What Our Writers Are Reading

What Our Writers Are Reading

In search of a good book to curl up to during a fall afternoon? We compiled a list of books our contributors have been reading to provide you with some inspiration!

Jeremy B. Jones won the 2014 Appalachian Book of the Year in nonfiction with his book Bearwallow: A Personal History of a Mountain Homeland, and his essays have appeared in several literary magazines. He is from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and teaches creative writing at Western Carolina University.

prairyerth“I’ve spent most of the summer (off and on) reading PrairyErth, by William Least Heat-Moon. It’s hard to describe the book because it seems—from a distance—like it should be an utter failure, but it’s a fascinating project. The subtitle to the book is “a deep map,” and that’s the idea. The writer chooses a section of Kansas (Chase County) and digs in, unearthing its geological, literary, cultural, linguistic, etc. etc. history. I know, I know. This sounds like the driest of projects (did I mention that it’s 640 pages long?), but it’s rich in lyricism and unexpected connection and universality (don’t forget about Eudora Welty’s line: ‘One place understood helps us understand all places better’). It reminds me somewhat of James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men except this writer burrows deeper and deeper rather than roaming across the South. If you’re interested in writing about place, read it. Within the span of two weeks last year, a poet and a climate scientist recommended this book to me, so I figured the odds were pretty good that something worthwhile was in here. They were right.”


ecology-of-a-cracker-childhoodAmy Wright is the nonfiction editor of of Zone 3 Press, Coordinator of Creative Writing at Austin Peay State University, and the author of five chapbooks, as well as the poetry collections Cracker Sonnets and Everything in the Universe. Her writing has appeared in a number of journals including Kenyon Review, Southern Poetry Anthology (Volumes III and VI), and Tupelo Quarterly.

“I bought a copy of Janisse Ray’s memoir Ecology of a Cracker Childhood while doing research for my poetry collection, Cracker Sonnets, looking for permission to imbue a more often derogatory term with love and respect. Although Ray grew up in the pine flatwoods of South Georgia and I grew up on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains, we both were ‘born from people who were born from people who were born from people who were born here’ and recognized the often contrary nature of that inheritance. What caught me off guard and made this book so appealing was the depth and beauty of her environmental portrait and sorrow for the devastation of natural resources. I read her Ecology before I read The Sixth Extinction, but it is no less a call to action than the Pulitzer Prize winner. In fact, Ray adds this dimension, which is profoundly emotional for me: ‘Culture springs from the actions of people in a landscape, and what we, especially Southerners, are watching is a daily erosion of unique folkways as our native ecosystems and all their inhabitants disappear.'”


a-month-in-the-countryJesse Graves is the author of two poetry collections, including Basin Ghosts, and Tennessee Landscape with Blighted Pine which won the Weatherford Award, the Appalachian Writers’ Association Book of the Year in Poetry, and the Thomas and Lillie D. Chaffin Award. He is a native of Sharps Chapel, Tennessee, and teaches at East Tennessee State University.

One book I read recently that I couldn’t put down is the novel A Month in the Country, by J.L. Carr, published in 1980, and set nearly a century ago in England. The book sat on my shelf untouched for a long time, and caught my eye unexpectedly as summer was drawing near, and I thought about some time in the country that I might be able to spend myself. The narrator of the novel, Birkin, is a World War I veteran, deeply troubled and damaged by his time in the war, who has come to a small village to work on restoring a Medieval painting in a church vestibule. The story, and the use of local speech and landscape, made me think of a later version of Thomas Hardy or Willa Cather. As the narrator begins to uncover segments of the painting, buried under centuries of soot and grime, I couldn’t help thinking about the way poems are discovered, not necessarily all at once, but maybe one layer at a time. Birkin thinks of himself as a laborer, and not an artist, but through his patience and skill the work of art is revealed. In his meditations on the anonymous painter’s techniques, and on the rich new life he shares with his acquaintances in the village, I believe the narrator shows us something about the way art can heal the spirit, and help us find a home in the world.”

Dylan Mullins is a Student Associate at Appalachian Heritage. A senior at Berea College, he is in pursuit of an English (Writing) major and in the summer of 2015 he was an editorial intern with Sierra Magazine in San Francisco. When he's not writing, he's usually biking, film making, or listening to podcasts.

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  1. Pingback: Jesse featured in Appalachian Heritage’s “What Our Writers Are Reading” – Jesse Graves

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