Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review of "Sing Me Back Home" by David Boone

David Boone, Western North Carolina wood carver of nationally renowned fame and accomplished painter and musician, has pulled a new trick out of his hat of artistic talents: that of master story teller. With his newly published book, Sing Me Back Home, Boone at long last brings to the public his Vietnam War stories that give credit to veterans as few books from that time have done.

Told in a voice that is rich with the heritage of the Black Mountains in whose shadows he grew up, Sing Me Back Home is a collection of tales and photographs that bring to life in an often humorous fashion some otherwise very dark moments. “I wanted to tell about the Vietnam War the way I saw it, not how Hollywood tells it,” Boone reports. “So many negative things have been said about this war. All the movies dwell on the gory aspects, on bombing villages, whatever. But that’s not what I saw.”

Boone was drafted into the Army in December of 1966, barely a year after he married Elaine Hensley, also a Yancey County native. Less than a year and many funny tales later, he landed in Cam Ranh Bay to join the 1097 Medium Boat Company, only to discover on his first night there that his arrival would mark the very first time the giant, sprawling base was to come under enemy attack. “I could hear machine gun fire, small arms fire, and mortar rounds coming from everywhere. It did not sound very good,” he dryly recounts. From that point things went down hill fast for the next 12 months, as he so clearly relates in his humorous story teller’s voice honed as a youngster sitting at the feet of his grandfather Ewart Wilson, long regarded as a master story teller of Western North Carolina mountain lore.

Why the humor about such a grizzly experience, one might ask.

“Well, it wasn’t really a lot of fun in Vietnam, but I didn’t want to be a whiner. If you sort of didn’t put a bit of a twist on things, it could get under your skin pretty bad,” Boone explains. “It could get you a bit crazy, and I didn’t want to be that way, so you sort of put a wall up. You needed that wall so that you weren’t upset and nervous all the time.” Humor was that wall.

Boone’s Vietnam book is actually a memoir, recounting how he tried to get into the Nashville music scene, then met his wife Elaine and settled down a bit, and then got his unexpected draft notice at age 27. He recounts in great detail his training experiences and his surprise posting to of all things an Army boat company. His stories unfold through some of the worst fighting in the Mekong Delta, all the way through the infamous Tet Offensive. He does not gloss over the fighting and bloodshed, but he does not dwell on it either. “Everybody knows it was a war,” he notes. Instead, he goes to great pains to humanize his fellow soldiers. “I wanted to tell about what went on between the battles, what we were really like.”

Boone also wanted to leave a legacy to his children and grandchildren, and his next project will continue that effort. Called “Papa’s Bear Stories,” his second book will be a collection of tales as told by his grandfather Ewart Wilson, grandson of Big Tom Wilson, a famous bear hunter and guide from Yancey County.  “My granddaddy, whom we all called ‘Papa’, and his granddaddy did a lot of bear hunting together, and my brother and I heard his wonderful stories over and over again sitting at Papa’s knees. These tales are really worth preserving.”
Review written by Worth Weller.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Writers from the Past: A Call to Writers & Families from the Toe River Anthology 1979

Thirty-five years ago a group of novice writers began meeting in the mezzanine of the Burnsville Library.  Mayland Technical Institute (now Mayland Community College) cosponsored the class with the newly-established Toe River Arts Council. The teacher was a retired English professor from Asheville, Dr. Francis Pledger Hulme, who cajoled, encouraged and teased the 24 members, ages 18 to 80, into producing poetry, fiction and memoirs.  He was so impressed by the writing he was seeing that he suggested publishing an anthology.  Dr. Hulme selected the contents of the Toe River Anthology 1979.  Marilyn Cade illustrated the book, Yancey Graphics produced it, and the Toe River Arts Council sold it until there were no more.

            Some of the original writers continued to write and to meet in a group that adopted the name of The Scribblers and continues to this day.  Others wrote on their own or moved on to other activities or away from the area. Now with an invitation from the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival, a few of the original group plus two from The Scribblers will be on stage in the Burnsville Town Center on Saturday, September 14, at 11:00 a.m. to read from the anthology and from their more recent writing as well. 

The theme of this year’s festival of “Take Me There” befits this reading, which will be given by Donna Jean Dreyer, Susan Larson, Pat Riviere-Seel, and Ruth Pope, and will honor all the writers in the anthology as well as the Scribblers.  Those writers were Sally Burrowes, Gladys Coletta, Mabel Cox, Phyllis Downing, Jewell Hall, Mary and Robert Helmle, Frances Higgins, Dessie Honeycutt, Stormy Honeycutt, Mary Kay Klein, Susan Larson, Carmela Mandala, Dorothy Morgan, Hilda Nocks, Della Ogilvie, Beverly Plummer, Ruth Pope, Barbara Talley, Fred Topping, Leonard Widawski, Carmela and Maurice Woodruff, and Jo Woody.  Family and friends of these writers are especially encouraged to attend the free event.

            Toe River Anthology 1979 is being reprinted and will be available to purchase at the literary festival.  Within the anthology readers will find a broad cross-section of writing, from heartfelt poems to keen observations of nature to deft vignettes about mostly older citizens, some of them written in local dialect.  Mystery, romance, comedy – all forms are in the anthology.  The mountains in Yancey County and up to Tennessee and down to Georgia and west to Cherokee and east to Grandfather Mountain provide the setting for much of the writing.  However, as some of the authors were from “off,” the writing also transports the reader from Paris (Ruth Pope) to New York (Maurice Woodruff) to Oak Park, Illinois (Robert Helmle).  A former mayor of Burnsville, Robert Helmle was a childhood friend of Ernest Hemingway and his memoir “Boyhood Recollections of Ernest Hemingway and His Father,” concludes the anthology. 

            The audience will also learn first-hand what being in the writing group has meant to the four readers.  Poet Pat Riviere-Seel and memoirist Donna Jean Dreyer are both published authors, and Ruth Pope is working on a memoir. 

            Writers or relatives of writers from the anthology are encouraged to contact Susan Larson at 828-765-2652 if they have questions about the event or the book.
written by Susan Larson

Friday, August 30, 2013

Review of "Season of Terror: The Espinosas in Central Colorado, March-October 1863" by Charles Price

What Wallace Stegner does for Utah’s legendary outlaws such as Robert LeRoy Parker (a.k.a. Butch Cassidy) in his 1942 book Mormon Country, Charles F. Price has done for neighboring Colorado in his first book-length foray into non-fiction, Season of Terror: The Espinosas in Central Colorado, March-October, 1863. He has humanized some of the American West’s most ruthless killers.
Written in the lyrical prose that is the hallmark of his highly regarded Civil War novels about Western North Carolina (Hiwassee, 1996, Freedom’s Altar, 1999, The Cock’s Spur, 2002 and Where the Water-Dogs Laughed, 2005), Season of Terror takes Price’s literary talents on a long chase through the rugged mountains of Colorado that overlook the dusty plains of New Mexico. The wild but true story follows the exploits and ultimate ambush and killings of two brothers bent on a revenge fueled murder and mutilation spree that claimed the lives of as many as 32 men, women and children.

Price, who is the winner of the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction along with such other notable North Carolina writers as Reynolds Price (no relation) and Charles Frazier, has deep roots in Colorado too, as his wife Ruth Perschbacher Price is from Salida and has extensive family there. The couple actually tracked down on foot many of the details and locations of the shootings and final killings of the outlaws. The book contains many of his own photos and personally sketched maps, breathing life and a sense of place into a tale that in other writers’ hands might have only been dusty pages of long-forgotten and little-explored history.
What normally might be little more than a footnote in a textbook about 19th century American history, Price turns into a gripping Wild West adventure as he tracks brothers Felipe Nerio and José Vivian Espinosa, who along with their young nephew José Vincente began a reign of terror in the spring of 1863 across the San Luis Valley west of Trinidad. Six months later, as Price documents, they were hunted down and gruesomely beheaded by US Army Scout Thomas Tate Tobin in the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Walsenburg.

Price’s meticulous research vividly tells their story with the help of newspaper accounts from the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Republican, which followed the exploits of the killers on almost a daily basis. His scholarly efforts are praised by historian Stephen J. Leonard, Professor of History and Chairperson of the History Department at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, as being “more than a detailed and gripping account of a raft of killings.” He explains that Price’s work reveals a much larger picture, spanning centuries of conflict between Anglos and Hispanics and painting such a complex tale of Colorado’s early history so different from today’s modern West “that we can imagine it only with the help of an insightful guide.”

Despite his own trekking across the terrain of the Espinosas’ brutal rampage, and despite countless hours poring over newspaper archives and other early accounts of the US Army’s efforts to bring the murderers to ruthless justice, a mystery still remains at the core of Price’s tale. Were the murderers really “desperate and lawless bravos,” as the Denver press described them at the time? Were they the persecuted members of a secretive Catholic sect known as the Penitentes? Were they possibly seeking revenge of the loss of their own small property at that hand of Colorado’s large ranchers? Or, on a more sinister note, were they victims of the broader and more racist effort by Colorado authorities to rid the new U.S. Territory of all vestiges of Hispanic influence following the conclusion just 15 years earlier of the Mexican-American War in which the United States seized more than half a million square miles of Mexican territory, much of which makes up today’s modern southern and western Colorado? Price skillfully addresses these questions but wisely leaves the reader to decide the answers.

Published by the University Press of Colorado, Season of Terror can be ordered from their website at or from both as a hard cover and as a Kindle edition.

review written by Worth Weller



Thursday, September 6, 2012

Review of "The Farmer's Wake" by Anne Maren-Hogan

Review written by local poet Kathy Weisfeld
Anne Maren-Hogan in
The Farmer's Wake, gives us poems as rich in language as the Iowa soil she describes so vividly. Telling stories of generations of women,
we learn about more than farm life and the people who raised her. Her landscapes and portraits are of the emotions and connections felt as she writes of farm seasons and life seasons
stitching it all together with this certainty/of leaving and returning.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Review of "Terroir" by Robert Morgan


Review written by Anne Maren-Hogan

Robert Morgan's newest book of poems "Terroir" lives up to it's name, loosely translated as "a sense of place," which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product. He takes us on a long hike in these southern Appalachians in his poems drawing on science and folklore, Native American history and music. Walking with him through this book leaves one only wanting to go out again to find a path from your place and now with eyes open walk with wonder in the local and familiar, the sacred in the everyday. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Review of "Breaking the Sound Barrier" by Amy Goodman

Review written by Joy Boothe

 “Each person is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.”
- Amy Goodman

In Goodman’s latest book, an anthology of reports from “Democracy Now!” she sticks to the facts whether reporting on climate change, Wall Street bailouts, public healthcare vs private insurance companies or anything else in between.  Goodman gives us information that at times we may wish we didn’t know, but need to know if we are to make informed decisions about the issues of our day. Goodman’s reporting does not rely on propaganda, ties to special interest groups or rhetoric. She is a truth teller. “It is,” she has said, “the responsibility of journalists to go where the silence is, to seek out news and people who are ignored, to accurately and clearly report on the issues…issues that the corporate, for profit media often distort, if they cover them at all. 

 A New York Times bestselling author, journalist and reporter, Goodman has won dozens of awards including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.

I double dog dare you to read this book.  Investigative journalism at its best…hard hitting with no holds barred.