On Wednesday, November 2, the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center was honored to host novelist Denise Giardina, author of Storming Heaven and The Unquiet Earth, for a reading of her work. The center was packed with students, professors, and community members eager to hear her speak.
Berea Junior, Hannah Musick, provided a glowing introduction for Giardina in which she referenced her many awards and recognitions including the 1987 W.D. Weatherford Award and an American Book Award. Then Giardina herself treated the audience to an exclusive reading from the first two chapters of her unpublished memoir. She organized her memoir in terms of animals she owned throughout her early life. Chapter one was based on her cat Tiger, and chapter two centered on her father’s cocker spaniel, Candy. In this way she shared memories such as her parents’ initial relationship, and the issues they later faced when her father gave more attention and affection to Candy than her mother. This sharing of her childhood through memories of household pets captivated the audience and resonated with many.
Giardina’s writing also dealt with important Appalachian issues facing families who live in coal camps. She read about scabs trying to take jobs from mining camps and away from their home states. She discussed the dilemma both she and her parents faced, of staying or leaving their Appalachian home and community. Perhaps most importantly, though, she highlighted the issues faced by children growing up in immigrant families in Appalachia.
After her reading, Berea’s Jason Howard, editor of Appalachian Heritage asked Giardina questions about her childhood, her experiences with activism, and issues involving immigration in regard to the upcoming election. She expressed her horror at Trump’s opinions on immigration, but says she finds hope in the younger generations because they refuse to quit their fight for equality and justice.
When questions were opened up to the floor, Giardina provided thoughtful and complete answers . When asked about her activism and particularly about her participation as a Mountain Party Candidate for Governor of West Virginia, she said that through that campaign she hoped not to be elected, but to raise awareness about issues surrounding Mountain Top Removal. Even though she used to be hugely into activism, she admitted that she feels a bit of a fraud for still claiming the title of activist since she has not been as involved in movements since her draining run for governor.
When the questions came to a close, people flooded to the back of the room for the opportunity to purchase books and obtain Giardina’s signature. Many left that night with a sense they had witnessed an enlightening experience. After all, it is not every day that a person gets to meet a renowned novelist and activist.
Article Written by Emily Masters
To read more about Denise Giardina’s visit to Berea, you can view “A Conversation with Denise Giardina” on the Appalachian Heritage’s website here.