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November 2019 Reviews

November 2019 Reviews


Ring Around the Moon: Mommy Goose Rhymes by Mike Norris. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2019. 50 pages with pictures of 170 carvings by Minnie Adkins created to illustrate this book. 8” X 10.25” hardback with pictorial cover, $19.95.

This book celebrates Appalachian words – through nursery rhymes told in the mountain idiom – art – through the wood carvings of Minnie Adkins – and music – ending with the words and musical notations for an original song by Mike Norris. "What a wonderful celebration of language! Wit and wordplay abound, and the distinctive mountain phrasing makes these poems sing even beyond the sharp rhyme. But the language is always wrapped around the tale ― tall, humorous, and full of critters who explain the wonders of the world. And the illustrations bring such a world to full life. Here is a book of outlandish affection, for young and longer-in-the-tooth readers alike. One suspects it was made in a fit of delight, or a lifetime of it."―Maurice Manning. "Mommy Goose is back, as sprightly and spry as ever, with a whole new batch of winsome country-flavored rhymes, jingles, tall tales, and tuneful ditties in her poke. Accompanied by her official interpreter (and alter ego) Mike Norris and brought to three-dimensional reality in the antic wood carvings of Minnie Atkins, Mommy once again graces the barnyard with her gentle, timeless wit and wisdom. Welcome home, Mommy!"―Ed McClanahan. Minnie Adkins lives in Elliott County, Kentucky, and is one of America’s most eminent female wood carvers. Mike Norris also is a native of Eastern Kentucky, now living in Lexington. This is his fourth children’s book.


Stone Man and the Trail of Tears by Charles Suddeth. Pikeville, North Carolina: Dancing Lemur Press, 2019. 161 pages, $12.95.

Twelve-year-old Tsatsi is a Cherokee youth whose village is attacked by the U.S. Army in the 1830s to round up the residents and take them on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. His family flees into the Smoky Mountains, but are hunted down and only Tsatsi and his sister, Sali, escape. Then Sali is kidnapped by Stone Man, a notorious giant. Tsatsi gives chase and confronts the giant. “The story starts off at a frantic pace and doesn’t let up; sure to pull in readers who don’t ordinarily read historical fiction.” Greg Pattridge. The author lives in Louisville and is a substitute teacher.



Mot: A Memoir by Sarah Einstein. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, a 2018 paperback edition of a 2015 release. 168 pages. Trade paperback. $19.95.

This is the memoir of a woman who, at forty, is facing losing her job and her husband. She strikes up a friendship with a homeless, mentally-ill, veteran, Mot. This book dances around and confronts lots of issues that we all face perhaps only to lesser degrees: Am I taking this person on as a “project” bound to fail? How have I not noticed how privileged I am? Does seeing another’s obvious flaws make us aware of our problems which just haven’t manifested themselves as strongly?  “Beautifully written, Mot vividly evokes quotidian parking lots, campgrounds, and scenery and explores complicated, omnipresent moral questions about what it means to give, take, offer, need, and befriend in a way that will make it a reference point for me for years to come.” - Zoe Zolbrod. “Mot is not a story of pat answers or happy endings. It is, ultimately, a passionate and moving argument for looking beyond the assumptions that blind us to the humanity of the Mots of this world.” - Maria Browning. The author, Sarah Einstein teaches creative writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.


Praying with One Eye Open: Mormons and Murder in Nineteenth Century Appalachian Georgia by Mary Ella Engel. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2019. 228 pages with an Index, Notes, two appendices, and photos. Trade paperback, $24.95.

This book illuminates the Mormon effort to open up the Georgia mission field beginning in the 1840s. The book concludes with the murder of Mormon missionary James Standing on July 21, 1879, in Whitfield County and the ensuing acquittal of the twelve men who shot him. Some Mormon missionaries continued to work in North Georgia despite the fact that the words, “There is no law in Georgia for Mormons,” adorn Standing’s grave in Salt Lake City where he was taken to be buried. This book examines both the Mormon efforts and the response of the locals, concluding that, at worst, local people felt that the Mormons were essentially stealing their daughters to take to Utah as co-wives. The author, Mary Ella Engel, teaches history at Western Carolina University.


The Food We Eat, the Stories We Tell: Contemporary Appalachian Tables edited by Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt and Lora E. Smith. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2019. 207pages with an Afterword by Ronnie Lundy and illustrations. Trade paperback, $22.95.

Foodways have become such a fad, that it is tempting to respond to a new book on the subject with a ho-hum. NO!  Not this book. It builds on the foundation that previous books have provided. It expands upon their reach. This book of an Introduction and fourteen essays and four poems features writers who are more diverse and well-versed, scholars who are more accomplished, story-tellers who are more proficient, and poets who are more gifted. “Engelhardt and Smith bring together a diverse group of writers who deftly use foodways to tackle a number of important themes, from identity and power to placemaking and the meaning of ‘Appalachia.’ Working against lingering but misleading and politicized regional signifiers, this riveting and readable book offers a fresh perspective on Appalachia, using foodways as a lens.”—Jessica Wilkerson. “There are several takes on the food of immigrants, from Korea, Mexico, Spain, and Switzerland…. In all, (The Food We Eat, the Stories We Tell) contains a diversity of voices, styles, and cuisines that will be a pleasant surprise to those unfamiliar with the region.”—Booklist. Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt holds a distinguished professorship at the University of North Carolina named after Lisa Alther’s brother, the distinguished sociologist of the South, John Shelton Reed. She claims forbears in Western North Carolina in the 1700s. Of her many books, my favorite title and content had got to be, The Tangled Roots of Feminism, Environmentalism, and Appalachian Literature. Lora E. Smith directs the Appalachian Impact Fund, a social impact investment fund focused on economic transition and opportunity in Eastern Kentucky. In 2015, Lora accepted the John Egerton Prize from the Southern Foodways Alliance for her work with the Appalachian Food Summit and supporting local agriculture movements in Central Appalachia. Among the many accomplishments of John Egerton (1935-2013) was that he was one of the first to write deeply about Southern foodways. Lora E. Smith lives on a farm in Jackson County, Kentucky. 


Cas Walker: Stories on His Life and Legend edited by Joshua S. Hodge. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2019. 202 pages with an index, Bibliography, and photos. Trade paperback, $24.95.

In March of 1956, Life magazine published a picture of a fist-fight between two Knoxville City Councilmen, Cas Walker and Jimmy Cooper, during a council meeting. I was 13 at the time, and I remember it well because it was the first time I had seen our part of the country make the national news. Cas Walker (1902-1998) called himself a “living legend” in Knoxville, and he was right. He was a leading businessman with a chain of grocery stores in and around Knoxville, and served both on the City Council and a term as Mayor. From the 1960s until the 1980s, Cas Walker’s Home and Farm Hour on Channel 10 gave a wide variety of country music performers a venue which led some to say it was an inspiration for the Gong Show, but, clearly helped bring others, notably Dolly Parton and Chet Atkins, to the national spot-light. He famously stopped letting the Everly Brothers perform on his show because he felt like they were deserting country for rock n roll. In the early sixties, I joined a picket line at one of his grocery stores protesting the fact that he charged higher prices at his stores in African-American neighborhoods. From 1971 until 1984, when libel suits shut it down, he published The Watchdog, an incendiary right-wing publication on local politics. Cas Walker was a quintessential Southern demagogue who called himself “the old coon-hunter” and railed against “the silk-stocking crowd,” in favor of “the little man.”  This is an unusual book for a university press. It follows Cas Walker’s life by pasting together short oral history and press snippets from twenty commentators and various publications, including Walker’s own autobiography. The result is refreshingly frank grass-roots perspectives without a real scholarly framework to provide dates and historical context. Joshua S. Hodge, the editor, earned a doctorate in history from the University of Tennessee before his death in 2019.


Southern Snow: The New Guide to Winter Sports from Maryland to the Southern Appalachians by Randy Johnson. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2019. 445 pages with an index, maps, and photos. Trade paperback, $27.00.

From Garrett County, Maryland to DeKalb County, Alabama, winter sports opportunities dot the Southern Appalachians. This book is divided into three basic sections: 1. Introduction to the Southern Snowbelt, 2. Downhill Skiing, and 3. Cross-country Skiing, Hiking and Mountaineering. Fifteen sidebars cover an amazing array of interesting and pertinent topics from “Ski Archaeology” to “The Downside of Skiing Dixie.”  This book is full of important tips ranging from resources for childcare to weather information. “This guide is for anyone interested in winter sports in the South; even practiced skiers will find new information here to enhance their experience.”--Carolyn Sakowski. “Though it is first and foremost about where to play in the snow, it is also a wonderful history of the birth and growth of an industry.”--Joe Miller. UNC Press doesn’t let just anyone author a book for them! Randy Johnson is an accomplished travel writer, editor, and author of numerous books, including Grandfather Mountain: The History and Guide to an Appalachian Icon.


Neighborhood Hawks: A Year Following Wild Birds by John Lane. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2019. 168 pages with a map. Trade paperback, $19.95.

 John Lane vowed to observe the red-shouldered hawks in his neighborhood for a year. Sometimes he followed them by foot, by bicycle, or by pickup truck. This is his journal of his interactions with them from June to June with entries practically every day, sometimes even when he doesn't see them. There are three nests near his home which is close to the suburbs of Spartanburg, South Carolina, at least a hundred yards from any neighbor and right by Lawson's Fork. "John Lane's adoring obsessions show us how wildness dwells on the edges of suburbia―and how it thrives within the spirit of a feral poet." - Drew Lanham. "A gentle reminder of just how noteworthy the wildlife interactions are that are occurring outside our front door." - Brian Cooke.  John Lane teaches environmental studies and English at Wofford College nearby and is a prolific author of books in many genres.


Thomas Jefferson’s Lives: Biographers and the Battle for History edited by Robert M.S. McDonald. Charlottesville: The University of Virginia Press, 2019. 311 pages with a Foreword by Jon Meacham, Afterword by Gordon S. Wood, and an Index. Hardback in dust jacket, $29.95.

Sixteen scholars contribute to this book, each often contrasting two Jefferson biographers or examining the biographers of a particular era or how different biographers approached a particular aspect of Jefferson’s life. The perspectives of his contemporary enemies are even examined. The twelfth chapter, “‘That Woman’: Fawn Brodie and Thomas Jefferson’s Intimate History” examines her 1974 book, the first effort by a white person in that century to illuminate the connection between Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemmings, whose grandfather and father were both white, but whose maternal relatives were all slaves. "An immensely valuable work, . . . Every scholar interested in Jefferson will want to read this book, and for students it is a wonderful introduction to the evolving craft of history and historiography.” ―John B. Boles. “You may be enraptured or infuriated, but the insightful entries in Thomas Jefferson’s Lives will cause you to reflect not just on Jefferson and his world, but on why so many writers have seen him so differently. This marvelous collection of essays informs us not only about Jefferson, but about how, and why, historical interpretations can be so contradictory. It is a book that is guaranteed to cause readers to ponder – and maybe rethink -- some things they thought they knew about Jefferson. What more can one ask of a book about Thomas Jefferson?” - John Ferling. The editor, Robert M. S. Ferling, is Professor of History at the U.S. Military Academy and the author of a previous book on Jefferson.


Educated in Tyranny: Slavery at Thomas Jefferson’s University edited by Maurie D. McInnis and Louis P. Nelson. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019. 259 pages with an Index, Foreword by Marcus L. Martin and Meghan S. Faulkner, Introduction by Maurie D. McInnis, and color photos. 7.25” X 9.5” hardback in dust jacket, $29.95.

Slavery was as much an integral part of the early life of the University of Virginia as it was of the entire life of its founder, Thomas Jefferson. Nine scholars contributed to this book that estimates that over one hundred slaves lived on the campus of the University of Virginia throughout the almost fifty years it existed before slavery was abolished. “Little, if any, previous scholarship has explored the horrific abuse endured by enslaved people working at Southern colleges in the lead-up to the Civil War . . .  It’s now coming to light... [ Educated in Tyranny draws] on years of painstaking scrutiny of archival records, which U-Va. made available as part of its ongoing attempt to grapple with its slaveholding past” - Washington Post. “[A] complete appreciation of the University of Virginia entails learning hard truths. This... collection examines that truth, of the enslaved people who constructed the buildings and served the young men who were studying the precepts of liberty. Essays look at slave labor, violence, free blacks and the university as a bastion of pro-slavery thought. It includes eye-opening realities such as medical students robbing the graves of slaves. The book's tragic truths are important in understanding this Virginia institution.” – Boomer Magazine.Educated in Tyranny is fascinating, well-written, and well-argued. The book is a very important landmark in the ongoing work on the history of slavery at universities. It also demonstrates the power of collaborative projects in uncovering such histories. McInnis and Nelson offer a powerful reflection on the process that the University of Virginia has undertaken, and a powerful record of the ways in which the institution has chosen to honor and claim this difficult history.” Leslie M. Harris. “A model of engaged and compassionate scholarship, drawing upon prodigious research and ingenious methods, Educated in Tyranny is essential to understanding the University of Virginia. This is a book written by people who care deeply about the University, who are devoted to telling its story honestly and fully. -  “Edward L. Ayers. The co-editors: Maurie D. McInnis is Executive Vice President and Provost at the University of Texas and the author of a previous book on slavery. Louis P. Nelson is Vice Provost for Academic Outreach and Professor of Architectural History at the University of Virginia and co-editor of a previous book on slavery.


Boonesborough Unearthed: Frontier Archaeology at a Revolutionary Fort by Nancy O’Malley. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2019. 224 pages with an Index, Bibliography, Notes, photos, maps, and illustrations. Trade paperback with dust-jacket-like cover flaps, $26.95.

This is a wonderful archaeology book, but it puts the archaeology in context so thoroughly that it is also a really good book about Fort Boonesborough and its role in American history. "Nancy O'Malley focuses the unique perspective of historical archaeology, blending documents, oral tradition, and the material culture record preserved in the ground on one of the most famous pioneer sites in Kentucky. This highly readable work offers more than new insights on the Boonesborough fort and community, providing fascinating perspectives on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century life in all of Kentucky. It will appeal to a wide audience."―Kim A. McBride. "Boonesborough is a historically significant American site that is part of American frontier mythology. O'Malley has done it justice while unraveling many loose ends found in the received oral history by looking at a wide variety of materials, ranging from geology and botany to the political machinations of land-hungry easterners on the dangerous fringe of the new United States."―Lawrence E. Babits. The author, Nancy O’Malley, is a professional archaeologist specializing in Kentucky during the Revolutionary War time period. This is her second book on pioneer stations in Kentucky.


Blue Ridge Christmas by Chrissie Anderson Peters. Bristol, Tennessee: CAP Publishing, 2019. 80 pages with a cover illustration by Tammy Mays Adams. Trade paperback, $12.50.

In this little book, Chrissie Anderson Peters tells the stories of her most memorable  experiences of the Christmas season. A librarian by profession, now retired to devote time to writing, she cannot resist connecting her family’s experiences with, for example, some background information on trains in the region that throw out Christmas gifts or Dolly Parton’s generosity in response to wildfires in the Smokies. “Chrissie Anderson Peters’ collection of Christmas stories is an Appalachian delight that brought back my childhood memories of Christmas in the mountains. Her humorous take on family idiosyncrasies and deep love for people who sometimes broke her heart will leave you sighing with nostalgia and begging for more.” -- Karen Lynn Nolan. “Again and again, Chrissie Anderson Peters reminds us about everything that's magical, revealing the true spirit of Christmas.” -- Denton Loving. This is the third book that Chrissie Anderson Peters, who lives in Bristol, Tennessee, has published.


The Founding of Thomas Jefferson’s University edited by John a Ragosta, Peter S. Onuf, and Andrew j. O’Shaughnessy. Charlottesville: The University of Virginia Press, 2019. 341 pages with an Index and illustrations. Hardback with dust jacket, $29.95.

Nineteen scholars contributed to this book that focuses on the founding of the University of Virginia in 1819, 200 years ago.  Although much emphasis is placed on Thomas Jefferson’s understanding, even philosophy, of architecture, books, and academic study, recent scholarship has developed a deeper understanding that replaces the idealizing of his thinking with more nuanced appraisals. For example, Jefferson’s architectural philosophy was clearly grounded in segregating the appearance of the slaves and other workers from the everyday views of the faculty and students. This book even has a chapter on slavery at U.Va. written by Maurie D. McInnis, an editor of Educated in Tyranny: Slavery at Thomas Jefferson’s University, reviewed in this month’s reviews. “This intriguing collection provides current scholarship about Jefferson's plans for the new University of Virginia, connecting the founding of the institution with the lively issues facing UVA in the present and the future. This courageous approach fends off ancestor worship and helps make the historic university and Jefferson’s ideas part of a living dialectic." - John R. Thelin. The editors are John A. Ragosta, of the Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, Peter S. Onuf, Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia, and Andrew J. O’Shaughnessy of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello. 


Summer of Hate: Charlottesville, U.S.A. by Hawes Spencer. Charlottesville: The University of Virginia Press, a 2019 paperback reprint of a 2018 release. 272 pages with maps and photos. Trade paperback, $19.95.

Hawes Spencer reported on the gathering of right-wing racist activists and the ensuing riots in Charlottesville in August 2017 for the New York Times. In this book he bends over backwards to present what happened objectively – to picture Antifa violence alongside white-nationalist violence, and to document, through personal interviews not only with both sides that were demonstrating but also with city officials. "Hawes Spencer's Summer of Hate is a careful, pointillist narrative of the people, events, and controversies that came together in Charlottesville in the summer of 2017. Spencer is scrupulously careful to report only the facts and the truth about a brutalizing summer that still shapes Charlottesville a year later. Through his detailed tableaux, the tale emerges of a city still engaged in a profound reckoning over whether it might ever come together, or if it will pull itself further apart." - Dahlia Lithwick. "In often shocking detail, Hawes Spencer recounts the awful events leading up to, and following August 11th and 12th, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Summer of Hate is a sober reminder that racism and bigotry run deep, and that ridding humanity of these plagues will require equal measures of determination and courage―not just in one small city―but throughout the world." - Larry Sabato.


Permanent Exhibit: Essays by Matthew Vollmer. Rochester, New York, BOA Editions, 2018. 172 pages. Trade paperback, $17.00.

Matthew Vollmer was born in Asheville, raised in the Western North Carolina mountains, graduated from UNC, and attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. This is his second essay collection to go with two short fiction collections. He is an Associate Professor of English at Virginia Tech. These are wide-ranging, almost stream-of-consciousness essays. If nobody had invented the word, “eclectic,” somebody would have had to in order to describe Vollmer’s subject matter here. "Captivating journeys with a playful, winsome guide." ―Kirkus Reviews.
“Who else but Matthew Vollmer would travel in status faux-updates from Justin Bieber to embalming fluids, from a presidential execution order to an Amazon order for cutlery? A thrilling, hilarious book about the difference between privacy and publicity, between exhibition and excavation, between ephemera and art (hint: the saving grace of life on earth is human consciousness).” ―David Shields.


Beyond the Sunset: The Melungeon Outdoor Drama 1969-1976  by Wayne Winkler.  Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2019. 420 pages with an Index, Bibliography, and photos. Trade paperback, $25.00.

Walk Toward the Sunset was the name of an outdoor drama that played from 1969 until 1976 in Sneedville, Tennessee, the Hancock County seat. The drama was created and continued by a remarkable coalition of people with widely different perspectives and purposes, yet the drama was primarily seen as an attempt to bring economic development to this isolated county. The topic and attraction of the drama was the presence of Melungeon people on Newman’s Ridge just north of Sneedville and in the Vardy Valley to the north of the ridge. The Melungeons are a mixed race group of people who lived for generations pretty much to themselves. So, the initial challenges were to convince locals of Melungeon heritage that the play would not denigrate them, while, at the same time, convincing the rest of the County, that they, too, would benefit from the publicity engendered. The drama was written by Kermit Hunter, the most outstanding outdoor drama writer of the time, and directed by John Lee Weldon, a professor at Carson-Newman University, about fifty miles away. He managed a cast that included students and local people. “In Beyond the Sunset, Wayne Winkler has well researched and documented the experience that changed the attitude and outlook of a whole group of people, the Melungeons. The outdoor historical drama, Walk Toward the Sunset, was the turning point of how this mixed-race people saw themselves and how their attitudes turned from shame to a pride in their heritage. Winkler takes the reader through the challenges in bringing this production to life, and in interviews sharing the personal experiences of many of the participating individuals. Beyond the Sunset is an excellent follow-up to Winkler's earlier book, Walking Toward the Sunset, in which he explored the origins and theories concerning the Melungeons.” --John Lee Welton. Wayne Winkler is a descendant of Hancock County Melungeons who directs a public radio station in Johnson City, Tennessee.



Through the Needle’s Eye by Linda Bledsoe. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2019.  272 pages. Trade paperback, $17.00.


This title gets its name from the challenges faced by the protagonist, Jessie. Her idiosyncratic Granny Isabelle seemingly her only ally against grinding poverty, Jessie navigates a dysfunctional family and indifferent or antagonistic forces beyond that seem to tower over her like the Virginia Blue Ridge in the era following World War II. Jessie struggles to make something not only of her own life, but that of your younger siblings. “This novel is not for the faint of heart. Linda Bledsoe has given us an unflinching look at how poverty can ravage a family. . . . A powerful read.” – Wayne Caldwell. “Through the Needle’s Eye is a moving novel about one child’s need for love in a hardscrabble world. Young Jessie tells much of her story herself, and her voice is both gritty and poetic. Linda Bledsoe’s novel is an exceptional debut by a very talented writer.” – Ron Rash. Linda Bledsoe worked for thirty-three years as a family nurse practitioner and lives in Stuart, Virginia.


The Quare Women: A Story of the Kentucky Mountains by Lucy Furman. Lexington, Kentucky: Fireside Industries/University Press of Kentucky, a 2019 edition of a 1923 release. 140 pages with a Foreword by Rebecca Gayle Howell. Trade paperback, $19.95.

The title of this novel comes from a quote that indicates how local people viewed the missionaries who descended upon Eastern Kentucky at the turn of the nineteenth century. It is the local pronunciation of the word “queer,” which then simply meant different. For three summers beginning in 1899 Katherine Pettit (1868-1936) and May Stone camped at Hindman, Kentucky, the county seat of little Knott County to appraise how they could help meet the needs of the local mountain people. Pettit was from Lexington, Kentucky, and Stone from nearby Owingsville. In 1902 they established the Hindman Settlement School, and in 1907, Lucy Furman (1870-1958), who was from Henderson County, Kentucky, came to work for the school. In 1912, Stone and Furman remained and Pettit established Pine Mountain Settlement School in a very rural corner of Harlan County, Kentucky, some fifty miles to the south. Although neither institution still functions as a traditional school, both have survived and offer a variety of programs, mostly for visitors.  This novel provides a perspective on the clash of cultures between mountain youths and female do-gooders.


Wayland: A Novel by Rita Sims Quillen.  Oak Ridge, Tennessee: Iris Press, 2019. 157 pages. Trade paperback, $20.00.

Compelling as a story, this novel explores deep themes that deal with how innocence can overcome evil. It is written in language that reminds the reader of the novelist’s years of publishing poetry. The author beautifully conveys a Southwest Virginia setting she knows thoroughly and develops her characters with an expertise that flows smoothly from start to finish. “In Wayland, Rita Quillen writes of a Depression-era Appalachian community with immense vividness and immense empathy, but like the best novelists, her characters transcend their geographical locale to evoke concerns that touch upon the lives of all people. Whether as poet or as novelist, Quillen is a writer to be revered.”--Ron Rash. “In language as poetic as it is fierce, anchored in the Appalachian mountains of the 1930s, Wayland explains a lost world to us, recreating it, revivifying it--crazy as that sounds. This is a beautiful and moving novel and deserves a wide readership.” --Mark Powell. “In the pages of Wayland, Rita Quillen takes the reader deep into the characters, history, and landscape of her native hills. Quillen is a storyteller of prodigious gifts, one of Appalachian literature's truly authentic voices.”--Amy Greene. Rita Quillen transitioned easily from a working class life to become an impressive student whose Masters thesis was published in book form, to a community college professor who filled multiple Appalachian Literature classes, to a retiree devoted to her life as a writer. For years her car was adorned with a bumper sticker that read, “Minor Regional Poet.” This novel is further proof that she has completely transcended that moniker. She lives in Scott County, Virginia, close to where she has lived her whole life.



Search and Rescue by Michael Chitwood. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2018. 73 pages. Trade paperback, $18.95.

Wow.  What a perfect title for a book of poetry that searches the landscape for meaning that can be rescued!  In the title poem, the poet searches a recreational reservoir and rescues for us the life that went on before the land was flooded by the lake’s waters. ‘Michael Chitwood’s intense attention to the physical allows us into luminous spaces between sensation and imagination where one registers awareness beyond thought. As the poems of Search and Rescue penetrate the mysteries of unspoken experience, they steady us to watch, listen, smell, taste, touch what can be discovered in the barns and fields and machine shops of unnamed lives.”- Debra Nystrom.
“A regional poet who speaks to the whole history and culture of America, Michael Chitwood is a modest genius. Search and Rescue showcases a major American poet in the making.” - David Huddle. “Michael Chitwood has long been one of my favorite poets, but this new volume has a range of technique and subject matter that takes his work to a whole new level. Search and Rescue is magnificent.” – Ron Rash. Michael Chitwood grew up in Western North Carolina and has taught at the University of North Carolina throughout his career. This is his ninth poetry collection.


To Start An Orchard by Michael Hettich. Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Press 53, 2019. 78 pages. Trade paperback, $14.95.

The title poem starts with some unknown kind of fruit sitting on the window sill. It sprouts a leaf and engenders contemplation on what it would be like as a tree in the yard. These poems are accessible and wide-ranging in subject matter. These three blurbs affirm how eclectic this poetry is: “Michael Hettich has written, with extraordinary empathy, a book about vanishment: of dreams and fathers, of love and animals and birds. Look carefully at the glinting lights he paints. Like everything beautiful, they will be gone before you know it.” —Lola Haskins. “In these stunning, fable-like poems, humans turn into animals in transformations that seem utterly natural, if not necessary. There’s a merging with wildness, even as wildness is disappearing. The poems themselves seem almost to disappear rather than end, as if they are heading into some trees, or entering the body of a horse. Hettich, though up against implied extinctions, keeps the reader entranced in a world we thought had vanished until these poems gifted us their quiet—'until something moved around inside us again…and it hurt like language must have done once, or maybe even love.’” —Anne Marie Macari.  “Michael Hettich is one of our best and most necessary poets because his dreamlike stories remind us how little we truly see and how often we sleep through the day’s deep revelations. This collection—so tightly choreographed and flawlessly written—is like a long poem that shines brighter with each turn of the page. By book’s end, one is desirous to know more clearly those mysteries of the inner vision, and to bring a keener awareness to the fraught and fragile natural world that is ours to inhabit, nourish, and preserve. To Start an Orchard is a call to arms, demanding consciousness, responsibility, and love.” —Richard Jones. Although Michael Hettich has lived all over the country, he now lives in Black Mountain, North Carolina, with his family. He has published more than a dozen poetry books.


Creatures Among Us by Rebecca Lilly. Frankfort, Kentucky: Broadstone Books, 2019. 86 pages. Trade paperback, $16.95.

Rebecca Lilly calls these prose poems because they are written more in paragraphs than stanzas and conform to no known poetic structures. Yet, the wording is not at all prosaic. The poems are expressed poetically and answer to no restraints of place, which can be fantastical, or time, which can be indeterminant, or even states of life and death. The creatures among us are unlimited and even include our alternative selves. “Creatures Among Us turns loose the daredevil imagination and atmospheric chills I’ve always hoped for in poetry but rarely encounter. . . . Rebecca Lilly’s splendid collection will hold readers spellbound.” Matt Schmacher. “You have not read anything quite like these poems, which carry the reader away on a voyage of surprise and wonder, and you will never forget them.” Robert Morgan. “A dizzying journey through otherworldly realms with a shape-shifting narrator at the helm. Through dream sequences and fantastical characters, Rebecca Lilly explores timely topics in the age of social media: the identities we assign ourselves, and the fear of losing authentic connections with others.” – Ann James.  Rebecca Lilly grew up in rural Albemarle County, Virginia, and still lives there, in the foothills just east of the crest of the Blue Ridge. She works as an assistant to a landscape architect, and as her own photographer and writer. She earned an undergraduate degree at Cornell and a PhD at Princeton.


A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia edited by Rose McLarney and Laura-Gray Street. L. L. Gaddy, Natural History Editor. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2019. 205 pages with a Bibliography and black-and-white drawings by Allyson Comstock, Landon Godfrey, Gary Hawkins, Dan Powell, Billy Renei, Henry Shearon, and Suzanne Stryk. Hardback with a cover illustration in gilt, $24.95.

This is one of the most desirable gift books to come out of our region in the 40+ years I’ve been dealing in the literature of the Southern Appalachians. It combines poetry, drawings, and science in a way that will keep those who own this book returning to it time and again and being uplifted each time. A Literary Guide to Southern Appalachia illuminates the natural history of our region, species by species, in seven categories: Trees and Plants, Mammals, Birds, Reptiles and Amphibians, Fish, Invertebrates, and Fungi. For each category, two to fifteen species are chosen, and each species is illuminated with a poem by a writer with a connection to the region, a drawing by one of the artists with regional experience, and a brief essay by L. L. Gaddy that provides both a Description and Notes as well as the Habitat and Range for each of sixty species. The poets chosen range from the nationally known, including Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, Ron Rash and Robert Morgan to some whose first book has not yet appeared. Not everyone loves poetry or drawings or natural history, but you can safely give this book to anyone who appreciates even just one of those three aspects of life and watch their appreciation expand. Rose McLarney grew up in Western North Carolina and now teaches at Auburn. Her three poetry books have garnered rave reviews and many awards, including the Fellowship of Southern Writers New Writing Award for Poetry. Laura-Gray Street teaches at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia, and is the author of two poetry collections and the recipient of many fellowships and awards. L. L. Gaddy is a South Carolina naturalist and the author of three well-received books.


Holy Moly Carry Me: Poems by Erika Meitner. Rochester, New York: BOA Editions, 2018.  108 pages. A 7” X 9” trade paperback, $17.00.

Erika Meitner directs the MFA and undergraduate creative writing programs at Virginia Tech. This is her fifth poetry collection. It won the 2018 National Jewish Book Award in poetry and was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry. She is a first generation American. Her father is from Israel, and her mother was born in a refugee camp in Germany for survivors of Hitler’s death camps. She and her two sons, one African-American and the other white, are the only Jewish family in an Evangelical neighborhood, and these narrative poems take readers there and into the Appalachian countryside beyond. No kidding! One of these poems is titled, “Dollar General.” “In her graceful fifth collection, Meitner (Copia) displays a sense of urgency  informed by parenthood in this strange and particularly turbulent American moment.” ―Publishers Weekly. “Meitner has created a keen social record of, and commentary on, our persistent human atrocities, but she also admirably transcends the dire in a search for salvation.”―Booklist. “This is a book that really is dealing with raising kids in difficult environments and also kind of facing down the epidemic of gun violence in this country ― which makes it sound like it might be kind of a depressing book. But what really impressed me about it is how beautiful and tender it is. It's really just a live wire. She's a Jew in Appalachia raising an African-American adopted son. She is and isn't at home. She's kind of meditating on these things but she does so in this very incantatory, almost prayer-like way.” ―Tess Taylor. “In this stunning, exact, and haunting book Holy Moly Carry Me, Meitner’s strong signature voice is on full display, but with a complex empathy for the violent, messed-up world. These are powerful poems that wonder, ache, fear, question, delve into history, and somehow never stop praising the human capacity for survival.” ―Ada Limón.

Fable in the Blood: The Selected Poems of Byron Herbert Reece edited by Jim Clark. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, a 2019 paperback reprint of a 2002 release. 185 pages. Trade paperback.

It’s about time we got a paperback edition of this crucial book! During the 1940s there were four Appalachian poets who had national reputations. All four published books with New York publishers and published poems in national magazines, and all four had strong rural roots. They were Jesse Stuart (1906-1984) of Kentucky, James Still (1906-2001) of Alabama and Kentucky, Byron Herbert Reece (1917-1958) of Georgia, and George Scarbrough (1915-2008) of Tennessee. Byron Herbert Reece maintained throughout his life even closer ties to the day-to-day life of poor mountain people than any of them. He was born in the Chestoe Valley of Union County, Georgia.  The valley's name comes from the Cherokee word for "place of dancing rabbits." It lies in the shadow of Blood Mountain and Slaughter Mountain. Reece was named after an insurance salesman and a butcher, not famous poets. The small farm where he was raised was served only by a path. There were no roads to it. It is now covered by Lake Trahlyta in Vogel State Park. He attended the Little Wild Boar Schoolhouse, the same one-room school that both his parents attended, then Chestoe Elementary School. By 1930, a road had been constructed past the Reece farm, and the next year, "Hub," as young Byron Herbert Reece was called, entered Union County High School in Blairsville, nine miles away. At the age of fourteen, Hub Reece showed his mother his first poem. She read it and said, "that's something," and walked to Blairsville where she talked the editor of the county paper into publishing it. In 1935, he entered Young Harris College, eighteen miles from his home, but he soon dropped out to help his parents farm since they were both afflicted with tuberculosis. He returned to Young Harris from 1938-1940, but never graduated. After Pearl Harbor, he tried to enlist in the Armed Forces but was judged too thin and unfit for military service. In 1943, Jesse Stuart read, "Lest the Lonesome Bird," a poem published in The Prairie Schooner, and wrote to Reece asking for more which he sent to E. P. Dutton in New York. They promptly brought out Reece's first poetry book. Of course he didn't make much money from his books, but he did leave the farm to do a few readings and was a writer-in-residence briefly at Emory University and UCLA. He missed the intellectual stimulation when he was working on the farm, and missed the farm when he was away. He was treated for tuberculosis at Battey State Hospital in Rome, Georgia, but hated it. On the night of June 3, 1958, he shot himself to death through his diseased lung while listening to Mozart's Piano Sonata in D. Byron Herbert Reece's work, so deeply rooted in the Bible and Southern Mountain traditions, is quite simply the quintessential folk poetry of Appalachia.  This book contains three poems that do not appear in any of Reece's four previous poetry collections. The editor of this book, Jim Clark, just retired from his professor job in 2019. He comes from a family deeply rooted in Pickett County - a relatively remove mountain county on the Kentucky line, the third least populous of Tennessee's 95 counties. He has written three poetry books himself, and is professor emeritus at Barton College in North Carolina.


Planted by the Signs: Poems by Misty Skaggs. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2019. 99 pages with the author’s color photographs and one of her drawings. Trade paperback, $17.95.

I have never bought any art work, but I did trade for one piece of art which I display proudly in my living room. The artist is Misty Skaggs. It is a collage featuring a portrait of Mother Jones that proclaims, “I Am Not a Humanitarian. I Am a Hellraiser!”  Misty Skaggs is more than an artist. She is a writer, a gardener, a caregiver, a photographer, and an all-around lover of the Eastern Kentucky mountains where she was born, raised, and lives. This book is the closest thing to a “zine” that I’ve seen a university press publish. Start with the author’s “Preface,” a beautiful tribute to her Great Mamaw, Lovel Blankenbecker, and relish all these poems anchored deeply in the land and the seasons. “These are the poems we need—their surprise, their shine, their fearlessness, their joy, their brazen and unrepentant love of women the world has tried (and failed) to render invisible. If ever there was an example of the political and the personal merging with pure fearlessness and urgency, it’s happening in this book by Misty Skaggs. Give yourself over to them. You'll be grateful you did.”—Chanel Dubofsky. “These poems are 100 percent hillbilly and smart and beautiful. Skaggs writes contemporary Appalachia with the power and grace of a young woman who knows it in her heart and her bones.”—Crystal Wilkinson. “I love (Skaggs’s) reverence for life and the irreverence for the status quo. These are strong poems from a woman who knows what it means to truly bloom where she is planted…. (An) extraordinary collection.”—Roberta Schutz. “The land of the southern Appalachians presents a forbiddingly stony countenance, but for those unafraid to turn over the rocks, to work the dark earth underneath, to follow the signs of the sky, the creatures of the earth, and the whisperings of the heart as they plant their seeds, the results are not only nourishing but filled with powerful beauty. Misty Skaggs is one such poet, and here she shares her bounty.”—Ronni Lundy.


Summoning Shades by R. T. Smith. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2019. 110 pages. Trade paperback, $18.00

The shades that R. T. Smith summons here are the dead. They range from historical figures to pop culture icons to country people.  Some of them Smith knew as a kid or knew recently as a retiree living on Timber Ridge in Rockbridge County, Virginia. For more than two decades, Smith was writer-in-resident at Washington and Lee University nearby, and served as editor of Shenandoah, one of the region’s finest literary magazines. He has published over a dozen poetry collections. “Among the many pleasures offered in Summoning Shades, as in each of R. T. Smith's collections, are the many years of his generous attention to nature, to the richness of Southern language and life, to music, and much more. One of his greatest gifts to us you can hear if you ‘listen with your/ heart's full force’ / ‘voices elegant with lore and love.’"--Don Selby. “Sparkling language straight from the punch bowl. And what a punch R. T. Smith has given us. It's one thing to know history, it's another to recreate it, call it up, and invite you to the party. I loved this book.”--Alice Friman. “These are haunted, empathic, and durable poems, composed by a writer working at the height of his considerable powers.” --David Wojahn.



Fissures and Other Stories by Timothy Dodd. Huron, Ohio: Bottom Dog Press, 2019. 149 pages. Trade paperback, $17.00.

“The fissures in these stories are both wounds and avenues of escape, deftly wrought and lit with a sly humor that doesn’t force itself on anyone.” – Eddy Pendarvis. These fourteen stories are mostly set in West Virginia - the author was born and raised in Mink Shoals. "Timothy Dodd is a promising new talent in Appalachian writing. Coming onto the scene with a fresh but assured voice, the stories in Fissures are sure to impress readers with their maturity and clear-eyed perceptions of the world as it is today. There is nothing precious here, only the truth about a place that is often maligned or misunderstood. Timothy Dodd gets it, and he gets it right. I look forward to reading much more from him as he makes his mark in contemporary writing about the mountains." ~Charles Dodd White. Timothy Dodd currently teaches ESL in Philadelphia.


Posing Nude for the Saints: Stories by Elizabeth Genovise. Huntsville: Texas Review Press, 2019. 145 pages. Trade paperback, $19.95.

Elizabeth Genovise lives near Knoxville and sets most of these nine stories in rural East Tennessee.  She teaches both college and community classes and is a writing coach. “Elizabeth Genovise is a first-rate story writer, plain and simple, but she’s at her best when her clear-eyed sense of place is blended with richly imagined characters to create emotional landscapes of remarkable depth. Her women, like all good women, are wise and strong, but what’s truly startling is how well she knows her men, the good of us and the bad and everything in between.”—Michael Knight


he Lightness of Water and Other Stories by Ronda Browning White. Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Press 53, 2019. 158 pages. Trade paperback, $14.95.

The author, Ronda Browning White, explains, “The nine stories in The Lightness of Water and Other Stories feature strong characters such as West Virginia miners, Florida bikers, Tennessee granny women, and Virginia professors, who grapple with—and sometimes overcome—harsh issues that many of us face; loneliness, loss, grief, and guilt. I began work on this collection during my studies at the Converse College Low-Residency MFA Program. A native of the West Virginia coalfields, White is a wife and mother who works as a medical manager. “The Lightness of Water & Other Stories is like the best country music—a tough front covering a broken heart.” —Stewart O’Nan. “In her stunning debut, Rhonda Browning White tells stories on behalf of those who cannot, desperate men and women whose shattered and broken lives play out in the mountains between the Ohio and Shenandoah Rivers. Make room for her. These are dangerous stories. Urgent, needful and aching, they will not be denied.” —Robert Olmstead. “The finely drawn pieces in this moving and remarkable debut collection provide an authoritative view of the sources of heartbreak as well as the abiding strengths to be found within our Appalachian heartland. These stories focus on the rapacious disregard of mining companies for the natural landscape and the men and women who labor there, upon the devastating effects of the opioid and methamphetamine crisis, and also upon the enduring power of love in its many forms: romantic, familial, and that of inhabitants for their native land. To read it is to be informed and inspired.” —Les Standiford. “The Lightness of Water & Other Stories masterfully renders the lives of West Virginia characters displaced from the fragile land and culture of their deeply rooted ancestors. Fraught by the aftermath of coal mining and lumber companies, Rhonda Browning White’s characters grapple with poisoned land, cancer, joblessness, and infertility. Despite the explosive circumstances, these stories are nuanced and finely crafted, infused with humor and humanity. This is a thrilling and highly satisfying debut collection by a craftswoman already at the height of her powers.” —Susan Tekulve.