Back to the 2013 reading list with this entry – an anthology put together by the local writer’s group, the Wordkeepers, where I live: Ashe County, North Carolina. The book, Mountain Memoirs: An Ashe County Anthology is just that – an anthology. So first we’ll talk about what that is, then we’ll talk a bit about the book.
Truth is, now that I think about it, Mountain Memoirs is something more than a mere anthology, something at the same time more intriguing and more discombobulating: an olio. Its eclectic nature makes it both enjoyable – and a little challenging – for the reader.
I came to this book expecting a wide variety of material – and I was not disappointed. There is poetry, experimental fiction, personal essay, anecdote, local history, and, certainly, memoir. The collection is bracketed by pieces by well known authors Lee Smith (short fiction) and Clyde Edgerton (a poem). And there is a collection of anecdotes by well known NC public television host D.G. Martin in the middle.
But it is the lesser known writers who deserve special note here. An essay by Ron Joyner, a “heritage fruit” apple farmer (and philosopher of sorts) could hold its own with the likes of Wendell Berry. A memoir by Rebecca Gummere on a her short sojourn in Ashe County during a failing marriage is better than any memoir you’ll have recommended to you by Oprah – and more honest, too. These are well written pieces that shine.
There are other pieces (recollections by Edith Pierce Jones, Sam Shumate, Fran Cook) that offer the flavor of growing up in the mountains – being, as one writer terms them, one of the “Olds.” There are explanations from former “flatlanders” (Julie Townsend, Becky Stragand, Barbara Lawing) of what drew them to chuck life elsewhere and come to the place once known by the name “The Lost Province.” And there are attempts at rhapsodizing the experience of what the world’s oldest mountains most powerful allure is – nature (essays by Scot Pope, Kimberly Perzel, Janice Pittard). Local history comes in the form of poetry (Mikael Goss), biographical sketch (Diana Renfro) and historical essay (Gene Hafer).
There’s even some reflection on what it means to live in such a place – through gentle, mostly humorous anecdote (D.G. Martin), but also through clear-eyed if forgiving critique (Chris Arvidson) and even some wishful thinking (Nicole Osborne).
It is, for anyone interested in western North Carolina (or life in the Appalachians generally), an enjoyable read. Some of the writing is uneven, but the sincerity and bigheartedness of the writers shine through.
This is clearly a group of love letters to a place. And love letters always deserve reading.
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