BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS
A retired Harlan County, Kentucky, teacher, Judy Hensley has a passion for photography, and one of her favorite places to take pictures is Kingdom Come State Park there in Harlan County. It is known as the habitat for many bears who don’t seem to mind having their pictures taken by humans. A few years ago a bear there gave birth to five cubs. Two cubs is common, three is not rare, but five cubs, all of whom survived to maturity, is truly amazing. This book is great for kids, but it is also an impressive record of an important biological phenomenon.
Rhonda Rucker is best known in this region and beyond for her work in an interracial musical duo with her husband, Sparky Rucker. They travel from their home in Maryville, Tennessee, all over the country and occasionally the world bringing music and commentary on Southern and Appalachian music to a variety of venues. Their performances are delightful and also quite substantive. This book is based on a story that Rhonda has heard Sparky tell many times about the first time he challenged the segregation he faced in 1960 as a youngster growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The Thin Line of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America by Edward L. Ayers. New York, W. W. Norton, 2017. 576 pages with an Index, Notes, bibliography, photos and maps. Hardback in dust jacket, $35.00
This book is a real tour-de-force. It compares the impact of the Civil War and emancipation in two valley counties about 150 miles apart on either side of the Mason-Dixon Line: Augusta County, Virginia, and Franklin County, Pennsylvania. The county seats are Staunton, Virginia and Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. The author, Edward L. Ayers, was born in the North Carolina mountains and raised in East Tennessee, the son of a textile mill worker and used car salesman who became a fifth grade teacher. Ayers graduated from the University of Tennessee Summa Cum Laude and received his masters and doctorate at Yale where he took the last class that C. Vann Woodward taught. After a career as a history professor and administrator at the University of Virginia, he served as President of the University of Richmond from 2007 until 2015. President Obama bestowed the National Humanities Medal on Ayers in 2013. This is the 5th book he has authored along with seven books he has edited. His previous books have won prestigious national prizes. He has advocated for a national holiday to celebrate the end of slavery. Kirkus Reviews gave The Thin Light of Freedom a starred review and called it “luminous” and “An exemplary contribution to the history of the Civil War and its aftermath.” Publishers Weekly also gave it a starred review and averred that “Ayers shares riveting details about average, resilient people trying to survive the devastation around them.” They called it “A superb, readable work of history.”
Ephemeral by Nature: Exploring the Exceptional with a Tennessee Naturalist by Stephen Lyn Bales. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2017. 219 pages with a Foreword by Joel Greenberg, and Index, photos and illustrations by the author. Trade paperback, $24.95.
Each of the twelve essays in this collection by naturalist Stephen Lyn Bales focuses in on a particular kind of flora or fauna found in East Tennessee that is ephemeral or short lived. All are fascinating. They range from pandas, now extinct for millennia, to the Southern pine beetle which is threatening to make another species extinct. Jelly fish, butterflies, owls, wildflowers and cranes are among the other species covered. Bales is the senior naturalist at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville. This is his third book.
The book is the product of twenty-five years of work, including a dissertation, unique access to resources, and a personal relationship not only with the subject, but with many of his friends and acquaintances as well. It is not only thorough and comprehensive but also very well-written. My full review of it is scheduled to appear in Appalachian Journal. James Still (1906-2001) published a novel, a poetry collection, and a story collection with prestigious New York publishers to glowing reviews before World War II, yet he lived into the 21st Century. He was often called “The Dean of Appalachian Literature” not only because of his longevity, but because of his erudition and his unparalleled command of regional idiom. Dr. Boggess recently came out of retirement to serve as Vice-President for Academic Affairs at Mars Hill College where she previously served the English Department.
Missy Tipton Green and Paulette Ledbetter first collaborated on a pictorial history book in 2007 when From Mineral Springs to Bed Springs: A History of Hotels and Resorts in the Foothills of the Smokies appeared. Earlier, Green had published the now rare Precious Memories, a memoir of growing up in Cades Cove, the idyllic valley now one of the most visited sites in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In 2011 Green and Ledbetter published Cades Cove together for Arcadia, and in 2014 they published Townsend, featuring the town at the edge of the Park closest to Cades Cove. Walland adjoins Townsend as you travel from the Park toward the Blount County seat of Maryville, Tennessee. It straddles the Little River as it cuts through Chilhowee Mountain the prominent foothill ridge that parallels the Smoky Mountains on the Tennessee side. Both authors have honored their deep family roots in the area not only as authors and compilers of historic photographs for the public but also as collaborators in museum work and preservation societies.
A Blessed Life: Faith, Family, and Friends, Stories by Ernest Hensley. Recorded by Judith Victoria Hensley. Charleston, South Carolina: Create Space, 2016. 267 pages replete with photographs. Trade Paperback, $15.00
This is the kind of book that every family should have. But it also a wonderful primary source for historians and sociologists, and just plain interesting for anybody. More than half consists of short vignettes of Mr. Hensley’s many family members. Then the final section is family stories he enjoys telling. He grew up and married in Harlan County, and then moved to the Chicago area to find work. When he retired, he returned to Harlan County and has lived there, pastoring a church, ever since.
Judith Victoria Hensley is retired from teaching 4th grade science at Wallins Creek Elementary School in Harlan County, Kentucky. While there she compiled essays that students in her classes wrote into many books on subjects including coal and local folklore. Her students also testified in the state capitol in hearings on whether to permit Black Mountain in Harlan County to be strip-mined. The result was that the coal company was compensated by the state not to strip, and that Judy Hensley was included in a Canadian book about courageous women. Her latest book she describes as “a collection of stories that bear witness to the power of a praying mother.” It is a collection of 14 essays mostly by mothers from Harlan County.
Saga of Kinnie Wagner: The South’s Most Notorious Gunman by Larry L. Massey. Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company, 2017. 176 pages with an Index, Notes, and photos. Hardback in dust jacket, $25.95.
Kinnie Wagner (1903-1958) was born on a farm near Gate City, Virginia. He ran away from home at the age of 11, but was soon retrieved. However, he never again attended the sporadic schooling that was available at the time in rural Scott County, Virginia. At the age of 13 he shot a man for the first time when he discovered a person he thought was an intruder near his family home. At the age of 16 he joined a traveling circus as a roustabout. He was charged with murder in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Kingsport, Tennessee. Not only did he escape a county jail in Mississippi, but twice he escaped from Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Penitentiary, and subsequently made the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives list. He was recaptured years later when a jealous rival led the law to the home of a female friend. Wagner died in Parchman. Several folksongs and books, and comics and pulp magazine articles have been written about him. The author, Larry Massey, holds a PhD in biology and has worked for NOAA. This is his second book about a Southern outlaw. He lives in Mobile.
Mount Rogers National Recreation Area Guidebook: A Complete Resource for Outdoor Enthusiasts, Third Edition by Johnny Molloy. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, a 2017 revised edition of a 2001 release. 237 pages with four appendices, maps, and photos. Trade paperback, $24.95.
Johnny Molloy is simply an amazing author of guidebooks. Although he lives in Johnson City, Tennessee, and his work centers on the Appalachian Region, his over 60 titles cover outdoor recreation sites in 25 states. No wonder Molloy has been so successful. He is an empathetic writer who has a sense of what hikers, campers, swimmers, boaters, picnickers, and horseback riders need to know, and his trail commentaries are enjoyable reading and give a real feel for each trail, helping hikers decide which trails to take. Comprehensive? Yes, this guide covers 430 miles of trail and five swimming holes.
The Proffitts of Ridgewood: An Appalachian Family’s Life in Barbeque by Fred W. Sauceman. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2017. 92 pages with color photos on practically every page. Trade paperback, $20.00.
Ridgewood Barbecue is a family restaurant established in 1948 and still located on U. S. 19E between Bluff City and Elizabethton, Tennessee. Fred W. Sauceman, a professor at East Tennessee State, published the book, The Place Setting: Timeless Tastes of the Mountain South, from Bright Hope to Frog Level in 2006. Four books later, The Proffitts of Ridgewood, his sixth book of Appalachian Foodways, zeroes in on the restaurant he obviously considers the most worthy of a closer look. Enlivened by color photographs throuoghout, it is an easy and enjoyable read.
Hope Reborn of War: The Story of a World War II Military Hospital, A World Famous Rehabilitation Center, and a Unique Educational Community in Fishersville, Virginia by Nancy T. Sorrells. Staunton, Virginia: Augusta County Historical Society, 2016. 334 pages with a documentary DVD by Connie J. Doebele, and Index, Endnotes, and lots of photos. Oversized trade paperback, $30.00
Construction began in 1942 of a comprehensive Army hospital near Staunton, Virginia, on 650 acres of land, 394 of which were purchased from unwilling sellers through eminent domain proceedings. 135 brick buildings were erected including dorms, a brig, a theater, a chapel, a morgue and other facilities. Officially it was named for the U. S. President from Staunton, the Woodrow Wilson General Hospital. Local people called it “The Post.” It has evolved over the years in many ways, while retaining the Woodrow Wilson name, perhaps most importantly, with the inclusion of a high school and vocational school, but it still exists today as a civilian rehabilitation center. There is no longer a brig, but a bowling alley. Classrooms have replaced Officer’s Clubs. But it remains a place where a dedicated staff helps challenged individuals do the hard work of learning self-sufficiency. The author, Nancy Sorrells, edits not only the Augusta County Historical Society Journal but also the Virginia Native Plant Society Newsletter. She has been a research historian for three museums. Connie Doebele is the producer of American Forum on PBS and has worked for C-SPAN.
Asheville Movies, Volume 1: The Silent Era by Frank Thompson. Asheville, North Carolina: Men with Wings Press, 2017. 104 pages with an Index, Notes and replete with photos. Oversized paperback, $15.95
In 1914, the Edison Company filmed The Wolfe at Bat Cave, not far from Asheville, From then until 1921 when The Conquest of Canaan, set in Asheville, was released, numerous silent films were shot in Asheville and vicinity. How delightful it is to have a book with pictures of playbills, movie scenes and personalities to illuminate the silent era in films made in Western North Carolina. Frank Thompson has produced, written, and directed several documentaries and written many books. He lives in Asheville.
Jeff Mann is a professor at Virginia Tech, best known for his book, Loving Mountains, Loving Men, published by Ohio University Press. He is also the author of another essay collection, three poetry chapbooks, two story collections, and four previous novels. Insatiable includes a plethora of elements that will likely appeal to many, but not all, readers. The setting is West Virginia, where the author, Jeff Mann, grew up. The plot concerns a violent struggle between the thugs of Alpha Coal and environmental activists. It is also a love story between West Virginia native, Matt Taylor, and a Scotsman, Derek Maclaine, who is an immortal vampire in cahoots with werewolves and witches who join in his environmental crusade. And then there is the gay sex - primarily of the sado-masochistic variety.
The career of Kevin Wilson is a perfect example of the fallacy of Appalachian regional exceptionalism. He grew up in the Franklin County seat of Winchester, Tennessee, and teaches now in the eastern side of the county up on Monteagle Mountain at the University of the South in Sewanee. Nevertheless, his settings are as universal as his appeal. He first published a story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth (2009). A novel, The Family Fang, followed in 2011. It was a best-seller that became a Hollywood movie. In this, Wilson’s second novel, the protagonist, Isabel Poole, becomes involved in a child psychologist’s experiment in creating a “perfect little world” where parents collectively raise ten children together. In the New York Times Book Review, John Irving termed it “a novel you keep reading for old-fashioned reasons--because it is a good story and you need to know what happens.” Library Journal called it a “moving novel about love, parenting, and the families we create for ourselves.” That’s something that Wilson, the husband of poet Leigh Anne Couch and the father of Griff and Patch, knows a thing or two about.
One of the many impacts of war is how it affects the children of the veterans. Karen Spears Zacharias was born in Stuttgart, Germany, where her father was serving in the Army in 1956. Later the family moved to Columbus, Georgia, where he was stationed, but in 1966, when she was ten-years-old, he was killed in action in Vietnam. The rest of the family remained in Columbus where she graduated from high school in 1974. She first attended Berry College nearby, but then transferred to Oregon State to pursue a career in journalism. Her first nonfiction book grew out of a newspaper assignment, and her second book was a memoir. After three more non-fiction books, she turned to fiction. Her novels are all set in Christian Bend, Tennessee, It is a community where she spent time after her father’s death, a place that she credits for helping her recover from that trauma. This novel, Christian Bend, continues the story of Maizee Hurd’s son, Rain, begun in her first novel, Mother Rain (2013) and the story of Burdy Luttrell, continued from her second novel, Burdy (2015). “Karen Spears Zacharias’s novel, Christian Bend, takes readers on an unforgettable journey through the gamut of human emotion, ultimately illuminating the meaning and necessity of forgiveness in our lives. Literary fiction worth its salt should speak to the human condition . . . and Christian Bend does not disappoint and will leave you on your feet, tears streaking your face, cheering for more.” - Michel Stone. "In language rich and specific, Karen Spears Zacharias summons the mountains--its hymns and spells, its trees flaming with reds and golds, its families and their secrets. But Christian Bend, Tennessee is also part of a new culture of drugs, addiction and violence--a changing landscape. Coaxing beauty from the hollers of both memory and present, Christian Bend reminds us of the importance of place and of spirit.” - Karen Salyer McElmurray.
Nikki Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and spent summers there with her grandparents while staying with her parents in Cincinnati most school years, though she graduated from Austin High School in Knoxville. From there she attended Fisk University until she was expelled for her participation in Civil Rights activity. Later reinstated, she graduated from Fisk and moved to New York City where she was involved in the Black Arts Movement. Her first poetry was self-published, but soon picked up by major publishers. In 2011, she read a poem at the dedication of the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, D. C., and she has been named Woman of the Year by four women’s magazines. She has received nineteen honorary degrees. Her classes at Virginia Tech sit in a circle, and when I attended one, she introduced me to each of her students conveying impressive knowledge of the backgrounds and interests of each. A Good Cry contains both poems and prose vignettes. She calls on inner city and Appalachian youth to “dream of new frontiers” and even proposes that high school end in the 10th grade and college last for six years, including community service and study abroad. Addressing an eclectic array of subjects in this book, she honors the late Maya Angelou and other friends, attributes a rightful place to hip-hop within African-American culture, and looks back on her own life. Library Journal gave A Good Cry a starred review summing it up this way: “Plainspoken, moving, and direct, the multi-award-winning poet Giovanni draws a revealing line between heart and history in this 27th collection.”
John Lane is professor of English and Environmental Studies at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He is the author of a dozen books of poetry and prose. The Anthropocene is the current geological age which commenced at the time when humans began having an overwhelming impact upon the earth’s environment. “To give our best attention of the natural world might be said to be the duty of every thoughtful citizen of the Anthropocene. But to give it with verve, humor and compassion, to celebrate its small survivals and grieve its losses with large-hearted wisdom takes a poet with the capacious vision of John Lane. Anthropocene Blues is a book to be thankful for.” - Don McKay.
A native of Asheville, North Carolina, Michael McFee has taught at the University of North Carolina since 1990. In 2009 he received the James Still Award for Writing about the Appalachian South from the Fellowship of Southern Writers. He is the author of fifteen books, including nine previous poetry collections. “Michael McFee is masterful in teasing out wonders from down-to-earth subjects. . . . While even its title gently insists that we imagine a future in which we aren’t, what comes through most in these new poems is the beauty and worth of the days and places we share. This is a strong moving collection from one of our most quietly remarkable poets.” - Philip Memmer. “At the onset we are on familiar Appalachian ground where the poet can move confidently among the details of that landscape and family history. He is preparing us for the passionate sequence that follows, detailing the drawn-out death of his niece, for whom he cared in her last days. . . . McFee succeeds brilliantly. Having brought us through this oreal, he concludes his collection with poems that push the metaphor of home and its boundaries even farther, exploring what “here” means, in all its mysteries and challenges.” - The late Kathryn Stripling Byer.
Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Press, a 2017 reprint of a 2016 release. 319 pages with Questions for Discussion and A Note from the Author. Trade paperback, $15.95.
Bob Morgan is a scintillating conversationalist, adept at making fascinating connections - a thoughtful man with a quick-witted sense of humor. He is one of the most distinguished authors to come from Appalachia in this era. The American Academy of Arts and Letters bestowed one of their Academy Awards in Literature upon him in 2007. Morgan’s life was transformed when a bookmobile started coming to a church within walking distance of the Green River Valley farm in North Carolina where he grew up in a family without a car. He graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill and then studied under Fred Chapell to receive his MFA from UNC-Greensboro. In 1969 the first of his sixteen poetry collections, Zirconia Poems, was published. He began teaching at Cornell University in 1971. After twenty years of publishing only poetry, in 1989 the first of his three story collections, The Blue Valleys, was released. Ten years later, in 1999, the first of his six novels, Gap Creek appeared.. It was an Oprah Book Club selection and a New York Times best-seller. In 2007 his first of two nonfiction books. Boone, appeared. Chasing the North Star received the Southern Book Award in the historical fiction category. Set in 1851, it tells the story of a South Carolina slave, Jonah Williams who, on his eighteenth birthday, escapes from his South Carolina plantation seeking freedom by following the mountains to the north. Soon Angel, a female slave, begins following him. Kirkus Reviews summed it up: ‘A Powerful, gripping, and unrelenting tale of wilderness survival under the most dire of circumstances in the pursuit of freedom: another outstanding work of historical fiction from Morgan.” Charles Frazier called it “Brilliantly detailed, deeply satisfying, and ultimately hopeful.”
Poems [New and Selected] by Ron Rash. New York: Ecco Reprints, a 2017 paperback reprint of a 2016 release. 192 pages. Trade paperback, 14.99.
Ron Rash’s parents left the Watauga County, North Carolina, mountains to find work in the South Carolina mills, but kept going to school after work hours until they became qualified to teach college and found jobs at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. That is where Ron Rash grew up and graduated from college, known in this tiny town as a long-distance runner. For years he taught at the community college in Clemson, South Carolina, and began submitting first his poems, then his stories, and finally his novels, becoming one of contemporary Appalachia’s most distinguished writers and joining the faculty at Western Carolina University. One of his six story collections, Burning Bright won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award as the outstanding story collection written in the English Language in 2010. One of his seven novels, Serena was a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award. This is his fifth poetry collection. Anthony Hecht wrote of Rash’s Poems, “My admiration for his achievement is without limit, and in my view this book deserves the enthusiastic notice of anyone interested in American poetry.”
Appalachia Revisited: New Perspectives on Place, Tradition, and Progress edited by William Schumann and Rebecca Adkiins Fletcher. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, a 2017 paperback reprint of a 2016 release. 310 pages with an Index and Teaching Exercises. Trade paperback, $28.00.
Leaders at two of the region’s most important Appalachian Centers, Billy Schumann of Appalachian State and Rebecca Fletcher of East Tennessee State, have worked together to fashion an essay collection that features the work of other young regional scholars and activists who delve into some of the most significant issues facing regional studies including “Part 1, Race, Ethnicity and Gender” and “Part 3, Economy and Environment.” The book ends with “Part 4, Engagement,” quite the fitting finale for a new generation of scholars determined to make a difference. “Gone is the focus on the old Appalachia symbolized by coal camps and coal miners’ strikes--although they are still highly important in the region. Alongside them, we see important glimpses of new populations, the newly emergent forms of Appalachian activism and engagement, and the new economies and environmental impacts that are reshaping twenty-first century Appalachia.” - Dwight Billings.
Lee Smith comes across as a dynamic cheerleader who talks with a loud lilting voice and dominates the room with her infectious and buoyant demeanor. She makes those she talks with feel like they are the most important people ever. They feel in the presence of a personage who wants to know everything about them and yet can’t resist an irrepressible urge to share her reactions as well. Her writing reflects her inner spirit, full of humor, always telling a compelling story whose wisdom and depth sneaks up on the reader. Lee Smith was born in 1944 in Grundy, Virginia, a coalfield county seat where her father owned the Ben Franklin Dime Store and the Piggly Wiggly Grocery Store. Her father’s people had deep roots there in Buckhannon County. Her mother came from Assateague Island on the other side of Virginia to teach school there. In her junior year, Lee Smith was sent to a boarding high school in Richmond, Virginia, where one of her uncles was serving in the state legislature. Then she attended Hollins College near Roanoke where she roomed with Annie Dillard another distinguished writer. Smith’s first novel was accepted by a New York publisher before she graduated. While living in Nashville and teaching at a Junior High School while her first husband was a Vanderbilt professor, Smith decided to focus her writing on the people of the Appalachian Mountains like those she grew up with. She has lived in Hillsborough, North Carolina, with her second husband, Hal Crowther, a nonfiction writer, for many years now. Smith has published sixteen novels and four story collections, accumulated eight major writing awards and is widely considered one of the most accomplished contemporary fiction writers of Appalachia. Dimestore: A Writer’s Life is a collection of fifteen autobiographical essays. “Lee Smith is, of course, a national treasure, and this subtle and moving memoir enlarges my sense of the origins of her deep, wide work.” - Frances Mayes. “A pitch-perfect mining of the memories, desires, and imagination fueling one of the South’s--no, one of America’s--master storytellers.:” - Beth Macy.
Rereading Appalachia: Literacy, Place, and Cultural Resistance edited by Sara Webb-Sunderhaus and Kim Donehower. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, a 2017 paperback reprint of a 2015 release. 228 pages with an Index. Trade paperback, $28.00
Scholarship on Appalachia has never been confined to people at regional colleges and universities, and is even less so now. This essay collection is the work of ten scholars based outside the Appalachian Region and one professor at the Virginia Military Academy in Lexington, Virginia. I confess that I thought literacy was something you taught, not something you studied, but this essay collection helped me understand the topic, although not as much as I had hoped. Some essays here examine how Appalachia is perceived in the literature about it. They focus on “designators” including “poor,” “white,” “folk group,” and “ethnic identity,” The essays also look at the impact of outside purveyors of literacy upon Appalachian communities, and they look at the relationship between gaining skills in using language and what sociologist term “upward mobility.” Finally, they examine how adroit use of literary agency can be used to resist various kinds of exploitation experienced by Appalachian people. They recognize that Appalachia is not monolithic and address directly gay people, people of color, migrants, and both those inside the region who have nothing to do with the idea of Appalachia and those outside who identify closely with it. Editor Donehower teaches at the University of North Dakota, and editor Webb-Sunderhaus teaches at the IU-PU branch in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Both are descendents of people with roots in the Appalachian Region.