In the beginning was the word, I heard Tom Wolfe say during a recent radio interview, and I had to laugh. For weeks, words had flooded my PO box, my car, house, computer. Even as Wolfe spoke I was in the middle of judging a fiction contest with the help of writers Jon Manchip White and David Hunter. It was a humbling experience. I was holding a dozen stories I would've been proud to award top prize.
Words are everywhere. I'm sure I saw one scurry under the toaster just now. Last night, as this is written, I composed an entire column in my dreams. I could read every word on two stapled pages and they made perfect sense. I was so relieved to have the job done.
Then I realized I'd slept in and the column wasn't written. Oh my, what could I write about on such short notice? I fell back on familiar ground. Words would do in a rush. They're in vogue hereabouts just now. New novels, prizes and writing classes have never been more in evidence.
* Un-cinch your gun-belt and prepare for a hearty feast should you pick up Allen Wier's novel, “Tehano” (Southern Methodist University Press, 2006). Weighing in at over 700 pages with narrow margins, the book commands salutary praise. Larry McMurtry, author of “Lonesome Dove” wrote, “Tehano is a rich, ambitious, satisfying novel.” Erstwhile Knoxville novelist, David Madden, summed it up so, “From the antebellum era, through the Civil War and Reconstruction, Wier's characters—African American freedmen and slaves, Native American warriors and their women, Confederate and Union veterans, immigrants, and citizens high and low—pitch up in Comanche Territory in Texas, enacting their destinies….” Novelist Richard Bausch calls the book, “Perhaps the finest achievement of my generation.”
* Poet and teacher Jeff Daniel Marion will receive the Knoxville Writers' Guild 2006 Career Achievement Award at a gala beginning 6 p.m. Thursday, June 8 at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, 2931 Kingston Pike. Esteemed News-Sentinel columnist and author Fred Brown will emcee, and there'll be a live band and refreshments. I'd sworn off getting involved this year, but I can't resist putting in a good word for Marion. The retired Carson Newman teacher is so deserving of this recognition. Marion's poetry, short stories and essays have graced journals and books for decades. "Ebbing & Flowing Springs: New and Selected Poems and Prose, 1976-2001" (Celtic Cat, 2002) won the Independent Publisher Award in Poetry, and the Appalachian Writers Association named it Appalachian Book of the Year.
Tickets are $18 general admission and $12 students, and can be purchased at the door or at www.knoxvillewritersguild.org.
* Could that be “Carved in Bone” (William Morrow, 2006) by one Jefferson Bass sneaking up local bestseller lists? Yes, reports, reviews and rumors are true. Jefferson Bass is not a he, but rather a “them.” Dr. William Bass, one of the world's most famous forensic anthropologists, plus Jon Jefferson, writer and documentary filmmaker have hit a homerun. The book is getting excellent reviews for its plotting and suspense and richly drawn characters, who just might yet make Jefferson Bass two of the best-known people ever to answer by one name in East Tennessee.
* Maybe students from Dr. James Overholt's Appalachian History Class at Sevier County High School will see such a book into print one day. Already they're enjoying the heady experience of reading their own words in a volume called “These Living Hills” (SCHS, 2006). Overholt has assembled poems like leaves from a family album. The book is dedicated to the memory of Jim Wayne Miller, legendary Kentucky author, and it's a fitting tribute awash in imagery Miller would appreciate. Savor words from Birkin Gilmore's poem, “Poppies.” “I wish I knew the name to hold you / Like the moon is held in an old stump / Filled with rainwater….”
* Maybe you know my friend, Flora Bray, of LaFollette. If so, you'll be pleased to learn she has finally seen her book, "Wednesday's Child" into print (Pure Heart Press, 2006) with the help of her husband, Harlan, and poet Sarah Mate. Those three have been stalwarts of my writing class the past seven or eight years. I asked Flora what others are saying about this heart-breaking yet affirmative memoir, and the answer she gave was the same I always hear from this book's readers. “I couldn't put it down." No wonder. Flora writes as if the very Earth were speaking its mind. Her style is primitive, direct and so honest it brings chills. Over the years I've had the pleasure of attending writing round tables where dozens of people—many of them more “educated” or “sophisticated” than Flora, have fallen under the spell of her deceptive simplicity. Like them, you will never forget “Wednesday's Child” should you pick it up. Promise.