The annual Sunday with Friends literary series at the Washington County Public Library, Abingdon, Virginia, begins with a talk from Robert Gipe, Jan. 17 at 3 p.m.
Gipe, a Kingsport, Tennessee, native, has written the most original Appalachian novel in recent years. A coming-of-age story, "Trampoline: An Illustrated Novel" is narrated by Dawn Jewell, a 15-year-old living with her addict mother and her grandmother in fictional Canard County, Kentucky. It is a powerful portrait of a community struggling with economic and social forces that threaten and define it. What is unique about the work is that Gipe has illustrated his novel with 220 comic-style drawings that keep the narrative grounded in the world of an Appalachian teenager.
He is the director of the Appalachian Program at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Cumberland, Kentucky. He is one of the producers of "Higher Ground," a series of community musical dramas based on oral histories and grounded in discussion of local issues. He is also a faculty coordinator of the Crawdad student arts series.
Gipe says "I was born in North Carolina in 1963 and was raised in Kingsport, Tennessee, a child of the Tennessee Eastman Company, Pals Sudden Service and the voice of the Vols, John Ward. I have been working on the characters in "Trampoline' since 2006. The sound of people telling one another stories is the most precious sound in the world. Trying to catch that sound on the page is my favorite part of writing. Most of my favorite writing - Flannery O'Connor's stories, the novels of Richard Price and Charles Portis - seems to me written by ear. When writing is going best for me, it's like taking dictation from voices I hear in my head. As far as the drawings go, I have drawn pictures all my life, much longer than I have written stories, and with more compulsion."
The series continues Feb. 7 at 3 p.m., when Martin Clark speaks. Clark, a circuit court judge from Patrick County, Virginia, is being called the greatest contemporary writer of legal thrillers. In "The Jezebel Remedy," when a client dies in a fire, the small town lawyers, Lisa and Joe Stone, suspect the blaze was no accident. That leads them to a corporate conspiracy and some tough ethical choices. Clark is the author of three previous novels, "The Legal Limit," "The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living" and "Plain Heathen Mischief." "The Legal Limit" won the Library of Virginia's prestigious "People's Choice Award."
Daniel Wallace, author of "Big Fish," speaks March 6 at 3 p.m. In collaboration with Barter Theatre, meet Wallace, the author of the fabulistic novel "Big Fish," which has had an international audience after it was made into an award-winning Tim Burton film and a Broadway musical. Barter produces the musical during their spring season. "People mess things up, forget and remember all the wrong things. What's left is fiction," writes Wallace. "Big Fish" ignores conventional retelling of the events and gets right to the poetry of a son's feelings for and memories of his father, mixing in elements of fable and fairy tale to allow the mystery and lyricism of the story to coalesce.
Bristol, Virginia, poet Rufus Skeens leads A Celebration of Regional Poetry April 3 at 3 p.m. Skeens recently published his first volume of poetry, "Lost for Words." Skeens is a retired coal miner who writes his poetry from a working man's perspective, basing his work on his life experiences growing up and working in the coalfields. Poverty, sweat, sorrow - Skeens has lived it and has transformed those experiences into poetry. He has won several awards for his poetry and has been published in many literary journals. Skeens is joined by members of the Appalachian Center for Poets and Writers in this celebration of regional poetry.
Celebrated Southern writer Lee Smith speaks April 24 at 3 p.m. Smith has been writing award-winning fiction for more than 45 years. Now, with "Dimestore: A Writer's Life," she writes her first work of non-fiction, which reflects on the places and people that inspired her to pursue a writing career. She remembers from childhood all of the people whom she observed in her father's Grundy, Virginia, dime store and the gossip she overheard on her family's front porch. As well she highlights her friendship with Abingdon writer Lou Crabtree. Told with great honesty and sensitivity, the work is a moving personal portrait and meditation on embracing one's heritage.
Regional audience favorite Sharyn McCrumb concludes the series May 15 at 3 p.m. McCrumb has written the 11th novel in her Ballad Series set in the Appalachian region, which combine historical research with folklore. Her new work, "Prayers the Devil Answers," is a Depression-era tale about Ellie Robbins who, after her husband's death, is appointed to serve out his term as sheriff of a rural East Tennessee county. Ellie is a strong woman, but she is forced to combat society's expectations of a woman when she has to execute a condemned prisoner with whom she has some tenuous ties.
The "Sunday with Friends" literary series is sponsored by the Friends of the Washington County Public Library. All events are free and open to the public. Most include receptions, book sales and signings. For more information call 276-676-6298 or visit www.wcpl.net.