Winners of the Weatherford Awards for the best books about Appalachia in 2017 are The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash (fiction), Palindrome by Pauletta Hansel (poetry), and James Still: A Life by Carol Boggess (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 47 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 6.
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.
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 (2012) and This Dark Road to Mercy (2014).
One judge says 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 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 West Virginia University Press, and Kayla Rae Whitaker’s The Animators from Random House Press.
Palindrome, Pauletta Hansel’s sixth poetry collection, follows the title’s vision by balancing her experience as a daughter while being a caregiver to her mother who is suffering dementia. 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.”
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.
A judge said Hansel’s collection of poetry “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 Hansel’s 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.
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 Still in James Still: A Life, published by the University Press of Kentucky.
Deemed by one judge as “a major addition to the Appalachian literary canon,” others describe it as “everything a biography should be: very well written, meticulously researched and highly engaging.” 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.”
Boggess lives on her family farm in Yancey County, North Carolina. She serves as the president of the Appalachian Studies Association and professor emerita of English at Mars Hill University. In 1995, Boggess wrote her dissertation on 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.
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 West Virginia University Press, and Carter Taylor Seaton’s The Rebel in the Red Jeep: Ken Hechler’s Life in West Virginia Politics from West Virginia University Press.