Showing posts with label Lee Smith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lee Smith. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


(Lee signs her new book for me.) Lee Smith probably wrote poetry back in her student--or childhood--days, and she may secretly write it now, but I think she also writes poetry in her novels and shorts stories, and I have shamelessly used those to rev up my own poems when I felt my poet's engine running down.
Lee came to Asheville on Sunday to read from her new book of stories, Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger: New and Selected Stories. There was standing room only at Malaprop's Bookstore. Afterward I had time to visit with Lee and the woman who has brought her work to life on the stage, Barbara Bates Smith. Barbara's wonderful husband and my brother joined us for a glass of wine at a downtown restaurant.
Go to Barbara's website to learn more about her one-woman shows. (Mugging it up with Lee at Malaprop's)
Here is the last paragraph from "The Southern Cross." Chanel, the narrator, (not her real name, of course!) has jumped off the yacht on which she's been cruising with Larry, the man she calls her fiance but who has never had any intention of leaving his wife, as she learns near story's end. She lands in the dinghy and heads for the tropical island nearby and a new life. "Going Native," she yells back to the astonished men on deck.
A part of me can't believe I'm acting this crazy, while another part of me is saying, "Go, Girl." A little breeze comes up and ruffles my hair. I practice deep breathing from aerobics and look all around. The water is smooth as glass. The whole damn sky is full of stars. It is just beautiful. All the stars are reflected in the water. Right overhead I see Orion and then I see his belt, as clear as can be. I'm headed for the island, sliding through the stars.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Favorite Appalachian Book: FAIR AND TENDER LADIES

Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith is my favorite mountain novel. I first read this novel in college when I was about 20 years old. The protagonist, Ivy, was like a heavy pebble dropped in my soul, one that resonated with me. I'm from Claiborne County in east TN and grew up with many wonderful women. There is strength, sadness, and dignity wrapped into one in each of these women. Ivy embodied this is in a way that made realize the archetype of the simple and “uneducated” mountain woman. I do believe that the memories of our ancestors, both recent and long ago, are stored in our cells. Although I was only 20 years old, I held the grief of losing babies, slaughtering hogs, and chopping tobacco in my DNA.

My favorite scene from Fair and Tender Ladies is when Ivy sits on the porch of her home high on the mountain. She looks down to her community below that just received electricity. She sees all the homes alight for the first time. I imagine many times she has looked below her and seen only the blackness of oak and maple in the night. That night, however, she looked down and was reminded that there were people there. There were families there. Even now as I think on that scene, I feel something bittersweet. There is a comfort in knowing you are not alone, yet a heavy sadness in watching the changing of time. There are changes that come and we either accept them peaceably or we struggle and create pain for ourselves. In that moment I believe Ivy was able to hold the immense experiences of her life, all the pains and joys, and own them. Without judgment she accepted lovingly the course of her life. Every light inside Ivy was on, and she was okay with that. This was a woman who had known suffering and ecstasy and was able to regard them all as hers in that moment. Even at 20 years old, being the daughter of mountain women, I could feel that and know it at a deeper level today.

There are so many great mountain novels, but also at the top of the list would be Gap Creek by Robert Morgan. In both of these novels, it's the female protagonist that reaches me. In Gap Creek, it's Julie Harmon. Julie is tough, strong, and stoic. She does what needs to be done, forges ahead, and keeps her mouth shut. So many times throughout the course of this novel, I vary between wanting to comfort this poor child and desiring to shake her silly. But Julie, too, is an archetype that resonates in me. She is the mountain woman that quietly endures pain at the expense of her very self. She does the work of a man, all the while secretly aching to just be a woman. Having the core of your femininity torn severely alters a woman's ability to be with other people, particularly with men, and we see this again and again with Julie. Reading Julie's story walked me through the process of dying and being re-born. It was cathartic and therapeutic, because we all have had moments when we give parts of our self away to others. Essentially, we have many deaths of our self's potential. Likewise, we always have opportunities to be the hero in our own story and get it right. This is the way of all humans, particularly the women of Appalachia.

The memories of mountain women in my cells and marrow sing “Hallelujah!” for Ivy and Julie. The novels of these hills will always be able to do that for me, and so I’ll return to them again and again.

Melissa T. Greene, MA, LPC-MHSP
Coordinator, Intensive In-Home Treatment
1921 Ransom Place
Nashville, TN 37217
(615) 460-4415

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Gary sent this email regarding his experience at the NCWN Fall Writers and Publishers Conference

I had a ball at the conference. It was a hard trip and I drove five hours through rain and fog to the Raleigh/Durham Hilton. However, once I got there, I was treated like visiting royalty. I made a lot of friends and it was a gratifying experience to be with folks who shared my interests. There were playwrights there, fiction writers, non-fiction writers and journalists. I suspect that we have those people up here, but I rarely meet them.
I heard Ron Rash's keynote speech and it was a winner. He talked about research and the fact that it sometimes comes dangerously close to eclipsing the actual writing of a novel. He addressed its significance in relation to Serena and talked about eagles and rattlesnakes. He also discussed the "chorus" in the novel, the voices of the workers in the lumber camp that enabled him to add richness to his plot.
The workshop that I taught, a total 18 people who were interested in converting oral history into effective theatre was a wonderful experience. I had playwrights in the class that were far more experienced than I, but the basic simplicity of what I presented appealed to them. I am still getting calls from them, and I have even been advised as to how to promote myself in the piedmont. That was wonderful to hear, but I prefer to mimic the mountain laurel and "grow where I am planted."
The conference offered endless opportunities for writers and the display area in the lobby was filled with folks who offered opportunities that ranged from self-publishing to manuscript evaluation. Several publishers were soliciting regional history and non-fiction, memoirs, essays, etc.
There was also an impressive display of North Carolina writers ranging from Ron Rash to Vicki Lane (who I had dinner with) and new works from people like Jill McCorkle, Reynolds Price, Lee Smith, Randall McKehan, Ruth Moose ... all of whom I have been reading for years. I was impressed enough by a fellow named Stacy Cochran to buy his video on "How to Get Published and How to Get an Agent" and I brought it home where Ben Eller and I watched it and decided that it was worth the money. He also has a website.

I was also approached by some media people who asked about interviews for local TV shows and radio programs, but it depresses me to think that I have to drive to Raleigh to be interviewed. I have a healthy ego, but I am not driving five hours to be interviewed.

In fact, that is pretty much the way I feel about the Conference. It was like a candy store for writers, but it is in Raleigh. I guess our resources are scant by comparison, but I do intend to find whatever I can in this region. I won't drive to Raleigh, but I will drive to Asheville. There seems to be a tendency to hunker down and try to practice our art in a very narrow area ... like a twenty-mile radius of home. That needs to change.

Gary Carden lives in Sylva, NC. He is a storyteller, writer, playwright, teacher and journalist. Contact him at

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Spring Literary Festival at Western Carolina University - Free events

From City Lights Book Store in Sylva, the following announcements:

(April 7-10): WCU Spring Literary Festival
Western Carolina University's sixth annual Spring Literary Festival will be held on campus in Cullowhee April 7-10 and includes a wonderful line-up of authors. Books will be available for sale at each reading, and all events are free and open to the public. As an encouragement to attendance, campus parking regulations will not be enforced for attendees from the community (as any tickets will be forgiven). For more information, please call the WCU English Department at 227-3265.

Monday, April 7, 2008 7:30 p.m.Location: Western Carolina University, Coulter Auditorium, Memorial Drive, Cullowhee, NC 28723 Novelist Lee Smith reads from On Agate Hill. Performance of On Agate Hill by Barbara Bates Smith and Jeff Sebens immediately follows.Growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia, nine-year-old Lee Smith was already writing-and selling, for a nickel apiece- stories about her neighbors in the coal boomtown of Grundy and the nearby isolated "hollers." In 1968, she published her first novel, The Last Day the Dog Bushes Bloomed.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008 4:00 p.m.Location: Western Carolina University, University Center Auditorium, Memorial Drive, Cullowhee, NC 28723 Poet Thomas Lux will read from his work.Thomas Lux's many books of poetry include The Cradle Place; The Street of Clocks; New and Selected Poems, 1975-1995, which was a finalist for the 1998 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize

Tuesday, April 8, 2008 7:30 p.m.Location: Western Carolina University, University Center Auditorium, Memorial Drive, Cullowhee, NC 28723. Author and commentator Dagoberto Gilb reads from his work. Dagoberto Gilb's first story collection, The Magic of Blood, won the PEN/Hemingway Award. He is also author of The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuña, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His newest novel is The Flowers, published this year. His essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, and as commentaries on NPR's "Fresh Air."

Wednesday, April 9, 2008 4:00 p.m.Location: Western Carolina University, Coulter Auditorium, Memorial Drive, Cullowhee, NC 28723. Poet's Panel: Joseph Bathanti, Sarah Lindsay, Carolyn Beard Whitlow. Poet and novelist Joseph Bathanti is the author of four books of poetry: Communion Partners; Anson County; The Feast of All Saints; and This Metal, which was nominated for The National Book Award, and won the 1997 Oscar Arnold Young Award from The North Carolina Poetry Council for best book of poems by a North Carolina writer. His novels are East Liberty and Coventry, was a winner of the 2006 Novello Literary Award. His collection of short stories, The High Heart, was winner of the 2007 Spokane Prize. Sarah Lindsay is the author of Primate Behavior, a finalist for the National Book Award, and Mount Clutter, as well as two chapbooks, Bodies of Water and Insomniac's Lullaby.Poet Carolyn Beard Whitlow is Charles A. Dana Professor of English at Guilford College in Greensboro, where she teaches Creative Writing and African-American Literature. Her most recent collection of poems, Vanished, won the 2006 Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008 7:30 p.m.Location: Western Carolina University, Coulter Auditorium, Memorial Drive, Cullowhee, NC 28723. Novelist Pat Conroy reads from his work.Pat Conroy is the bestselling and award-winning author of The Water is Wide, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, The Prince of Tides, Beach Music and My Losing Season. His novels are populated with domineering fathers, southern belles of steel, and inexorable tragedy; all are elements the author is familiar with from his own life.

Thursday, April 10, 2008 12:00 p.m.Location: Western Carolina University, University Center Auditorium, Memorial Drive, Cullowhee, NC 28723. Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Cathy Smith Bowers presents Caleb Beissert, Haley Jones, and Tom Lambert. Cathy Smith Bowers, Distinguished Poet for the western region, presents emerging poets Caleb Beissert, Haley Jones, and Tom Lambert. The Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series supports the mission of the North Carolina Poetry Society to foster the reading, writing, and enjoyment of poetry across the state. Three Distinguished Poets, one from each region, mentor a middle-school, a high-school, and a college or university student.

Thursday, April 10, 2008 4:00 p.m.Location: Western Carolina University, Coulter Auditorium, Memorial Drive, Cullowhee, NC 28723. Poet Gloria Vando reads from her work.Poet Gloria Vando is publisher /editor of Helicon Nine Editions, a nonprofit literary press she founded in 1977. Her book of poems, Shadows and Supposes, was named the Best Poetry Book of 2003 by the Latino Hall of Fame.

Thursday, April 10, 2008 7:30 p.m.Location: Western Carolina University, Coulter Auditorium, Memorial Drive, Cullowhee, NC 28723. Novelist Russell Banks reads from his work (an LCE event). Russell Banks grew up in a working- class world that has played a major role in shaping his writing. His titles include The Darling, Cloudsplitter, Affliction, The Sweet Hereafter, Searching for Survivors, Hamilton Stark, The New World, The Book of Jamaica, Trailerpark, Continental Drift, Success Stories, and Rule of the Bone. The Angel on the Roof is a collection of thirty years of Banks' short fiction.