VINTON–The Vinton Library opened on November 18 and kicked-off their new library programs with best-selling author Sharyn McCrumb on November 19.
McCrumb, who lives in Roanoke County, read from and discussed several of her historical novels set in the southern mountains of the Appalachian region.
She has won numerous awards for her contributions to southern and Appalachian literature. She was named a Virginia Woman of History by the Library of Virginia and was awarded the Mary Hobson Prize for Arts & Letters in 2014.
McCrumb presents programs at universities, libraries, and other organizations across the country, has taught a writer’s workshop in Paris, and served as writer-in-residence at King University in Tennessee and the Chautauqua Institute in New York. Her works have been translated into 11 languages.
She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned her Master’s degree in English from Virginia Tech.
McCrumb spoke in Vinton to a full house of fans and soon-to-be-fans on “Chronicling the History and Folklore of the Mountain South.”
She said her purpose in writing and talking about her writing is to “let people know who we are and where we came from.”
Her inspiration comes from great-grandfathers who were circuit preachers in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains a hundred years ago, riding horseback over the ridges to preach in a different community each week.
McCrumb showcased four of her “Appalachian Ballad” novels—“King’s Mountain,” “Ghost Riders,” “The Ballad of Tom Dooley,” and “Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past,” all set in North Carolina and Tennessee.
She shared the history of settlers who migrated to the region, most often of Scottish, Irish, Welsh, and Cornish descent. McCrumb said often those settlers left their native lands for political and economic reasons and because “they didn’t play well with others.” Once they came to America, they didn’t like living close-in in Boston, New York, or Savannah, and started heading west through the valleys running north and south.
Curiously they left the mountains and valleys of their homelands and ended up in mountains which 250 million years ago were joined before the Atlantic Ocean came into existence. The clue to that geographical fact lies in a vein of the mineral serpentine which stretches from Alabama through Nova Scotia and across to the British Isles and eventually the Arctic Circle.
“More than two hundred and fifty million years ago (before even fish existed yet) the mountains of Appalachia and the mountains of Great Britain fit together like a jigsaw puzzle,” said McCrumb. “Continental drift pulled them apart, at the same time it formed the Atlantic Ocean. The settlers were right back in the same mountains they had left behind in Britain.”
She discussed the extensive research necessary to write each historical novel through visits to the sites where her books are set, documentation through archives, and assistance from historians, lawyers, and other researchers in developing each story.
Her novel “King’s Mountain” is based on a battle declared by Thomas Jefferson to be the turning point of the American Revolution, but scarcely mentioned in traditional history books. “Ghost Riders” is set during the Civil War. One goal in her writing is “to speak for the dead and forgotten,” in history, not just the well-known heroes and villains.
She also addressed the effect of wars on women, quoting from author Margaret Mitchell that “wars change women,” as they do many of her characters.
The true story which she uncovered in the “The Legend of Tom Dooley” bears little resemblance to the popular folk tune the story inspired.
The final book she read from was “Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past,” which involves the gift of the “Sight.”
McCrumb has a new novel coming out in May 2016, “Prayers the Devil Answers,” about the last public execution in the United States which took place during the Depression in 1936. It was carried out by homemaker-turned-sheriff Ellie Robbins, as the result of a string of unusual occurrences in her beleaguered life. She was appointed to serve out her husband’s term upon his death and duty-bound to carry out the execution of a convicted murderer.
At the conclusion of her talk, McCrumb chatted and signed books for her readers.