On Tuesday, April 9, the Spring Literary Festival held “Grit Lit Day,” celebrating authors that exposed the harsh lifestyles of Southern living in their novels.
Western Carolina University professor and published author Ron Rash introduced the two authors that presented at 4 p.m. in the University Center Theater, Chris Holbrook and Mark Powell.
Holbrook spoke first. Rash described him as an “underrated writer,” who “doesn’t make the South Hollywood or ‘Deliverance’.” Rash read a paragraph from one of Holbrook’s short stories before Holbrook took the stage.
Holbrook, a professor at Moorehead State University in Kentucky, read the entire title piece of his collection of short stories titled “Upheaval.” Dressed in a button-down shirt and glasses, he intently looked down at the page for the whole length of the reading before immediately stepping down when he was done.
Rash introduced Powell as “a young writer that’s gone about being a strong writer,” who is “very well read” and “not worried about self promotion.” Rash sang him high praise by referring to Powell as the “best fiction writer of his generation in Appalachian literature.”
Powell took the stage in a white button-down shirt and tan jacket. He first told an anecdote about the first time he met WCU professor Pamela Duncan, who puts together the Spring Literary Festival. They met at a writers workshop, and both served kitchen duty. Powell worked specifically on dish duty, washing gigantic tongs. Ultimately, the punch line dealt with Powell yelling at Duncan, “Woman, get your hands off my tongs!”
Powell read the first chapter of a new piece of work not yet published. The narrative had wonderful characterization, showing off great detail about each of the main character’s family members through the character’s personal thoughts and experiences. Powell also immediately left the stage when he was finished reading. There was no Q & A session.
Later that night, WCU welcomed Daniel Woodrell, the author of novel “Winter’s Bone.” Rash delivered an inspiring introduction for Woodrell. Rash mentioned that Woodrell is the author of nine novels and many short stories. He also went on to say, “. . .that ‘Winter’s Bone’ has an amazing opening that gives us everything, the reader, needs to know about the main character and her world. I use this opening often when teaching my fiction writing class.”
The University Center Theater was buzzing with anticipation as Woodrell stepped up to the podium. Woodrell began by giving a short run down of where he was from. He spoke of the Ozark mountains and the willingness of the people there to continually go against the grain of the nation.
Woodrell stated, “As an author I have learned to recognize the value of gossip, especially that of smaller towns. It [gossip] tends to lead to an understanding of a region and people.”
Woodrell spoke of his new novel that “started from a chestnut hear around the dinner table.”
As he read from his new novel, the words swarm and dance in the air; he is one of the authors who can spin a tale that weaves around the readers. Although the excerpt was exceptional, it was his short story “Uncle,” which is about a niece who disposes of her perverse uncle when she sees that he is recuperating from his injuries, that enthralled the audience. Woodrell described his short story as “gothic with a folklore sound.”
When asked how he felt about the changes the movie made to “Winter’s Bone” Woodrell stated, “I was prepared for them to make adjustments, and I was happy with the faithfulness of the movie adaptation.”
In the Question and Answer session, Woodrell was shocked when a student asked him about the recurrence of the angel statutes that turn black. Woodrell stated that the student was the first to vocally acknowledge that fact.
When asked why there was so much darkness in his novels and short stories, Woodrell stated, “I don’t believe in shoving happy endings where they are not. In my experience, tragedy has more to say.”
Woodrell was extremely charismatic and willing to answer the questions that were posed to him. As the theater emptied, there were constant words of praise sent his way and a long line of students, faculty and community member’s buying his books and asking for autographs.
Rash stated, “[Woodrell] is a writer’s writer. He writes lasting works that will stand the test of time.”