WE HAVE AUTHORS: RECLAIMING OUR
MULTICULTURAL LITERARY HISTORY; A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF SELECTED GENRES AND AUTHORS, REVISED
At Davis' death, a New York Times news story compared her power and realism to Emile Zola whom, Olsen points out, Davis had preceded by two decades (113). Davis, according to Olsen, "was not derivative.
Her pioneering firsts in subject matter are unequaled in American literature. She extended the realm of fiction" (116). Davis' Life in the Iron Mills is now used in some women's studies classes since its introduction by Olsen at Amherst College in 1969.
Like Davis, another of our writers capitalized on the important topics of an era. In the 1899 novel Daughter of the Elm, journalist and historian Granville Davisson Hall, described lawlessness on the highways of isolated western Virginia (the Shinnston area of Harrison County) at the outbreak of the Civil War. Through chronicling the exploits of a marauding gang led by "Handsome Harry" Edmund, Hall explores family loyalty and the mountain code of honor through the title character, Loraine, Harry's morally steadfast sister.
Another Harrison countian, Melville Davisson Post, (no relation to Hall) became so financially successful as an author he discontinued his law practice to write full-time. His novels and stories often featured a devious lawyer who circumvents the judicial system; however, Post wrote in other genres as well. His "detective-like" stories featured one of his most popular characters, the straight-shooting Uncle Abner, a horseback-riding, Appalachian crime solver from western Virginia.
Post is perhaps best remembered for his novel The Mountain School-Teacher, a tale of a Christ-like mountain teacher. In a book-length study of Post's work, author Charles A. Norton comments, "There were some who considered this work worthy of nomination for the Nobel Prize Award, and the critics in 1922 were thoroughly impressed" (46). Norton also notes that Post's book, Dwellers in the Hills," should definitely be rated as a minor classic of American literature" (26). While not centered historically on Post's African-American boyhood friend, Orange Jud, the story sheds light on racial relationships of the post-Civil War era.
In 1919 the O. Henry Memorial Awards, established by the Society of Arts and Science of New York City, paid tribute to the memory of William Sydney Porter (O. Henry). The academy named Post a runner-up for first place, which went to another contemporary West Virginia writer, Margaret Prescott Montague of White Sulphur Springs.
Montague saw her novel, The Sowing of Alderson Cree, produced by the film industry in 1920 as "Seeds of Vengeance." According to the Center for Film and Video Preservation, a second film company released a motion picture based on her book Uncle Sam of Freedom Ridge the same year. She also retold tall-tales featuring a marvelously mythical logging hero named Tony Beaver, a friend of Paul Bunyan. She immortalizes Tony in Up Eel River, a collection of seven folktales culled from West Virginia's rich oral tradition.
One of our least read and most deserving writers, Clarksburg's Hubert Skidmore, was in the "limbo of lost authors" for decades. Skidmore is best remembered for his controversial social protest novel Hawk's Nest. The story spins fiction from history with breath-taking detail:
West Virginia fiction writers use many of the state's historical events and characters as inspiration for their novels' plots. In fact, West Virginia may be one of the few states to have its history recorded in both novel and poetic form, thanks to the works of Mary Lee Settle and Louise McNeill Pease. (noteł)
National Book Award winner Mary Lee Settle, whose family home place has been in Kanawha County since prior to the Civil War, explores the history of the state in five novels known collectively as "The Beulah Quintet." The quintet opens with Prisons, set in Cromwell's war-torn England, and subsequent novels follow the flood of freedom-seeking immigrants to an area much like Charleston, West Virginia. Settle calls it Canona. O Beulah Land, Know Nothing, The Scapegoat, and The Killing Ground complete the "Quintet," offering historical slices of West Virginia.
According to Settle scholar George Garrett, author of Understanding Mary Lee Settle," the central accomplishment of Mary Lee Settle's art has been the creation of the 'Beulah Quintet'. . .[and] Settle's remarkable accomplishment stands alone in its time" (8-10). Settle is definitely a superstar in the current world of letters, but the state has its share of National Book Award first-place winners or finalists. Novelists Davis Grubb and John Knowles, poet P. J. Laska, children's writers Betsy Byars and Cynthia Rylant, and inspirational writer Catherine Marshall all have connections to West Virginia and can lay claim to the honor.
Several West Virginians are recipients of Berea College's Weatherford Award including Rodger Cunningham; Henry Lewis Gates, Jr.; Homer H. Hickam, Jr.; and Denise Giardina. Giardina received the award in 1987 for the year's most significant work of Appalachian fiction for Storming Heaven and again in 1992 for its sequel, The Unquiet Earth. In addition, The Unquiet Earth won the Lillian Smith Award for, "a novel making a contribution to the understanding of the South." The roster for the Smith Award includes Mary Lee Settle and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Both gates and Giardina hold the American Book Award for the years 1989 and 1993 respectively.
West Virginia authors continue to merit inclusion in the O. Henry Memorial Award Prize story collections with Pearl Buck, Mary Lee Settle, Jayne Anne Phillips, Richard Currey, William Hoffman, and Pinckney Benedict, following in the footsteps of Montague and Post. Currey's 1988 inclusion made it a doubly special year: West Virginia University Assistant Professor Gail Galloway Adams also won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction for her collection of short stories The Purchase of Order. The complete record of winners of selected awards is on MountainLit, as is a section on children's authors.
Visitors to the children's section
quickly ascertain the diversity and quality of the state's children's
authors as they view photographs of, and quality of the state's
children's authors as they view photographs of, and read about, Newbery Medal and Honor winners Betsy
Byars, Julia Davis, Jean Lee
Latham, Walter Dean Myers, and Cynthia Rylant.
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