The Virginia Festival of the Book started yesterday, in Charlottesville, but today was my first visit and I only had time to go to one session. But what a terrific session it was!
I went to “Stories from Appalachia,” not least because Ron Rash was going to be reading from his new book, The World Made Straight. The book is about an older man who has taken some wrong turns in his life and the younger man whom he tries to steer in the right direction. The section that Ron read sounded like it is a critical moment in the book, when the older man comments that “landscape is destiny,” and listens to Handel’s “Messiah,” from which Rash has taken the title. Many of the folks who read these posts know Ron and have heard him read in his rich, lyrical drawl, and you can probably imagine the packed room hanging on every word. Ron also read a very moving section from his first novel, One Foot in Eden, in which the narrator has to deal with the fact that his young wife is pregnant with another man’s child. It was nice to talk briefly with Ron, whom I know from the Queens University of Charlotte MFA Program (although I just noticed that they really need to update Ron’s bio!).
Also reading was Gwyn Hyman Rubio, with whom I chatted for a few minutes because Jim Tomlinson sent his greetings (they were once neighbors). Gwyn first read from her first book, Icy Sparks (the Oprah’s Book Club selection that made Rubio’s name), because again the notion that the landscape, or she uses the word “geography,” is so important to character, and in that book the title character is isolated both by the mountains of Appalachia and by her medical condition, which we now know as Turrette’s Syndrome. Gwyn also read from her new book, The Woodsman’s Daughter, an epic set in post-Civil War Georgia and loosely based on her own family’s story. We also talked briefly about our respective Peace Corps experiences (hers in Costa Rica and mine in Korea). As it turns out, there are reviews of her books at PeaceCorpsWriters.org that you may find interesting.
Also on the panel, and also very compelling, were James Person, reading from his biography of local hero Earl Hamner, and Joe Jackson, talking about his novel, How I Left the Great State of Tennessee and Went on to Better Things.
For me it was an excellent start to the Festival.