Weatherford Award Winners for Best Appalachian Books Announced

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 35 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 of his son, Willis D. Weatherford, Jr., late Berea College President.

The winners of the 2014 Weatherford Awards are Susan Spalding’s Appalachian Dance (non-fiction), Marie Manilla’s The Patron Saint of Ugly (fiction), and Jesse Graves’s Basin Ghosts (poetry).  Receiving the first Special Weatherford Award given since 1999 is Every Leaf a Mirror:  A Jim Wayne Miller Reader edited by Morris Allen Grubbs and Mary Ellen Miller.

They winners will be discussing their books at the Appalachian Studies Association Conference on Saturday, March 28, at 4:00 in room 102 of the Roger-Stout building at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee.

Non-Fiction Award

Susan Eike Spalding’s Appalachian Dance: Creativity and Continuity in Six Communities (University of Illinois Press) draws on 25 years’ worth interviews with people (black and white) from Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky to delve into the social history and meaning of the dance movement and its evolving traditions.  

An emerita professor of physical education and director of dance programs at Berea College, Spalding’s work has focused on how intercultural exchange and other forces have shaped Appalachian dance.  She has advised festivals, co-produced films, and edited books about that subject.  She currently chairs the Appalachian Studies Association’s committee on Diversity and Inclusiveness.

One Weatherford non-fiction judge calls Spalding’s work a “superb, scholarly book on a topic that’s often discussed but rarely investigated closely.”  Another judge writes, “Appalachian Dance is not just for people interested in dance or in artistic expression. It speaks to a larger audience interested in the experiences of people in Appalachia—experiences conditioned by local and national changes in demographics, migration, economics, politics, social trends, and folk revivals. This volume describes the ebb and flow of community.”

Finalists for the non-fiction Weatherford award are Jeremy B. Jones’s Bearwallow: A Personal History of a Mountain Homeland; Steven Cox (ed.) and Emma Bell Miles’s Once I Too Had Wings: The Journals of Emma Bell Miles, 1908-1918; Matthew Ferrence’s All American Redneck; and Linda Spatig and Layne Amerikaner’s Thinking Outside the Girl Box: Teaming Up with Resilient Youth in Appalachia.

Fiction Award

The Weatherford Award for best Appalachian fiction goes to Marie Manilla’s The Patron Saint of Ugly (Mariner Books), whose West Virginian protagonist reveals her family’s story as recorded on tapes and has “a mop of flaming red hair and a map of the world rendered in port-wine stains on every surface of her body.”  The publisher describes the novel as “a lush, exuberant tale of a reluctant saint, her unforgettable family, and the myriad difficulties (some real, some imagined) we all face when it comes to loving and being loved.”

Manilla, who lives in Huntington, W. Va., is graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and her fiction appears in such venues as the Chicago Tribune, Prairie Schooner, and Mississippi ReviewThe Patron Saint is her second novel, and her collection of short stories is Still Life with Plums.

Weatherford fiction judges call The Patron Saint of Ugly “comedic and heartbreaking.”  The novel looks into “the complexities of the old lives and traditions of Italian immigrants juxtaposed with the lives of their youngest generations,” and focuses on issues of “prejudice, bias, and bullying” while exploring “race, class, and equality for women in the new Appalachia.”  Another judge concluded, “I could not put this one down, nor could I stop thinking about it once I finished it.”

Finalists for the Weatherford award in fiction include Charles Dodd White’s A Shelter of Others and Laura Long’s Out of Peel Tree.

Poetry Award

Jesse Grave’s Basin Ghosts (Texas Review Press) is the 2014 Weatherford poetry award recipient for best book of Appalachian poetry.  Graves teaches at East Tennessee State University and grew up in rural northeastern Tennessee, where his family has lived since the 1780s.  Basin Ghosts is Graves’s second book of poems, the first of which, Tennessee Landscape with Blighted Pine, also won a Weatherford.

As explained by his publisher, Graves’s poems examine life in rural Appalachia ”and changes that have occurred over generations in communities there, and the ways in which the past lives on through memory and attachment to the land.”

One Weatherford judge explains that Basin Ghost’s “has a retrospection for personal and regional histories that resonates with a wide audience. We are captured by what he is showing us, and that is a key to fine storytelling. The poetry asks questions about ‘what happened to those histories’ and ‘where are we now because of them?’”

Another judges explains, “There’s a haunting delicacy to the work in this book; each word carrying weight, load bearing, yet simple and fresh: ‘The story passes down scant as noon shade.’”

Weatherford poetry finalists are Jane Hicks’s Driving with the Dead; Don Johnson’s More than Heavy Rain; and Llewellyn McKernan’s The Sound of One Tree Falling.

Special Award

Every Leaf a Mirror:  A Jim Wayne Miller Reader edited by Morris Allen Grubbs and Mary Ellen Miller is the recipient of the first Special Weatherford Award since 1999.  Jim Wayne Miller (1936 – 1996) was, and continues to be, an inspirational catalyst for Appalachians.  Every Leaf a Mirror brings together powerful samples of Miller’s poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and essays.

Jim Wayne Miller came from the mountains of North Carolina, graduated from Berea College in 1958, and received his Ph.D. in German and American Literature from Vanderbilt University in 1965.  For the next 33 years, he served as a Professor of German language and literature at Western Kentucky University.  Author and editor of 26 books and chapbooks, Miller taught as a poet in the schools, held workshops in many universities, and advocated for Appalachia and Appalachian literature.

In his Afterword to Every Leaf a Mirror, novelist Silas House explains that Miller’s writing “has had a profound impact on me and most of the Appalachian writers I know.  I have witnessed his work transforming young people who come into contact for the first time.  His writing inspires them to action.”

Chris Green, director of Berea College’s Loyal Jones Appalachian Center, shares, “Miller’s visionary thinking about Appalachian literature continues to help us see how words are a living, transformative force between people—in our homes, libraries, schools, publishing houses, universities, and hearts—throughout and beyond the mountains.”

As the preacher-narrator in Miller’s iconic long-poem “The Brier Sermon” offers, “You’ve heard it said you can’t put new wine in old bottles. / Well, I don’t know. / But don’t be too sure you’re new wine. / Maybe we’re all old wine in new bottles.”

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