Showing posts with label Gary Carden. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gary Carden. Show all posts

Friday, March 1, 2019

Gary Carden - City Lights Bookstore, Saturday, March 2 at 3:00 p.m.

Gary Carden: The Hanging of Bayless Henderson

 Folklorist and storyteller, Gary Carden will visit City Lights Bookstore on Saturday, March 2nd at 3 p.m. to tell the story of The Hanging of Bayless Henderson. 
Convicted of murdering N.S. Jarrett, Bayless Henderson was hung in Webster, NC on June 6th, 1873. Gary will tell the story and share the details of this unique piece of Jackson County history. 
This is a ticketed event and seats are limited. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased through City Lights Bookstore by calling us at 828-586-9499, or come by the store at 3 E. Jackson St. in Sylva, NC.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Gary Carden will release the DVD of his play, Birdell, Friday, November 2, 2018, 6:30 PM, at City Lights Bookstore, Sylva, NC

Come celebrate the DVD release of Gary Carden’s play, Birdell on Friday, November 2nd at 6:30 p.m. David Joy, author of The Line That Held Us, says of the play, “"Gary Neil Carden has lived with an ear to the ground and this play is the voice that he heard. Birdell is a testament to the gone and the going away, a lonesome whippoorwill song remembered by those who were here, never heard by those who have come." This event is held at City Lights Bookstore, 3 Jackson Street, Sylva, NC.

Event date: 
Friday, November 2, 2018 - 6:30pm
Event address: 
3 E Jackson St.
Sylva, NC 28779

Telephone: 828-586-9499

Monday, May 8, 2017

It was a great "Day for Writers", a NCWN-West event, at Sylva, NC, May 6, 2017

North Carolina Writers' Network-West's "Day for Writers", at the Jackson County Library, Sylva, NC, on May 6, 2017, proved to be a success. The conference was well attended, and many members and non-members of NCWN-West enjoyed the professional writing workshops.

Program Coordinator Glenda Beall
NCWN-West's Program Coordinator Glenda Council Beall, and professor/writer/and NCWN-West's representative for Jackson County, Catherine Carter kicked off the event. There were seven workshops offered at this conference. Presenters included, Katherine Stripling Byer, Terry Kay, Catherine Carter, Tara Lynne Groth, Deanna Klingel, and Gary Carden.

Katherine Stripling Byer
Katherine Stripling Byer's workshop was entitled, "Lifelines: letting another poet's work help revitalize ours". In this workshop, participants brought a copy of a poem by a poet whose work they admired and went to time and time again, and held clues for that person, Students then used these clues to modify a poem of theirs that needed to be energized, and re-evaluated in terms of its poetic elements.

Terry Kay
Terry Kay's workshops were: “The Things Dr. Epps Didn’t Teach Me”, which addressed basic writing techniques Kay described as the DNA of writing and, "Questions and Considerations, Issues that Writers might have that go beyond the typing of words".  Kay discussed the practical application of writing, such as the value of rhythm, the imperative power of verbs, the sense of voice, and some smoke and mirror tricks that work.

Catherine Carter
Catherine Carter's workshop was:  “ Free Verse Isn’t’: Sound and Structure in Free Forms”,  as in writing free verse, writers still have to make choices, as there are decisions to make regarding structure. Carter and her classroom participants explored some tightly crafted free verse poems, then wrote and shared some of their own, using devices that were discussed in this workshop.

Tara Lynne Groth
Tara Lynne Groth's topic was: "Why Authors need bylines in magazines and how to make that happen". This workshop focused on how an author's bylines in magazines and newspapers could help attract literary agents, grow their writer platform, aid in book marketing, craft a perfect query letter, build authority, and produce income. 

Deanna Klingel
Deanna Klingel's workshop was: "The Merry Go Round of Children's Literature". Klingel discussed how to recognize the types of children's literature, the myths about writing for children, and the writing process for Child Lit and how it differed for each kind of Child Lit. She also went over questions to ask your publisher before signing a contract and addressed how to market Child Lit.

Gary Carden
Gary Carden's topic was "Folk Drama", its origin at Chapel Hill, NC. and his exposure to folk drama at Western Carolina Teacher's College classes. He ended his presentation with a discussion of how his work defines the purpose of folk drama as exemplified by Paul Green and Fred Koch. 

Tom Davis
There was a Marketing and Publishing panel, at the end of the day at the conference. Participants were: Tom Davis, publisher (Old Mountain Press), Deanna Klingel, author, Tara Lynne Groth, marketing expert, and Glenda Beall, author and teacher.  The panel was moderated by Staci Lynn Bell, poet and former radio personality.

This event was planned by Glenda Council Beall, program coordinator for NCWN-West, with the help of several volunteers. The volunteers were: Marcia Barnes, Catherine Carter, Merry Elrick, Joan Howard, Kathleen Knapp, and Joan Ellen Gage. A special thanks goes out to Newton Smith, NCWN-West's treasurer for managing the business end of the conference.

Karen Paul Holmes, Deanna Klingel, and Janice Moore were influential with marketing this conference.

We want to express our appreciation  to the Jackson County Library staff for all of their wonderful help in planning, setting up and tearing down.If we had need of anything, they were right there with it.

Thanks, Jessica!

Here are some photographs of the volunteers, our marketing team, and our treasurer:

Kathleen Knapp and Joan M. Howard

Glenda Council Beall and Marcia Barnes
Staci Lynn Bell (right) with Tara Lynne Groth
Merry Elrick
Catherine Carter

Janice Townley Moore
Deanna Klingel
Karen Paul Holmes

Newton Smith

Photos by Joan Ellen Gage.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Gary Carden will speak at Mountain Writers in Haywood County, Waynesville, November 10

Merry Elrick, Haywood County Representative for NCWN-West invites all who live in the area to attend the meeting of Mountain Writers on November 10 at 1:00 p.m. at Blue Ridge Books, 152 S Main Street in Waynesville, NC.

Gary Carden, storyteller and playwright
Gary Carden, legendary storyteller in our region and an award-winning playwright is the special guest. Among the many other awards he has received is the 2006 Brown-Hudson Award from the North Carolina Folklore Society and the 2012 North Carolina Award for Literature. Carden has an honorary doctorate from Western Carolina University for his work in storytelling and folklore.
The public is invited to enjoy this great speaker and meet other local writers. 

Learn more about Gary Carden on his blog:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

MADISON: A Gary Carden Monologue Celebrating the Life of Dr. Robert Lee Madison

Once again it is our pleasure to announce the performance of a Gary Carden Monologue.  On Friday, April 26, at 7:00 PM, Gary, assisted by  Pam Meister, Curator of the Mountain Heritage Center at WCU, will present “Madison,” on the stage of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Franklin, 89 Sierra Drive.

This is the life story of Dr. Robert Lee Madison, as told by folklorist Gary Carden.  Dr. Madison  in the 1880’s promoted the idea of a school that would train teachers for the mountain schools. There were no public schools, only family schools or subscription schools. Subscription schools required teacher payment up front from families or the schools could not be convened. At best a student’s schooling was sporadic.

Cullowhee Academy was a subscription, elementary school when  Dr. Madison came to the area to finish out the school year for his brother. He found that he liked teaching very much even though it paid very little.   He added to his income by writing for the local paper. His dream of a school that would train teachers began to look more promising when nine successful farmers from the area, later known as the Noble Nine, looked for a school and teachers to educate their school age children. Their funding launched a renewed interest in acquiring land and constructing housing for a new school.

This presentation will honor two important men in our intellectual life.  Gary Carden, who is a member of  the Franklin UU Fellowship, holds degrees including an  Honorary Doctorate, from Western Carolina University.  In 2012 he received the highest honor the Governor and the State of North Carolina can bestow in the Literary Arts.

Gary wrote this monologue to celebrate the life of Dr. Robert Lee Madison, the first President of  WCU, whose guidance and persistence, made possible a university education for himself and for the Appalachian Mountain population.

Tickets for “Madison” are available:
Franklin Chamber of Commerce.               828/524-3161, 
UU Fellowship of Franklin, 89 Sierra Dr.  828/524-6777
At the door the night of the performance   
Event Co-ordinator: Virginia Wilson          828/369-8658    

Friday, March 22, 2013


THE LIARS BENCH which has been called “an Appalachian variety show” will kick off its third season with guest appearances by two of Appalachia’s most gifted talents:  Shelia Kay Adams, a seventh generation ballad singer from Madison County and Marvin Cole, noted throughout this region for his depiction of Mark Twain. 

In addition to these two remarkable performers, Gary Carden, the founder of the Liars Bench, intends to introduce a few samples of his latest project, “An Appalachian Bestiary” which is a collection of “whimsical and imaginary critters.”  

Carden notes, “I have about 48 now, and they range from birds that fly backwards to snakes that milk cows.”

Shelia Kay taught school for 17 years before she became a full-time performer. She is the author of two remarkable books:  Come Go Home With Me, which is a collection of community stories from Madison County, and My Old True Love, which is called “a Civil War love story.” Since she is also a gifted storyteller, she has a collection of tales called “Don’t Get Above Your Raising.” 

For more than 40 years, she has been nationally known and sought after by the country’s colleges and universities for her ability to combine exceptional musical skills (banjo) and traditional ballad singing...and, as Daniel Patterson says, “for good reason.  She is North Carolina’s greatest musical treasure.”

Many people in this region have had the pleasure of seeing Marvin Cole do “An Evening With Mark Twain.” Dr. Cole has performed throughout the United States ...especially on Mississippi river boats.  However, Marvin is leaving his trademark “ice cream suit” at home, and he intends to explore new territory.  When asked about his topic for his Liars Bench performance, Marvin said he wanted to perform a “meditation on outhouses.”

The Liars Bench show is scheduled for March 28th at 7:00 in the Mountain Heritage Center at WCU.  Other scheduled performers will include Paul Iarussi (claw hammer guitar) and William Ritter, a Liars Bench regular (and gifted fiddler) who is scheduled to play “The Belled Buzzard.”  
The audience is advised to come early as this will be a popular show.

Gary Carden

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Chautauqua again in Andrews - Gary Carden play Coy will be presented

You will want to mark these dates on your calendar. April 26 - 28.

The little town of Andrews, NC will continue with their Spring Chautauqua April 26 - 28 and has a wonderful lineup of events. Check them out on the link below.

At 2:00 p.m.  Saturday, see "Becoming Elizabeth Lawrence" presented by Emily Herring Wilson at the Valleytown Cultural Arts Center.

One of Gary Carden's plays , "Coy," will be presented by Tom Dewees at the Valleytown Cultural Arts Center 7:00 P.M. Saturday, and several other theater productions will take place that weekend.
If you have somehow missed seeing a Gary Carden play, you must make sure to take in this one. You will spend a delightful evening with his characters.

Although Andrews is not so far from Clay County NC, Towns County and Union County Georgia, we hear little about this event. Thanks to Linda Ray at Curiosity Books in Murphy for sending the link.

After the last performance of one of Gary's plays at Chautauqua  I heard rave reviews. I am determined to get to Andrews for this one. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ron Rash Story Collection Reviewed by Gary Carden

Nothing Gold Can Stay by Ron Rash
New York:  HarperCollins, Publishers
$24.99 - 239 pages

“The term, “sea change” is both poetic and informal, meaning a gradual transformation in which the form is retained, but the substance is replaced:
a marvelous petrification.”

   Ron Rash’s latest collection of short stories resonate with a theme that runs through all of his works:  An awareness that Appalachia is in transition; it is becoming something else.  Of course, this is a quality that is shared by all things - what the poets call “mutability” - but in this instance, the author is mindful of what our world is becoming in contrast to what it once was. Like the drowned girl in his short story by the same title, Appalachia may be undergoing a “sea change” and will emerge as “something rich and strange” ....The substance may be alien, repugnant and/or fascinating.

   However, although the world is changing around them, many of the characters in Nothing Gold Can Stay are trapped, victims of forces beyond their control. Tricksters, fools and doomed lovers abound; many owe their origin to prototypes that are found in Chaucer,  Grimm and Native American folklore. Rash’s Pied Piper is driving a minibus down the Blue Ridge Parkway; he is freighted with marijuana and “magic tabs,” on his way to San Francisco; Coyote, the trickster has metamorphosed into Sinkler, the chain gang “trusty” who plots to win the trust of a mountain girl (who has an agenda of her own).

   There are “good people,” too: mountain veterinarians who venture out amid deep snows to deliver a breached calf in a distant mountain cove because of a promise made once at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea.  Some of Rash’s struggling dreamers will touch your heart - especially the lovers.  Consider Danny and Lisa in “Cherokee,” a young married couple with an overdue truck payment, cutbacks at the cement plant and dwindling funds. Like thousands of others, they harken to the siren call of the big casino in Cherokee. The big billboards glimmer like mirages. Eventually, they gas up the truck for one desperate bid.  Then, there is Jody and Lauren, the doomed couple in “They Who Are Dead Are Only Now Forgiven” are especially tragic since they embody blasted promise. Again, this is a frequent refrain in Rash’s work: Appalachia’s  talented, hopeful youth who are entrapped by poverty, biological necessity or naturalistic forces.  Jody, lonely and discouraged, is in college. Lauren, who shared Jody’s promise, becomes hopelessly addicted to drugs and is slowly succumbing in an abandoned farm house that now contains a meth lab in the basement. When Jody returns from  college to rescue her, he knows that their future is at stake: either she goes with him, or he joins her in the old “haunted” farmhouse.

   There are other responses to entrapment in Nothing Gold Can Stay. Amy, the mentally and physically disfigured protagonist of “Nighthawks,” finds solace in becoming a nighttime d.j. at the local radio station - a job that allows her to interact with other people without any direct contact with them.  She is a “nighthawk” (like the customers in Edward Hopper’s midnight cafe) ... solitary, gainfully employed and finally...needed. Then, there is the nameless woman in “The Woman at the Pond,” a poignant figure who may represent multitudes. Abused, trapped in a loveless marriage and perceiving the future as hopeless, she chooses to slip over the side of a boat with a cinderblock tied to her arm.  This story has a disturbing element.  It may be that the narrator could have saved her.

   However, there is little to admire about the unnamed narrator and his buddy, Donnie in "Nothing Gold Can Stay." Rendered stupid by pills and beer, these two young men spend their days trolling the countryside  looking for part-time work or an opportunity to steal something that can be bartered in Asheville.  When they meet  an old WW II veteran with a jar full of gold teeth - a souvenir of from a brutal battle in the South Seas.  The old man ruefully notes that after the experience, he had to “learn to be a human being again.”  Donnie is fascinated.  How much would those teeth bring in an Asheville pawn shop?

   Rash frequently acknowledges the old scars and lingering pain - mute evidence of the Civil War.  There are still bitter memories, like the rope that hangs in a farmer’s barn in “Where the Map Ends” - a place where two escaped slaves experience an encounter that has much to do with loss and retribution.  In like manner, a grievance that had its birth in a 17th century Scottish ballad finally finds a kind of belated justice in “A Servant of History.”  When an erstwhile ballad collector finds himself in an Appalachian cove recording “The Snows of Glencoe” from the lips of an ancient beldame, he belatedly discovers that he has become an unwitting instrument of justice.

   There is humor, of course - a bit dark perhaps, but humor nonetheless. In “A Sort of Miracle,” Rash gives the reader another heedless fool who yearns for undeserved wealth. Denton is not plagued by debts nor does he need funds to improve his education. Watching TV, he has learned that the paws and gall bladders of black bears are valuable, and he begins to develop a scheme.  Why not buy a ham at the grocery store, drive deep into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, tie the ham to a tree limb and set a trap. What could be easier? After waiting a few days, Denton, accompanied by his wife’s teenage brothers, Baroque and Marlboro (visiting from Florida),  decides to claim his prize.  In some ways, “A Sort of Miracle” reads like a parody of “Something Rich and Strange.”  Alas, poor Denton!  He too, is destined to undergo a transformation.

   This is a marvelous collection.  Like a gifted musician in a midnight speakeasy, Rash glides from muted love songs to funeral hymns to bold marches soulful ballads.  They are all here then, the people of Appalachia. Foolish, flawed, vain and callow.  Many of them elicit empathy for they are all  mortal and foolish.  They are like Chaucer’s pilgrims or Christian’s fellow travelers in Pilgrim’s Progress.  However, unlike the indomitable Christian, many will sink in the muck of the Slough of Despond and vanish, or they will go charging off  in pursuit of phantasms and mirages ... perhaps not  of the Celestial City, but ...a Cherokee casino.

Gary Carden

Ron's book will be released this week and he will be signing at the Community Room in the new library in Sylva on March 15th.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Gary Carden, winner of the Literature Award for North Carolina, reminds us of his unforgettable play, Birdell, to be performed on November 15.

Liars Bench To Present "Birdell" at Mountain Heritage Center
Bobbie Curtis as 'Birdell'

On Thursday November 15 at 7pm at the Mountain Heritage Center there will be a performance of the dramatic monologue "Birdell" starring Bobbie Curtis. It is the story of a defiant mountain woman forced off her land by the TVA caused rising waters of Fontana Lake. This show will be a benefit for the Liars Bench organization. Consequently there will be an admission charge of $10.00. Tickets are available at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva and at the door the night of the show.

Although "Birdell" has plenty of pathos it's not just a dark, unrelenting tragedy. There is humor all the way through the play and some of the things that Birdell Tolly does in her garden just might shock a Southern Baptist preacher.

Actress Bobbie Curtis portrays Birdell Tolly's life and her battle against the federal government. Ms. Curtis' grandparents were forced off their land by the construction of the Bridgewater Dam which formed Lake James.
Curtis says “I feel that I am really in her shoes and that I have been there.”
Some of Carden's other plays Curtis has performed in are “The Bright Forever” and Ketti Frings “Look Homeward Angel.”

Claw-hammer guitar player Paul Iarussi will play old-time Southern Appalachian music.

The Mountain Heritage Center at WCU: 828.227.7129 or City Lights Bookstore in Sylva 586.9499

The next presentation of The Liars Bench Show at WCUs Mountain Heritage Center will be Thursday December 13 at 7 pm with stories and songs of “An Old Time Appalachian Christmas.”

Contact for more information:
Gary Carden

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Walk Down Memory Lane

In my files, I have pictures taken at NCWN West events and photos used in articles I've written about our members. I thought I'd share some of them today.


Glenda Barrett on right with her guest

Glenda, Wayne, Jayne, Lana, Nancy S, Nancy P, JC Walkup

Jo Carolyn Beebe 
Janice Moore, Karen Holmes, Brenda Ledford, Jo Carolyn Beebe, Carole Thompson

Lana Hendershott 

Paul Donovan, Karen Holmes, Glenda Beall

Gary Carden

Ed Southern, Executive Director of NCWN, at City Lights Books in Sylva
Leave a comment if you remember when or where the picture was taken.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Gary Carden, long time member of Netwest will receive award

Gary Carden, playwright, storyteller and writer of wonderful tales, sent his news a few days ago.

I have just been awarded the North Carolina Award in Literature. It is the highest award given by the state. The awards ceremony will be held in Raleigh on October 30th. 

Congratulations, Gary. You deserve this special award. Your friends and fellow writers in NCWN West are proud of you.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review of Ron Rash's new poetry book by Gary Carden

If you haven't heard of Ron Rash, author of Serena, and other popular books, be sure to google him, and visit Gary Carden's blog, Holler Notes.

Read his excellent review of Ron's new book of poetry, Waking. This review will also be in the Smoky Mountain News this week.

If you live in the area, you will want to know that Ron Rash will appear at City Lights Books to read from this book on Sunday, August 28th, 1:00 p.m.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Nancy Simpson's long awaited collection of poems, LIVING ABOVE THE FROST LINE, had its official "launch" last Sunday afternoon at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, North Carolina. Yes, we had champagne, and we toasted Nancy and her book before she began her reading. On hand was her editor Andrea Selch, all the way from Carolina Wren Press in Durham. Spring Street Cafe offered up a great spread of reception food after the reading. Below are assorted photos from the event.

Nancy chats with novelist Sue Ellen Bridgers at the signing table.

Nancy signs a book for Dick Michener.

Andrea Selch and City Lights owner Chris Wilcox confer beside the reception table.

Gary Carden's painting, "Preaching to the Chickens" displayed above one of the reception tables.

Andrea Selch talks with Rosemary Royston.

Nancy brings intensity to her reading! Rose, sitting next to me, remarked that it was the most moving poetry she had heard in a good while.

Andrea and I join Nancy for a photo op. Nancy will be reading at Campbell Folk School on November 4.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Carden's plays premiered Highlands Performing Arts Center

Congratulations to Gary Carden!

His new plays premiered at the Highlands Performing Arts Center this past weekend. "It was an incredibly successful event," according to Gary and we all knew it would be. He just won a Fleming Award for short story ($500). He was unable to attend the awards ceremony in Augusta, GA because he was in rehearsals for his newest play"Signs and Wonders."

The performance in Highlands included another of Carden's plays, The Bright Forever. This is a story about Shelby Jean and a young evangelical preacher in rural Georgia. "The Bright Forever" is a true story of Fanny Crosby, a blind woman who wrote 8000 hymns, including Blessed Assurance. The two theatrical pieces present a contrasting view on how religion affects people’s lives and were directed by Ronnie Spilton.
Gary Carden has been described as a storyteller with the "ability to blend humor with poignancy, a blend that allows him to bring to the reader the great themes of human existence -- love, death, bravery, fear, desire, success, failure -- without having to beat the reader over the head with these themes" by the Smoky Mountain News. Gary is also a folklorist and a storyteller. He was raised by his grandparents in Jackson County in a house filled with the past.

He says, “I grew up listening to a great deal of foolishness about 'bad blood' (mine), black Irish curses (my grandfather's) and the evils of being 'left handed' (I couldn't play a musical instrument.) I grew up with the cows, June apple trees, comic books, the Farmers' Federation and Saturday movies. My first stories I told to my grandfather's chickens in a dark chicken-house when I was six years old. My audience wasn't attentive and tended to get hysterical during the dramatic parts.”

He graduated from Western Carolina University and taught literature and drama for 15 years, worked for the Cherokee Indians for 15 years and has spent the last 15 years as a lecturer and storyteller. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate degree from Western Carolina University in August 2008. Carden said in his commencement speech, "I couldn't get out of Appalachia quick enough" after his 1958 graduation from what was then known as Western Carolina College. "I wanted to be near theaters, book stores and nice restaurants. I wanted some culture," he said.

For 15 years, Carden worked as a teacher in the metropolitan areas of Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh, but as the years passed he said he became less and less happy.

Eventually, Carden came back to Sylva, NC for a visit and stopped at WCU's Mountain Heritage Center to hear a program by Southern Appalachian poet Jim Wayne Miller. Through the poems in his collection, "The Mountains Have Come Closer," Miller exhorts his readers to "come home."

"I took him literally, and I came home," Carden said. "I moved in my grandfather's house in Rhodes Cove, and for the past 40 years I've been trying - striving - to remember where I came from."

Other Carden plays and stories include "The Raindrop Waltz," "The Tannery Whistle," and "The Prince of Dark Corners."

NCWN West is grateful to Gary for the generous gift of his play, Birdell, which was presented in Murphy, NC in 2008. The ticket sales for this play were donated to NCWN West for the printing and publishing of Echoes Across the Blue Ridge. This is a good example of different forms of the arts community working together for the good of all.

Thank you, Gary, for your donation of the excellent play, Birdell.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Gary Carden, storyteller, in new book

Gary is one of the sixteen storytellers featured in this book:
Southern Appalachian Storytellers
Interviews with Sixteen Keepers of the Oral Tradition
Edited by Saundra Gerrell Kelley
ISBN 978-0-7864-4751-0
photos, bibliography, index softcover 2010
Price: $35.00
To be from Appalachia--to be at home there and to love it passionately--informs the narratives of each of the sixteen storytellers featured in this work. Their stories are rich in the lore of the past, deeply influenced by family, especially their grandparents, and the ancient mountains they saw every day of their lives as they were growing up.

About the Author
Writer and storyteller Saundra Gerrell Kelley has contributed articles to the Jonesborough Herald & Tribune, the Tallahassee Democrat (Florida), and the north Florida environmental anthology, Between Two Rivers. She lives in Jonesborough, Tennessee.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Gary Carden had a hard time getting the Netwest blog to accept his submission for "favorite Appalachian novel," so gave up, figuring we'd have "a bunch" anyway. This morning he sent this to me after learning that we didn't receive any favorite novel posts. I was interested to hear that Caroline Miller was born in Waycross, Ga. My family hailed from the other side of the state, near Albany, and I remember the Campbell family stories that had them migrating down from NC to Georgia, though the came from Randolph County, not one of our mountain counties. KB


Belatedly, here is my selection for my favorite novel. I can edit it, if you wish, or you can edit it.

Gary Carden


One for the cutworm, one for the crow,

One to rot and one to grow.

- Corn-planting song in Lamb in His Bosom

All book lovers have an impressive list of books that they intend to read…eventually. Usually, this procrastination is due to some real or imagined challenge or difficulty that makes “literature” intimidating. Either the work is lengthy, or “intellectual,” or worst of all, it has been dubbed “a classic.” My list has always included War and Peace, Don Quixote and The Divine Comedy. Then, there is Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and Caroline Miller’s Pulitzer Prize winner, Lamb in His Bosom. Well, being snow-bound in January gave me courage and I took on the latter.

The first surprise – pleasant – is Miller’s language. It sent me back 70 years to my childhood, and I found myself back in my grandparent’s home in Rhodes Cove with a shoe last under the bed, a metal spider in the fireplace and talk of “painters” and fireballs (both of which were rumored to come down chimneys). It was a world that was closely bound to the heavens, with crops planted by “the signs,” and where an overly active child sometimes “cut a dido” when he/she saw a “coach-whip snake in the woods or a green “measuring worm” (which measured unsuspecting folks for their coffins) on his/her sleeve. Boneset tea was brewed in the fireplace, guineas roosted in the trees and my grandmother caught May rainwater from the eaves of the house to ease the colic and clean a “gaumed up” stain from a dress. It is a world that either no longer exists, or has retreated to isolated coves in rural Georgia, western North Carolina or eastern Tennessee. That is both a blessing and a curse.

Lamb in His Bosom is an encyclopedia of Appalachian customs, dialect and folklore; it captures with a near-painful accuracy a way of living that was both harsh and beautiful. Consider the names in this novel: Sean, Lias, Bridger and Elizabeth; Jasper, Lovedy, Fairby, Margot and Derimad – names that bespeak the streets of Dublin, potato famines, brutal poverty and desperate migrations. Miller’s characters remember their origins. Despite the setting in south Georgia, the old folks still talk of cobbled streets in Galway and Limerick. However, Sean’s parents speak wistfully of “Old Carolina” where they lived briefly and which they came to perceive as a blissful Eden, before they followed the rumors (circa 1830’s) of cheap, rich land in Georgia. It was a move that they came to see as a tragic mistake. Sean’s mother continues to talk about “goin’ back to Caroliny” for the rest of her life.

The way of life lived (or endured) by Miller’s characters tends to be brutal, tragic and short. Women are considered

Old at 40, broken by childbearing and a sort of self-imposed slavery. Indeed some of the most dolorous passages in the novel are given to describing debilitated flesh. Adults, who prior to death, have been rendered mindless invalids, crippled by the hardships of farming. They slowly succumb while raving of hell or dreaming of a mother’s face and the voices of long-dead children. The planting rhyme at the beginning of this review could apply equally to the survival ratio of offspring. The ones who survive the rigors of life on a south Georgia farm in the 1840’s are few. Many die at birth and others are struck down by the vagaries/ hazards of farm life: pneumonia, fire and an amazing number of accidents and injuries that go untended except for the tenuous benefits of folk medicine. Among the awesome catalog of suffering in Lamb in His Bosom, this reviewer will never forget the description of two children who catch fire at an outdoor hog butchering and become two human torches, running through the winter wind. Then, there are the vital young men who are most prized of all family members – the seed-bearers and strong backs – the fair sons who survive only to perish at Fredericksburg or Appomattox in a war that they never understood.

However, the most enthralling aspects of this novel are Miller’s talent for capturing the mind and soul of her characters. The narrative slides effortlessly form objective to subjective description as the author slides into the minds of her characters, like a hand into a glove. She becomes Lias, the prodigal son, vain and arrogant; Bridget the exotic “woman from the coast” who becomes a mainstay in the lives of the Carver family; plodding Lonzo, tongue-tied and awkward behind his oxen, dreaming of thoroughbred horses; and Sean, the shy and obedient wife who sometimes “sulls” behind her spinning wheel, dwelling on God’s harshness.

Miller is concerned with the souls of these people who are in turn, frail, shy, stubborn and willful. How do they perceive the world? God? Sexuality? The purpose of their lives? I find Miller’s conclusions compatible with those of my own grandparents in Rhodes Cove. Life is harsh and the only response to it is forbearance and stoic acceptance. Death is “the dark doorway” that is always near, perhaps in the next room. Mankind is frail, weak, and carnal, and probably deserves all the attending suffering that God sends. We are here to fulfill a purpose for the Almighty, but we usually fail. We must try again.

Both men and women are helpless in the grasp of sexuality, and love comes like a fatal sickness or a sudden storm that wrecks families, alienates friends and blights lives. That can’t be helped. Let us get up and go on.

Miller’s protagonist, Sean, perceives herself, her family, her animals and all mankind as “fertilizer.” We will enrich the soil and create a new life. For Sean, that is our earthly immortality. The earth will go on, serenely indifferent to these temporal life forms that struggle, sing briefly, lament loudly and sink into the soil to make the magnolia trees and new corn flourish. For Sean, she and all her kin are like a shout in a great darkness, gone before the echo fades. In the great scheme of things, we are of little consequence. The sun shall rise and not see us again.

Like most people in this region, I know that Caroline Miller lived in Waynesville until her death in 1992. I did not know that she was born in Waycross, Georgia (1904), and lived for over 30 years in Baxley where she did meticulous research for this novel. Frequently pretending to be looking for eggs and butter, she interviewed numerous farm families who were living in rural isolation. Perhaps her greatest gift is for language – the ability to capture the nuances of dialect that retain the music of Ireland: the love of stories filled with travail, heartbreak and grandeur. Yet, in spite of it all, running through this chronicle of the life of Sean Smith Carver O’Conner, there is a dark joy. The language is frequently lyric and I am tempted to quote passages that ring with a rueful beauty. Perhaps, one paragraph? This is the death of Lias, the prodigal son, in California. He has just mailed a letter, assuring his mother and sister that he is on his way home. Like the ill-advised and belatedly delivered letters in a Thomas Hardy novel, this one is destined to cause untold misery. Lias knows he is dying, but he sends the letter anyway. “I want them to always think that I am coming,” he says.

Sundown was not far off; in the smooth bulging distance, the sun eased himself into the ocean to quench the boiling flame that studs his breast. Shaking water crumpled the gold pavement of the sunset. Lias ceased his praying, for suddenly, the compelling hunger in his breast no longer tortured him. Above his head, he heard the sound of a woman’s soft weeping, and the sound was like the sound of an outgoing tide’s little waves that caress the sands monotonously, sibilant, and as precious as tears.”

Dear reader, read this book. If possible, read it slowly.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Chataugua AVE in Andrews, NC

7:00 pm -- "The Bright Forever" starring Bobbie Curtis -- Valleytown Cultural Arts Center in Andrews, NC.

A one-woman show written by Gary Carden and performed by Bobbie Curtis.

Fanny Crosby, the character that Bobbie portrays was blinded at six weeks of age by an incompetent doctor. Despite this handicap she wrote over 8,000 hymns and an equal number of poems. Almost every hymn book in use today will contain one of her hymns. In her lifetime she was one of the best known women in the United States. Her sacred songs were sung wherever the English language was spoken. She became a student at the first school for the blind, in New York City, at the age of fifteen. After receiving her education, she remained at the school for 28 more years as a teacher. One of her fellow teachers was Grover Cleveland who later became President of the United States. Never one to bemoan her blindness, her poetry expresses her joy of living.

Bobbie Curtis of the Foothills Little Theatre in Lenoir, N.C. will play Fannie. Bobbie grew up in eastern Caldwell County, NC. The tenth of eleven siblings. Born in the depression era, she longed to be an actress. But, money was a big issue and she was told that none was available to explore whimsical dreams. Pursuing a more practical career, she became a nurse at Grace Hospital and later in the field of public health. Now at the age of 75 she is realizing her dream of being an actress, playing to full houses and receiving accolades.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mountain Voices meets in Sylva

Mountain Voices,
a writers' group for writers/poets/playwrights/storytellers in Macon, Jackson and Swain counties in NC will meet Thursday at 7:00 PM at Soul Infusion Bistro in Sylva. Members wll eat at 7:00 and readings will begin at 7:30. Writers interested in attending, should contact Gary Carden at: -Telephone: 828-631-5438

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Well, Blow the Tannery Whistle. Look Who's Come to Murphy

Appalachian Story Teller, playwright and film maker Gary Carden entertained a large audience at the Learning Center in Murphy, NC last night, January 30, 2009. The event was sponsored by North Carolina Writers Network West, of which Gary Carden is a member. He was introduced to the audience as a "National Treasure" by Glenda Beall, Program Coordinator. I was there, and I can tell you Gary Carden's is a one man show. His theme was "Blow the Tannery Whistle" and minute by minute he took each and every one of us back to the small mountain town of Sylva, North Carolina as it was in the 1940s.

The story "Blow the Tannery Whistle" is largely autobiographical Carden said. It is the tale of a mountain boy who entertains himself by acting out stories.

His grandparents seeing him talking to himself, worry about his sanity. They think he has bad blood from his mother's side of the family. Finally the men family and the men of the town meet to see if the boy should be sent away. The boy's life is changed when it is determined that he might not be all that different from the college boys seen around town. The family decides to send him to Teacher's College down the road in Cullowhee.

Those who know Gary Carden, know that he did go to college, and there he had a wonderful time acting in plays and learning how a script is written. Carden has spent 40 years of his life promoting life and culture in Southern Appalachian Mountains. He was born here in the mountains, raised here and educated here. On August 1, 2007, Western Carolina University bestowed upon Carden the Honorary Doctorate in Letters. Chancellor John Bardo presided over the ceremony.

Through the years Gary Carden made his living as a story teller, playwright and film maker. Here in the last cold, dreary days of winter, my advice to you, especially if you missed the program in Murphy last night, is get some of his audio tapes, and DVDs to entertain yourself and your family.Where to get them? At the Gary Carden web site, you can see all that is available, all at reasonable prices.
"Mason Jars in the Flood and Other Stories" won the 2001 Appalachian Writers Association Award. It is available. Also "Papa's Angels" , "The Raindrop Waltz" and other plays, also the film The Prince of Dark Places is on DVD. It tells the legendary story of South Carolina outlaw Lewis Redmond. Also available is the film Willa, an American Snow White tale.

Another possibility is that you might invite Gary Carden to come visit your town. He will entertain you.

By Nancy Simpson