrated by the fact that she closely examines not only a cohort of activists, but also a control group of non-activists with similar backgrounds.

The Foxfire Book of Simple Living: Celebrating Fifty Years of Listenin’, Laughin’, and Learnin’ edited by Kaye Carver Collins, Jonathan Blackstock and Foxfire Students. New York: Penguin Books, and imprint of Random House, 2016, 555 pages with photos, trade paperback, $20.
Since the 1972 publication of The Foxfire Book, a surprise best-seller by teacher Eliot Wigginton and his students, ten additional Foxfire books have been published along with two others celebrating anniversaries and several others on particular topics. Currently eleven e-books are also available, as well as a periodical that preceded the first book. This vibrant and resilient effort has survived the conviction and imprisonment of its first leader to become a revered and powerful institution in Georgia’s northeasternmost county which sports an annual festival, a mountainside campus of historic buildings, and a museum.

Family of Earth: A Southern Mountain Childhood by Wilma Dykeman. Chapel Hill:
The University of North Carolina Press, 2016, 177 pages. Trade paperback, $18.
Hardback, $75.
The essay, “Literature Since 1900” by Wilma Dykeman (1920-2006) in the land-breaking 1962 book The Southern Appalachian Region: A Survey edited by Thomas R. Ford, quite literally ushered in the nascent field of Appalachian Literature. She followed that essay by teaching it at Loyal Jones’ three-week summer course in Appalachian Studies, which almost all of the leaders of the Appalachian Studies Conference attended. That was punctuated by hundreds of compelling presentations to widely diverse groups around our region. Of the many that I attended in a variety of locales, never once did she fail to artfully elaborate upon the evils of racism, class chauvinism, sexism, and environmental degradation. The Tennessee State Historian, she was known not only for her non-fiction books, but also as the author of an iconic novel, The Tall Woman and two follow-up novels. A native of Asheville, she resided throughout her adult life in Newport, Tennessee. Ron Rash called Family of Earth “a valuable addition to understanding Dykeman and . . . also a fascinating, deeply moving account of a writer’s developing sensibility.” “Wilma Dykeman is indeed a ‘tall woman’ who has cast her long shadow over many other Appalachian women writers, especially me, inspired early on by both her beautiful writing and her social conscience.” – Lee Smith.


Grandfather Mountain: The History and Guide to an Appalachian Icon by Randy Johnson. Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 2016. 290 pages with an index, maps, and color and black-and-white photos. Oversized hardback with dust jacket. $35.
“This volume is both a practical guide for those discovering the area and a work of art commensurate with the grandeur of the mountain itself.” – Robert Morgan. The author has worked on Grandfather Mountain, an iconic North Carolina peak, for decades, and, as Vicky Jarrett says, it is presented, “with a passion and depth that can only come from being shaped by the mountain.”

Victuals: An Appalachian Journey with Recipes by Ronni Lundy. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2016, 320 pages with many color photos and in index. Oversized hardback with pictoral cover, $32.
This is Ronni Lundy’s third regional cookbook published over a period of 26
years, confirming her status as a pioneer and expert practitioner in this newly
popular field of foodways. This book combines a fascinating historical perspective
with compelling human interest stories to make an informative and engaging
package augmented by fabulous color photos.

Ducktown Smoke: The Fight over One of the South’s Greatest Environmental Disasters by Duncan Maysilles. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, a 2016 reprint of a 2011 release. 333 pages with an index, bibliography, footnotes, photos and a map. Trade paperback, $30.
No, it is one of the earth’s greatest environmental disasters. When Americans first went up into space, they could only see two manifestations of the presence of their species on earth: the four-corners coal-burning electric facility and the barren landscape surrounding Ducktown’s copper smelting plant that had released sulfuric acid into the atmosphere completely denuding all the vegetation from an entire valley. I recall driving through the area over 50 years ago with a companion who cried and said that she now understood for the first time why Chinese peasants had killed their landlords as portrayed in Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village by William Hinton and Fred Magdoff. “Ducktown Smoke is an extremely important and expertly written book,” says Donald E. Davis. Duncan Maysilles earned a law degree from Duke and a history doctorate from the
University of Georgia.

My Father, the Pornographer: A Memoir by Chris Offutt, New York, Atria Books of
Simon & Schuster, 2016, 261 pages, hardback in dust jacket. $26.
Chris Offutt is a native of Haldeman, Kentucky, a remote corner of Rowan County. After quite a journey, recounted in more than one memoir, he has landed near Oxford, Mississippi. His writing carries the reader swiftly along, ruffled occasionally by the preposterous, but brought back continually by just the right turn of phrase. Though many writers aspire to be part outlaw and part literary icon, few have managed to come as close as Chris Offutt. This memoir of himself and his father amply demonstrates that he came by his personal characteristics honestly while also benefiting enormously from his mother’s social graces. Chris Offutt has distinguished himself in the short story, novel and memoir form as well as a writer for television. He has received most of the prestigious writing grants available.

The Embattled Wilderness: The Natural and Human History of Robinson Forest and the Fight for It’s Future by Erik Reece and James J. Krupa, Athens, The University of Georgia Press, a 2016 reprint of a 2013 release, 144 pages with maps, photos, and “works cited and consulted,” trade paperback. $20.
Wendell Berry contributed the forward to this book though it can easily stand on its own by virtue of the reputation that Erik Reece, a professor at the University of Kentucky, garnered from his previous books, including Lost Mountain and that of Jim Krupa, also at UK. Their institutional affiliation is significant because UK owns Robinson Forest in Breathitt County, located in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, and because UK has a perilous mixed history of both strip-mining it and preserving it. This book is thus significant not only for the natural history it illuminates but also for the ongoing struggle it recounts.

Appalachia Revisited: New Perspectives on Place, Tradition, and Progress edited by William Schumann and Rebecca Adkins Fletcher. Lexington, The University Press of Kentucky, 2016, 310 pages, hardback with pictorial cover. $50.
This book aptly demonstrates how good a choice Appalachian State made in hiring Billy Schumann as the Director of their Appalachian programs. He has clearly energized the next generation of Appalachian scholars as demonstrated by the fact that, of the 24 contributors to this collection of essays, I only know Billy and Anita Puckett. This is not the old guard. Three contributors are doctoral students. What is even more impressive is that Billy has exemplified, in this volume, the values that the best of the old guard hopes will infuse the next generation. The book has four parts. It starts with an acknowledgement of “Race, Ethnicity, and Gender” and goes through “Language, Rhetoric, and Literacy” right into “Economy and Environment” and concludes with “Engagement.” Wow!

Dimestore: A Writer’s Life by Lee Smith. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2016, 200
pages, trade paperback. $25.
Lee Smith, one of a handful of our region’s truly distinguished authors, has written seventeen works of fiction, the first published while she was still an undergraduate at Hollins College near Roanoke. Now, she finally writes her own story, named after the Ben Franklin story in Grundy, Virginia, in the coalfields that her father owned, along with its Piggly-Wiggly grocery store. The book is actually a collection of fifteen autobiographical essays, not a comprehensive autobiography. Annie Dillard, her roommate at Hollins and a Pulitzer-prize- winning author herself, writes of this book, “Here’s Lee Smith at her best. Her brilliance shines. Her wide warmth blesses everything funny about life and—her especially—everything moving and deep.”

Dwight Diller: West Virginia Mountain Musician by Lewis M. Stern. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2016. 203 pages with an index, bibliography, notes and
photos. Oversized trade paperback, $35.
Almost ubiquitous in fiddle and banjo circles in West Virginia and beyond, Dwight Diller has carved out an unusual musical career. Remarkably, it only began after military service and college, despite earlier exposures to musical kinfolks in his native West Virginia. Interestingly Diller combined his music career with a variety of other occupations ranging from laborer to ordained minister.


FICTION

A Shadow All of Light by Fred Chappell. New York: Tor, 2016, 383 pages. Hardback
in dust jacket. $27.
On the top of the dust jacket is a quote from The Washington Post Book World which describes Fred Chappell as “A writer of breadth and distinction.” This is an understatement. They didn’t even add “depth” to their sentence, perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of a writer who is absorbing even to those of us who do not realize all the layers of meaning to a story that may also be an allegory of an obscure folk tale. The Los Angeles Times said it more strongly, “Not since James Agee and Robert Penn Warren has a Southern writer displayed such masterful versatility. Together with only a handful of his American contemporaries, Chappell reminds us of the almost forgotten phrase, ‘man of letters.’” Born in Canton, North Carolina, Fred Chappell taught at UNC-G throughout his career. The legions of important regional writers with a masters degree from that institution is remarkable, but not coincidental. This fantasy novel rests alongside not just other somewhat similar works, like Dagan which won France’s highest international prize, but also books of poetry, stories, and novels set in his native Appalachia.

The Rope Swing: Stories by Jonathan Corcoran. Morgantown, West Virginia: Vandalia Press, an imprint of West Virginia University Press, 2016, 161 pages with “Reading and Discussion Questions.” Trade paperback, $17.
Jonathan Corcoran grew up in a small West Virginia town. After graduating from Brown, he received an MFA from Newark’s Rutgers University, a program created and run by a fellow West Virginian, Jayne Anne Phillips. She said of this book, “The Rope Swing takes us inside quiet revolutions of the soul in mountain towns far from Stonewall and establishes a new American writer whose unerring instincts are cause for celebration.” Another fellow West Virginia writer, Carter Sickels, wrote, “A powerful, moving, and beautifully written book that explores rural American and queer identity, two subjects rarely portrayed together.”

The Common Lot and Other Stories: The Published Short Fiction, 1908-1921 by Emma Bell Miles. Edited by Grace Toney Edwards. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2016, 231 pages with “Suggestions for Further Reading and Research,” photos and drawings by Emma Bell Miles. Hardback in dust jacket, $60; trade paperback, $29.
Emma Bell Miles (1879-1919) was a compelling pioneer in Appalachian Studies whose 1905 book, The Spirit of the Mountains, was the first published attempt to thoroughly describe the unique sub-culture of the Southern Appalachians. She was also a feminist, an outstanding naturalist, and an artist as well as a poet, fiction writer, and columnist for the Chattanooga Times, the newspaper closest to her Signal Mountain home. Grace Toney Edwards, who is retired from her position as the head of the Appalachian programs and Professor of English at Radford University, has written a beautiful and apt introduction and done yeoman service by collecting these delightful stories.

Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley: Novellas & Stories by Ann Pancake. Berkeley: Counterpoint, a 2016 paperback reprint of a 2015 release, 291 pages. Trade paperback, $16.
Ann Pancake, who grew up in West Virginia, first published in the short story genre but rose to considerable prominence with her 2007 novel, Strange as the Weather Has Been, which features a West Virginia family devastated by mountaintop removal mining. Here she returns to the short story genre a few long enough to be considered novellas. “Ann Pancake knows the ways of her people inside and out, but her stories are always linked to the universal concerns of the human heart, and they are rendered in voices that are often wildly original, always poetic. Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley is further confirmation that Ann Pancake is one of America’s finest writers.” – Ron Rash.

Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash. New York: Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins, a
2016 reprint of a 2015 release, 252 pages. Trade paperback. $16
“Combining suspense with acute observations and flashing insights, Rash tells a seductive and disquieting tale about our intrinsic attachment to and disastrous abuse of the land and our betrayal of our best selves.” - Booklist. “Rash has crafted the finest prose of his career.” – BookPage. “It is love at first page of Above the Waterfall, the new novel by this lyrical and evocative writer acclaimed for his novels, short stories, and poetry. His work takes place in the mountains of North Carolina. . . . You might call Rash our Appalachian Shakespeare.” – Philadelphia Inquirer. Ron Rash teaches at Western Carolina University and has been a finalist for the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award in both story and novel and the winner of the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. His novel, Serena, was a New York Times best-seller and made into a Hollywood movie by highly acclaimed directors and actors.

The Risen by Ron Rash. New York: HarperLuxe, 2016, 230 pages. Hardback in dust
Jacket and large-print paperback, both $26.
This is Rash’s 6th novel to go with six story collections and five poetry collections. This story starts in a creek when two brothers in their late teens encounter an alluring and rebellious teen-aged girl. It resumes decades later to delve into themes of possible memory distortion and the impact of learning the truth.

A Hanging at Cinder Bottom: A Novel by Glenn Taylor. Portland, Oregon: Tin House Books, 2016, 381 pages. Trade paperback. $16.
Taylor’s first novel was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is a native of Huntington, West Virginia, who now teaches at West Virginia University in Morgantown, and this is his third novel. Cinder Bottom is a neighborhood in Keystone, West Virginia, a coal boom town in 1910 when this novel is set. “It’s not enough to say Glenn Taylor is a brilliant writer. He’s that rarity nowadays, a great storyteller.” - Stewart O’Nan.


CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Mommy Goose: Rhymes from the Mountains by Mike Norris. Lexington: The
University Press of Kentucky, 2016. 42 pages, illustrated in color with carvings by
Minnie Adkins, oversized hardback with pictorial cover, $20.
Minnie Adkins is an iconic folk artist, widely known as a wood carver from Isonville, Kentucky. The author, Mike Norris is also an Eastern Kentucky native and the father of popular folk and ballad singer, Cari Norris, whose maternal grandmother, Lily May Ledford, was the original leader of the first all-woman string band in radio, the Coon Creek Girls. This book presents fun rhymes for kids.