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Oral History by Lee Smith

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Lee Smith is one of the most beloved and accomplished contemporary Appalachian authors. She comes across as a dynamic cheerleader who talks with a strong 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. 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. Lee Smith 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 seventeen novels and four story collections,  and accumulated eight major writing awards.

Her website describes this novel in this way - Oral History (1983) remains one of Lee Smith's most ambitious works. She uses multiple points of view to tell the story of the Cantrell family, a story that spans the better part of a century. The Cantrells are a mountain family who inhabit the hills and environs of Hoot Owl Holler. Jennifer, a citified descendant of the Cantrells, arrives to record an "oral history" of her family for a college course, and all the old stories unscroll. But Oral History is finally the story of Dory, a lovely enigmatic woman who the many narrators attempt--through the telling of her story--to understand. In the end, however, Dory remains a mystery.