Y’all please excuse me for this post. It’s a bit of a bragging one, so my apologies up front. I just can’t be hush about this any longer. Over a year ago now, I was contacted by the brilliant Dr. Sylvia Shurbutt. Dr. Shurbutt is professor of English, Appalachian Heritage WIR Project Director, and Director of Shepherd University Center for Appalachian Studies and Communities in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. I’d met Dr. Shurbutt only once before and rather briefly at the Appalachian Studies Convention where I was awarded the Weatherford Award by Kentucky’s Berea College.
She was calling to tell me that Shepherd University had named me their Appalachian Heritage Writer for 2018. This year’s honor has been bestowed upon Crystal Wilkerson, a deeply stirring novelist whose Birds of Opulence I highly recommend. To say I was dumbstruck by Dr. Shurbutt’s call would be an understatement. There are days I’m not even sure I’m a writer at all. Days when I feel like a total fraud of a writer. For pity’s sake, I don’t even have a Wikipedia page. How can anyone be a writer of merit without a Wikipedia page these days?
But, sure enough, I found myself on a plane last September headed off to Washington, D.C. and onto Shepherdstown, West Virginia, for a series of readings, workshops, etc. The community embraced me and my work with so many kindnesses, I actually felt like I might have contributed something worthwhile to the reading community at large (other than Twitter & FB posts). Every writer comes to the page with certain hopes and expectations and goals in mind. Just as every reader does.
I write hard things. Sometimes I do that in entertaining ways. Sometimes I do that with a sense of humor at play. But without question if you pick up a book of mine, you are going to come away struggling with questions and realities you might not have dealt with prior. I make no apologies for that. Do I wish I were the beloved popular writer? Sure. Every writer, whether they admit to it or not, wants their work to resonate with as many people as possible. One of the gifts of growing older – and there are many – is that you learn to embrace who Creator designed you to be and to live in the fullness of that. I have given up on being a romance writer and having a career with Hallmark movies.
Being named the Appalachian Heritage Writer has been one of the highlights of my writing career. Dr. Shurbutt introduced a host of readers to my works. I was invited to travel to Spain and France with a group of students and community members in April of this year, to retrace the steps of the character BURDY in the second book of the Appalachian Series (MOTHER OF RAIN, BURDY, CHRISTIAN BEND, all published by the great staff at Mercer University Press). I had the honor of reading the works of new writers and picking those I deemed best as winners of the West Virginia Fiction Competition for 2018.
Reading the works of new writers is one of my favorite things. I am often blown away by the insights and style choices of new writers. I remember the first time I read Donald Ray Pollock. I went immediately in search of as much information on him as I could find. The same with reading Natalie Sypolt’s The Sound of Holding Your Breath, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. Don’t you find that when you happen across a writer you enjoy that you want to know more about them? What is it about their life’s experiences that gives them their voice? I found myself wondering that many times as I read the works of the entries into the Fiction Competition. Who were these writers? What helped shape them?
Fortunately, you, too, can read the works of these new writers and maybe some of your favorites in the recently released Anthology of Appalachian Writers Karen Spears Zacharias Volume XI (published by Shepherd University and the West Virginia Center for the Book). Several of the contributors did a reading before a packed house last week at Four Seasons Bookstore in Shepherdstown. Four Seasons has the anthology for sale. There will be more readings in the future and I will return to Shepherd in September to join others for another event.
As we approach the anniversary of my father’s death in Vietnam next week, I am once again reminded of how even through his absence he shaped the woman and writer I would become. Those of you who have lost loved ones know that there are always moments when you long for the opportunity to share a bit of good news with the dead. I can’t pick up the phone and call Mama or Daddy to have them rejoice with me over this thing of which I am very proud. So I hope you won’t mind me sharing it with you instead. Thank you for your indulgences.
I hope you will pick up a copy of the Anthology, and if you are a librarian or bookstore owner or an academic or a book club who would like to host a reading with me or any of the other writers featured, please feel free to reach out. We will arrange something. To order copies of the Anthology, please contact Four Seasons Bookstore @ (304) 876-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen Spears Zacharias is the author of eight books. She is currently in rewrites on her ninth book.