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Memoir and Biography

Biographies of four people born and raised in our region have received Pulitzer Prizes in biography, and two more have been finalists for the prize. 1930 - The Raven by Marquis James. That was the name given to Sam Houston when he lived with Cherokees as a teen. He was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, and later lived in Blount County, Tennessee.  1983 - Growing Up by Russell Baker who was from Loudon County, Virginia. 1984 - Booker T. Washington by Louis R. Harlan. Washington was born in Franklin County, Virginia, and worked as a young man in Kanawha County, West Virginia. 1988 - Look Homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe by David Herbert Donald. Wolfe was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina. In 1995 a finalist was Hugo Black by Roger K. Newman. Black was from Clay County, Alabama.  And in 1999 a finalist was A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar. This is the biography of John Forbes Nash, a native of Bluefield, West Virginia, who became a distinguished mathematician at Princeton despite struggling with mental illness. In my opinion, the most heart-warming regional autobiography is I Thunk Me a Thaut by Will McCall, and the most-heart-warming biography is What My Heart Wants to Tell by Verna Mae Slone. Other compelling autobiographies are Singing Family of the Cumberlands by Jean Ritchie, Dolly by Dolly Parton, Arms Wide Open by Patricia Harman, In the Arms of the Mountain by Elizabeth Seeman and Ely by Ely Green. Compelling biographies include Emma Bell Miles by Kay Baker Gaston and Rebel in the Red Jeep by Carter Taylor Seaton. Two outstanding autobiographies provide arguably the best understanding of regional rural life one hundred years ago – Milkweed Ladies by Louise McNeil and Yesterday in the Hills by Charles Hubert Wilkins. For insight into the Black community, try Colored People by Henry Louis Gates and Gemini by Nikki Giovanni. For the gay community, try Loving Mountains, Loving Men by Jeff Mann and Looking for Sheville by Matty McEire. Other important biographies include Boone by Robert Morgan and Aunt Arie by Linda Garland Page and Eliot Wigginton. Important autobiographies include Coal Miners Daughter by Loretta Lynn and Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance, a book so controversial that two books critiquing it have subsequently been published.

-- George Brosi