Current Winners of the Weatherford Award for Best Books about Appalachia

The winners of the 2017 Weatherford Awards are The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash HarperCollins 2017 (fiction), Palindrome by Pauletta Hansel Dos Madres Press (poetry), and James Still: A Life by Carol Boggess UPKY 2017 (nonfiction).

The Weatherford Awards honor books that “best illuminate the challenges, personalities, and unique qualities of the Appalachian South.” Granted by Berea College and the Appalachian Studies Association for forty-seven years, the awards commemorate the life and achievements of W.D. Weatherford, Sr., a pioneer and leading figure in Appalachian development, youth work, and race relations, and his son, Willis D. Weatherford, Jr., who was Berea College’s sixth President (1967-84).

These winning authors will be recognized at the 2018 Appalachian Studies Conference at the Millennium Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio on April 6th.

Fiction Award

Set in North Carolina, Wiley Cash’s historical novel The Last Ballad re-examines the tragic events of a 1929 textile union strike. The book is published by HarperCollins press.

Wiley Cash lives with his wife and two young daughters in Wilmington, North Carolina. He serves as the writer-in-residence at the University of North Carolina-Asheville and teaches in the Mountainview Low-Residency MFA program. He is the New York Times best-selling author of the novels A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy.

One judge claims The Last Ballad “not only reclaims a nearly forgotten piece of Appalachian history, it explores serious social issues that still plague the country: racism, sexism, capitalism and the exploitation of people and resources, the gap between rich and poor, the loss of innocence, greed, the politics of oppression, and more.” Another judge praises how the “relationship between Ella May and Violet opens the readers’ eyes to the possibility of relationships that have often been ignored in Appalachian literature.”

The finalists for this award were: Jim Minick’s Fire is Your Water from Ohio University’s Swallow Press, Sheryl Monks’ Monsters in Appalachia from the West Virginia University Press, and Kayla Rae Whitaker’s The Animators from Random House Press.

Poetry Award

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a palindrome is “a word or a sequence of words that reads, letter for letter, the same backwards as forwards.” Palindrome, Pauletta Hansel’s sixth poetry collection, follows the vision of the title by exposing how she was her mother’s daughter while also being a caregiver to her mother suffering dementia.

Pauletta Hansel is a poet, memoirist, and teacher who resides in Paddock Hills in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband. She is Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate, leading writing workshops and retreats in the greater Cincinnati area and beyond. Hansel serves as managing editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel and is a core member of the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition.

About Hansel’s collection of poetry, one judge wrote, “This moving collection is a meditation not only on what it means to lose a parent to dementia, but it makes new the meaning of the word palindrome as it journeys back into memory then forward into a diminishing present, seeking all the while a point in time where we can be still, with reverence for those we love most.” Judges also praised the collection for being “very compelling” and using “form and music and image so well.”

The finalists for this award were: Rebecca Gayle Howell’s American Purgatory from Eyewear Publishing, and Ron Houchin’s Planet of the Best Love Songs from Salmon Poetry.

Nonfiction Award

James Still, one of the most beloved and important writers in Appalachian literature, is most easily recognized by his seminal novel River of Earth. Carol Boggess writes the definitive biography of James’ Still’s life in James Still: A Life, published by the University Press of Kentucky. It is described as “everything a biography should be: informed by great research, noted and documented well” and “very well written, meticulously researched, and highly engaging.” This biography is considered by one judge “a major addition to the Appalachian literary canon.”

Carol Boggess lives on her family farm in Yancey County, North Carolina and serves as the president of the Appalachian Studies Association and professor emerita of English at Mars Hill Univeristy. In 1995, she wrote her dissertation on James Still’s River of Earth, leading to a long term interest in the author.  She also serves as a member of the North Carolina Humanities Council.

Boggess “skillfully hints at how (James Still’s) experiences, including a continual and increasing reaching out to distant lands with their own mysteries of people and place, and reaching back to childhood memories of family-linked locales such as Texas, shaped the search for self in his evocative poetry and prose, including his posthumously-published work.”

The finalists for this award were: Olive Dame Campbell’s The Life and Work of John C. Campbell (edited by Elizabeth McCutchen) from the University Press of Kentucky, Ron Lewis’s The Industrialist and the Mountaineer: The Eastham-Thompson Feud and the Struggle for West Virginia’s Timber Frontier from the West Virginia University Press, and Carter Taylor Seaton’s The Rebel in the Red Jeep: Ken Hechler’s Life in West Virginia Politics from the West Virginia University Press.

Nonfiction Winner 2017

James Still: A Life by Carol Boggess

Fiction Winner 2017

The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash

Poetry Winner 2017

Palindrome by Pauletta Hansel