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The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash

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Ella Mae Wiggins (1900-1929) is an Appalachian Icon. She left her mountain home in Sevier County, Tennessee, to work in the textile mills in Gastonia, North Carolina, and there became a renowned labor organizer, known for her ballad singing and for advocating for inter-racial, militant, and progressive unionism.  Four of her nine children died from whooping cough. On September 14, 1929, an armed mob met union workers as they arrived to a meeting. The workers fled, but the car that Ella Mae Wiggins was riding in was forced to stop, and she was shot and killed in broad daylight witnessed by more than fifty people.  Five mill supervisors were charged in her murder, but they were acquitted after less than 30 minutes deliberation.  Now Wiley Cash, the New York Times bestselling author of A Land More Kind Than Home, has completed a biographical novel based on the life of Ella Mae Wiggins.  It is hard to imagine a writer more suited to this task. Cash grew up in Gastonia. He did his undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and studied for his MFA under the distinguished African-American novelist, Ernest Gains in Louisiana. He has taught literature in West Virginia and Western North Carolina, and now lives in Wilmington, North Carolina. “Cash vividly illustrates the difficulties of Ella’s life; her exhaustion and desperation leap off the page. . . . It’s refreshing that Cash highlights the struggles of often forgotten heroes and shows how crucial women and African-Americans were in the fight for workers’ rights. A heartbreaking and beautifully written look at the real people involved in the labor movement.” – Kirkus Reviews. “This suspenseful, moving novel is a story of struggle and personal sacrifice for the greater good that will resonate with readers of John Steinbeck or Ron Rash.” – Publishers Weekly.

New York: William Morrow/HarperCollins Publishers, 2017. 378 pages. Hardback in dust jacket