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Celebrated as the “Dean of Appalachian Literature,” James Still has won the appreciation of audiences in Appalachia and beyond for more than seventy years. The author of the classics River of Earth (1940) and The Wolfpen Poems (1986), Still is known for his careful prose construction and for the poetry of his meticulous, rhythmic style. Upon his death, however, one manuscript remained unpublished. Still’s friends, family, and fellow writer Silas House will now deliver this story to readers, having assembled and refined the manuscript to prepare it for publication. Chinaberry, named for the ranch that serves as the centerpiece of the story, is Still’s last and perhaps greatest contribution to American literature.
Chinaberry follows the adventures of a young boy as he travels to Texas from Alabama in search of work on a cotton farm. Upon arriving, he discovers the ranch of Anson and Lurie Winters, a young couple whose lives are defined by hard work, family, and a tragedy that haunts their past. Still’s entrancing narrative centers on the boy’s experience at the ranch under Anson’s watchful eye and Lurie’s doting care, highlighting the importance of home, whether it is defined by people or a place.
In this celebration of the art of storytelling, Still captures a time and place that are gone forever and introduces the reader to an unforgettable cast of characters, illustrating the impact that one person can have on another. A combination of memoir and imagination, truth and fiction, Chinaberry is a work of art that leaves the reader in awe of Still’s mastery of language and thankful for the lifetime of wisdom that manifests itself in his work.
James Still (1906–2001) was the author of several works of fiction and poetry, including River of Earth, The Wolfpen Poems, and From the Mountain, From the Valley.
Silas House is the bestselling author of Clay’s Quilt, A Parchment of Leaves, The Coal Tattoo, Eli the Good, and Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal. House is NEH Chair in Appalachian Studies at Berea College.
“Chinaberry is the capstone of James Still’s extraordinary career. It is brilliant—dark and hilarious by turns, beautiful and chilling, perhaps the most original coming of age story ever written, with a mystery lodged right in the heart of it.”—Lee Smith, author of Saving Grace
“Superbly edited by Silas House, Chinaberry is further confirmation that James Still is not only a great Appalachian writer but a great American writer.”—Ron Rash, author of One Foot in Eden
"To some it may seem the recent surge of fiction and poetry in and about the Southern Appalachians is a phenomenon appearing from a vacuum. But as any reader of James Still’s writing knows, there is a long and distinguished foreground to this contemporary revival. James Still was a consummate artist of poetry, short fiction, and the novel. His fans will be excited to have this new work, Chinaberry, expertly introduced and edited by Silas House. New readers will be thrilled to discover the range and depth of this classic master."—Robert Morgan, author of Gap Creek
"Chinaberry, named for the ranch that serves as the centerpiece of the story, is Still's last and perhaps greatest contribution to American literature. A combination of memoir and imagination, truth and fiction, Chinaberry is a work of art that leaves the reader in awe of Still's mastery of language and thankful for the lifetime of wisdom that manifests itself in his work."—Lee Smith, Mountain Echo
"James Still is a master . . . one who in execution is virtually flawless, in touch and ear so nearly perfect that the difference does not matter."--Wendell Berry
"There are small nostalgic pleasures to be found in reading this simple story of America."--Publishers Weekly -- Publishers Weekly
"Chinaberry is a masterfully written story about the complexities of love, relationship, childhood, and memory."--Lexington Herald-Leader -- Tom Eblen
"Fact or fiction--or a combination of the two--Still's final work speaks of a way of life since passed, and does so in a language and style that captures a reader with its rhythm and clarity."--Chevy Chaser
"Still tells of birth, death, and courtship--tenderness, discovery, and love with its holding on as well as letting go. . . . The genius of the writing serves up darkness and humor, the savory and the sweet--as satisfying and full of goodness as 'Sunday dinners back home.'''--Louisville Courier-Journal
"Make room in your library; the 'Dean of Appalachian Literature' has returned. . . . Through recollection and creativity, Kentucky's raconteur weaves a yarn about a place he once knew and loved, so universally poignant that it could be everyone's story."--Kentucky Monthly
"Chinaberry will hopefully be perceived as a perfectly pitched ending notes in a life-spanning overture, if not as a haunting requiem for the man who cared to write it."--Anniston Star
"It's a singular book. House says it's Still's greatest work. He may be right."--Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Beautiful. . . . Chinaberry does justice to Still's literary legacy--and to House's. A decade after his death, one of the most important Kentucky writers of the twentieth century has capped, well into the twenty-first, a remarkable career with a moving, gorgeously written work of art."--Chapter 16
"Offers us an opportunity to reconsider and retrieve the mostly forgotten work of one of our century's greatest stylists. . . . Fact, fiction, or a blend of both, the story stands on its own considerable merits as a deftly told tale of obsession and loss."--Oxford American
"Nobody has come up with a definitive explanation that nails down the common qualities of Appalachian Literature, but few would argue that the late James Still is one of its icons."--Knoxville News-Sentinel
"There's a lot to like about this book. Still's fans will want to have it because it is his last work. Those who appreciate the history of literature will be able to ponder the many unanswered questions that remain about the author and this manuscript. Then of course, there is Still's writing, and this book may contain some of his very finest."--Modern Mountain Magazine
"A moving story. . . . "Chinaberry," the name of the ranch and of the novel, also represents the magical environment of one's coming of age."--Ashville Citizen Times
“Chinaberry, a novel, might be Still’s best writing yet.” --Cincinnati Magazine
"Chinaberry's greatest merit is James Still's ability to capture the essence of a world that no longer exists . . . I responded to this little novel as a kind of fantasy 'with ticks and chiggers.'" -- Smoky Mountain News
"In this tale of a young boy who travels from Alabama to Texas to work on a cotton farm, Still artfully addresses the meaning of family and the impact that one person can have in the lives of others." -- Paintsville Herald
"The memory of an Appalachian who can never completely let go of his Alabama home."--Now and Then
Chinaberry preserves a time and place of vast cotton fields, free range cattle on huge ranches, and a different kind of life in which the characters and relationships make one wish for more. Highly recommended. -- Frances M. Ramsey -- Frances M. Ramsey
[. . .] Still’s readers will appreciate and perhaps even treasure [this book]. -- West Virginia History
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
Man-woman relationships, Migrant labor
Still, James and House, Silas, "Chinaberry" (2011). American Literature. 16.
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