Showing posts with label Valerie Nieman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Valerie Nieman. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Where I’m From

We are happy to have Valerie Nieman, author of fiction and poetry as our guest blogger today. She has written an interesting post for our blog. I hope you will leave comments for Valerie, and remember she will be in Hayesville, NC July 6, at the Moss library. See sidebar for more information.

Where I’m From


Valerie Nieman

           I’m from New York. And I’m an Appalachian. Born, bred, educated, lived, worked there. Only in recent years have I slipped out of the mountains, living now just a few miles from the “official” border of the region. That world was my world, and still is, appearing in my poems and novels all along, but most strongly in my latest, To the Bones.

          Appalachia, as defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission, takes in more than 200,000 square miles, encompassing West Virginia and parts of 12 other states. Despite the stereotypes about “hillbillies” and “mountain people,” there’s no single culture. It’s still heavily rural, more than 40 percent of the population living in rural areas compared with 20 percent nationally, but accents, food ways, ethnic makeup, and economies vary greatly across the region.
          I grew up in Cattaraugus County, NY, one of 14 counties that make up the “Southern Tier” along the border with Pennsylvania. The hills there are low and soft, the Allegheny Plateau, good land for dairy farming. Memories from my growing-up days — maple sugaring, Amish neighbors, big gardens, harsh winters — were superseded by the three decades I lived in West Virginia, yet they continue to crop up in my writing. Darrick, one of the main characters in To the Bones, went to school at St. Bonaventure. Oil City, PA, makes an appearance in a poem in Leopard Lady: A Life in Verse.
          In 1976, I headed south to Morgantown, WV, to get my journalism degree at West Virginia University. The Mountain State caught my heart when I camped with my then-boyfriend at Cooper’s Rock State Park, waking after a late arrival to a glory of dogwoods and bird song.
After college, my now-husband and I bought some pastureland in Marion County. We built a barn, a house, fences. Planted an orchard and an organic garden. That land shaped the landscape of Neena Gathering and of To the Bones.
          It’s a different kind of hills from the ones where I grew up, most notably in the presence of coal mining. The culture, too, was different. Soup beans and cornbread. Pepperoni rolls. But many things were the same—both areas had seen much immigration from Italy, and excellent Italian food was celebrated in both western New York and north central West Virginia. And in both places, I gathered wild berries and apples gone feral, though it was in West Virginia that I came to know the despised wild leek of my childhood as “ramps,” and a really fine food when properly prepared.
          I came to North Carolina in 1997, to the land of barbecue, tobacco, and restaurants offering “meat and three.” Grits replaced home fries on the breakfast menus. Collard greens and pinto beans are Southern kin to creasy greens and soup beans. North Carolina is Appalachian—Gov. Roy Cooper is co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission.
          Appalachia today is a diverse place, but it always was. Native Americans, Spanish and French and English explorers, Irish and Scot and Scots-Irish settlers. African-Americans brought forcibly as slaves and whose descendants came north to the mines and mills in the Great Migration. Germans who came to work in the glass plants of the Ohio Valley. Peoples from all over Europe, Polish and Italians and Welsh and Hungarians and many others, whose emigration landed them in the coal camps. “Lebanese” peddlers who offered goods to isolated farms and to miners’ wives. And so on, to new arrivals from all over the globe who come to start new lives or attend college or work in the High Technology Corridor.
          The ill-educated, ill-clothed mountaineer with a jug and a hound? That media creation proved useful in denying residents a say in their lands, resources, politics, future. They just weren’t suited to such things, went the standard line, and so needed to be corralled and cozened. When I arrived in West Virginia University in 1975, you could still get souvenirs depicting that hillbilly stereotype in the university bookstore, but the WVU mascot has been for nearly a century the Mountaineer. A heroic bronze figure of the buckskin-clad pioneer has stood on the campus since 1971.
          To the Bones satirizes stereotypes and as a genre mashup, plays with the tropes of mystery, horror, tall tale, even a bit of romance. The stranger comes to town is a recurring theme in Westerns, but is also what John Gardner called one of the two great stories. (The other is a man (woman) goes on a journey—Peer Gynt, Odysseus, Harry Potter, and the list goes on.) But the deep story in this novel is one of love and despair, people who deeply love the land of their birth and rearing, yet who clearly see the despoiling and destruction wrought by the extractive industries that put food on the table.
          Too much has been taken out and too little given back. My place back in West Virginia had a capped gas well in the field, a mine crack in the back field, and no water—the mines had cut off the aquifer. But I loved it.
          Appalachian I was, and remain. You can see it right there in the stories and poems.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

City Lights Bookstore hosts Valerie Nieman at Coffee with the Poet

The Coffee with the Poet series continues on Thursday, July 16th at 10:30 a.m. at City Lights Bookstore. The July gathering will feature Valerie Nieman as she presents her new collection of poetry, Hotel Worthy

Nieman was a 2013-2014 North Carolina Arts Council poetry fellow and has received an NEA creative writing fellowship.  A graduate of West Virginia University and the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte, she teaches writing at N.C. A&T State University and is a regular workshop leader at the John C. Campbell Folk School and the North Carolina Writers Network. She is poetry editor for the online/print literary journal, Prime Number.

The Coffee with the Poet series gathers the third Thursday of each month and is cosponsored by the NC Writers’ Network-West.  For questions about the Coffee with the Poet series or to reserve a copy of Hotel Worthy please call City Lights Bookstore at 828-586-9499

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Valerie Nieman, author of Blood Clay, a novel Netwest member Joan Howard said she “can’t put down” inspired and informed those who came to the Author Chat and Tea at Moss Memorial Library on Friday afternoon. Nieman set the casual mood by forgoing a lectern and sitting in a chair with the group of mostly poets, reading from her new novel and her poetry book, Wake Wake Wake, asking questions and answering questions.

The author told us of her experience in all forms of writing, showing the large number of books she has published, including a book of short stories, Fidelities.
"I'm just an old journalist,” Nieman told us. She received her degree in journalism from West Virginia University.
She said her years of writing for newspapers taught her to tighten up her prose, use words sparingly, no fat, just lean sharp language.
That is what we all aim for in our fiction. During a break for refreshments, each member of the audience had an opportunity to speak with Nieman personally.

Poet Maren Mitchell, said, “An accomplished author of poetry, short stories and novels, she was a delight to listen to, and so comfortable and informative to talk with. I'm so glad I went to hear and meet Valerie Nieman.”

I am reading Blood Clay on my Nook, and it is a page turner. The book tells the story of Tracy, a teacher, who has moved to the North Carolina tobacco farming country and witnesses a brutal attack by dogs belonging to her neighbor. Like anyone new in a community Tracy’s actions are questioned by the local people.

“I so enjoyed Valerie Nieman's tea on Friday--her intelligent and friendly discussions and the high lyricism of her poetry. She is an author of wide knowledge and grace.” Joan Howard commented.

Thanks to Mary Fonda, librarian at Moss Library, for opening the doors for our Author Chat and Tea. It must have been the “tea” that turned our men writers away. A new resident of Murphy said she saw the article in the newspaper and knew she had to come. “I am pleased to meet so many interesting and intelligent women.” She said.

Writers Circle sponsored this event, free to the public, and we hope to do more programs like this if we have enough interest among writers and poets in the area. I like to take an opportunity to learn something new, and I do, every time I talk with or hear an author or poet speak.

Valerie Nieman is presently an assistant professor of English and Journalism at North Carolina A & T State University in Greensboro, NC.  She is also an editor for Prime Numbers online literary journal. She teaches at John C. Council Folk School. 

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tired but Inspired in Greensboro

I sit here in Greensboro, NC tired, but inspired after spending all day at the Elliot Center at the UNC-G campus. NCWN held the 2008 Spring Conference here and it is the first time I've attended the annual spring conference. I usually make it a priority to register for the Fall Conferences in Asheville and last November we drove to Winston-Salem.
Most presenters for the conference today were on faculty at UNC-G.
My favorite part of the day was the Publishing Panel consisting of Scott Douglas of Main Street Rag, Kevin Watson of Press 53, Jeanne Leiby of Southern Review and a man from the Georgia Review, but I never understood his name. After a short talk by each member of the panel, I realized once again how important it is to know your market. Read the guidelines carefully and follow them. While the writer may not know it, the guidelines are specific for a reason. Douglas said it is a matter of resources. He hires editors to read submissions therefore, he makes it clear he does not want simultaneous submissions. The reason is obvious. After he has paid an editor to read work that he cannot publish because it has been accepted somewhere else, he is out that money with nothing to show for it. I can't blame him. Although Scott has grown MSR into quite a good business over the years since I first met him, he says he still sweeps the floors and binds the books. "It is easier to find a person to read submissions than to find someone to bind books," he said.
I didn't know until today that he prints books for a number of other magazines. He is still a rebel in this business and not so snooty as the Georgia Review. Their representative said don't send your poetry to them unless you don't mind letting them "meddle" with it. I got the impression that they "edited" or "meddled" with everything that goes in the magazine.
Scott, on the other hand, wants the work you send him to be ready for the printer when he gets it. He doesn't want to have to rewrite or work too much to make changes to a submission. And don't try to make changes after he has it ready to print.

Listening to some of the stories they told today made me a little more understanding of the editor's and publisher's problems with writers who are inconsiderate and hard to work with, who won't follow guidelines and seem to have no understanding of how a book is made..
This panel covered everything a writer wants to know about submitting and publishing. I sat in on about an hour of Ed Southern's session on publishing and found a good discussion going there. I wish I had been there for the entire session.
Congratulations to Ed Southern and Virginia Freedman for the work they put in to bring us this great conference. Even though they had some challenges, no one knew it and things went off well.
I worked with Virginia and Ed at the registration tables and enjoyed meeting the writers, greeting them and seeing friends like Valerie Nieman, Katherine, who was in my JCCFS class in March, and Marlyn who came to Hayesville for our Lights in the Mountains conference and stayed four days. I enjoyed meeting Jan Parker and hope she is reading this blog now. I wish more of our Netwest members would attend the NCWN conferences. They are always interesting and fun.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Spring Conference

Valerie Nieman seems 'with bare hands (to) embrace live steam.' Wake Wake Wake is sinew and tendon, hard muscle and bruised bone; the volume sings with every inch of the body and every breath of the spirit. If she speaks of "hearing that we have all fallen short," she yet believes-she knows-'the way a path is best walked/not by looking down/but by looking out.' Would you be stout of heart, steadfast of purpose? Read Valerie Nieman." - - -Fred Chappell

All-Day Fiction Workshop with Valerie Nieman: Dialog as Combat: Developing Urgency in Your Work

For Valerie Nieman, dialogue is imperative for expressing any emotion and furthering the plot. In the beginning of the workshop, you will study examples in fiction and then write your own. This workshop can make the difference between someone saying your work is well-written to people not being able to put your work down. Valerie Nieman is a creative-writing professor at A & T and is a published poet, novelist, science-fiction writer, and journalist.

Please go to to register or call (919) 251-9140.
The 2008 Spring Conference will be at the Eliot Center on UNC-Greensboro campus, April 26th.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Valerie's blogging on myspace

Today while checking out the NCWN website, I saw where Valerie Nieman has a blog listed. Valerie taught a session at the Lights in the Mountains Conference in 2006 and a session on narrative poems at the NCWN Fall Conference in Winston-Salem NC.
I clicked on Valerie's blog and found her posts most interesting. I also found she has a new blog now on myspace, so I went there. Valerie's writing is poetic even in her blog. She will be teaching at the John C. Campbell Folk School in 2008. Check your catalog or go online to to find the dates.
Valerie's blog on myspace is

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Saturday morning I began my day with a full breakfast at the Bayberry restaurant in the Hawthorne Inn. I felt I'd need it in order to accomplish everything on my schedule for that day. JC Walkup invited me to sit with her and another young woman. JC and Buffy Queen had gone to an expensive place for dinner Friday night instead of joining us at the Bayberry. I'm sure they had better food, but I couldn't have had better dinner companions.

Valerie Nieman was instructor for writing narrative poems. Michael Beadle, poet from Canton was in that group. I like Val and found the class interesting. I am a story teller and most of my poetry is narrative.

The class, held in the hospitality room with several large round tables was not the best setup. The room was filled with people of all levels of writing. Val had us do some association of words which gave me ideas of subjects for poems I'd not thought of before.

I wish I'd had time to take all the poetry classes and there were a number of them. Keith, of Asheville Poetry Review, and Tony Abbot among many other poets, led classes.

My second class for the day was with Marjorie Hudson, author of The Search for Virginia Dare. Marjorie led us in a marathon writing class. Nancy Cash and I sat together. Pat Davis was also in the class and she hated it. Nancy and I discovered some issues we plan to write about someday. Poor Nancy lost her notebook with all her notes from THREE conferences in that class. That ruined her day. Marjorie invited us to join her for breakfast on Sunday to discuss publishing. That was a generous gesture on her part. Her class turned out to be much larger than she had expected with 48 students. I found the timed writings fun and helpful.
She used Haven Kimmel's books to illustrate her subjects and Haven is one of my favorite authors.

The biggest problem at the conference was the class rooms were separated and on different floors. Our folders had no instructions as to were they were located. We ran up and down stairs a good bit, but it was good for me, I'm sure, since sitting for long hours is the worse thing for me to do.

Later, I realized there was an elevator I could have used. But my adrenaline was super high and the stairs became easier and easier.

We picked up box lunches in the lobby and found seats in the large room where we had met the night before. Nancy Cash and I ended up sitting together again. She is good company, but was still worried over her lost notebook. I'll tell more about the lunch program in my next post. Hope to learn how to include photos by then.