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Trials of a Scold: The Incredible True Story of Writer Anne Royall by Jeff Biggers

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A scold is a woman who nags or grumbles constantly, and Anne Royall (1769-1854) really was tried and convicted in 1829 of being a “common scold”! Why? Because she was arguably America’s first professional female journalist and she dared to raise a stink about the need for separation of church and state. Called a “literary wildcat from the backwoods,” by a competing male editor, Royall was born Anne Newport in Baltimore but grew up on the western frontier of Pennsylvania and western Virginia. She and her widowed mother were employed as servants when she was 16 in the home of William Royall in Sweet Springs, Virginia, now Monroe County, West Virginia. Twelve years later, after educating herself in Royall’s extensive library, Anne married him, much to the chagrin of his family. After his death fifteen years later, she traveled to Alabama and began her career as a travel writer. In 1831, she established a newspaper in Washington, D.C. that exposed political corruption and fraud. She continued as an independent newspaperwoman there until her death at the age of 85 in 1854. Lee Smith called Anne Royall, “the most interesting woman I had never heard of” and the Biggers biography, a story that “holds reverberations and implications for us today.” Dorothy Allison reacted by suggesting, “a contemporary of Alexander Hamilton, Anne Royall deserves her own musical. Short of that, we have Jeff Biggers’ wonderful exploration of what made her the most despised woman of her time . . . as well as a role model for those of us living in the age of Trump. Jeff Biggers is a wonderful writer and almost as brave as his role model—the incomparable Anne Royall.” Publishers Weekly gave this book a coveted starred review adding, “A lively and witty chronicler, Biggers covers Royall’s trial as well as her upbringing in the woods of Appalachia. Captivating and thoroughly researched.” The life of Jeff Biggers was transformed when Appalachian activist, Don West (1906-1992) picked him up hitch hiking in West Virginia. Biggers’ first book pays homage to West - No Lonesome Road: The Prose and Poetry of Don West (2004), a book he and I co-edited. It won an American Book Award. Since then he has written another tribute to our region: The United States of Appalachia, How Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture and Enlightenment to America (2007), Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland (2010)set near where he lived as a boy in Southern Illinois, State Out of the Union: Arizona and the Final Showdown Over the American Dream (2012) which deals with the state where he lived as a young man, and In the Sierra Madre (2006) about one of his favorite travel destinations.. Biggers presently teaches at the University of Iowa.

New York: Thomas Dunne/St. Martins, 2017. 260 pages with an Index, Bibliography, and Notes. Hardback in dust jacket.