Sharyn McCrumb is an award-winning Southern writer, best known for her Appalachian "Ballad" novels, set in the North Carolina/Tennessee mountains, including the New York Times Best Sellers : The Ballad of Tom Dooley, She Walks These Hills and The Rosewood Casket.
Her books are frequently used in One Community/One Book programs, most recently The Ballad of Frankie Silver by the town of Gallatin TN and Volunteer State College, and The Devil Amongst the Lawyers in Winchester VA.
In April 2014, Sharyn McCrumb was awarded the Mary Frances Hobson Prize for Southern Literature by North Carolina's Chowan University. Named a "Virginia Woman of History" in 2008 for Achievement in Literature, she was a guest author at the National Festival of the Book in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the White House in 2006.
Her novels, studied in universities throughout the world, have been translated into eleven languages, including French, German, Dutch, Japanese, Arabic, and Italian. She has lectured on her work at Oxford University, the University of Bonn-Germany, and at the Smithsonian Institution; taught a writers workshop in Paris, and served as writer-in-residence at King College in Tennessee and at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York.
St. Dale, The Canterbury Tales in a NASCAR setting, in which ordinary people on a pilgrimage in honor of racing legend Dale Earnhardt find a miracle, won a 2006 Library of Virginia Award as well as the AWA Book of the Year Award.
Sharyn McCrumb's other best-selling novels include The Ballad of Frankie Silver, the story of the first woman hanged for murder in the state of North Carolina (new edition, St. Martin's Press, 2013,) which was produced as a play in 2016 by the Parkway Playhouse in Burnsville NC. Ghost Riders, an account of the Civil War in the mountains of western North Carolina, won the Wilma Dykeman Award for Literature from the East Tennessee Historical Society and the Audie Award for Best Recorded Book. It was published in a new edition in March 2012 by J.F. Blair Press of Winston-Salem, NC. A theatrical version of Ghost Riders was staged in June 2014 at the Parkway Playhouse in Burnsville NC.
McCrumb's other honors include: AWA Outstanding Contribution to Appalachian Literature Award; the Chaffin Award for Southern Literature; the Plattner Award for Short Story; and AWA's Best Appalachian Novel. She was recently named "Best Mountain Writer 2013" by Blue Ridge Country Magazine. McCrumb was the first writer-in-residence at King College in Tennessee. In 2005 she honored as the Writer of the Year at Emory & Henry College.
Sharyn McCrumb is the subject of the book From A Race of Storytellers: The Ballad Novels of Sharyn McCrumb. Ed: Kimberley M. Holloway. Atlanta: Mercer University Press, 2005. A graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, with an M.A. from Virginia Tech, she lives and writes in the Virginia Blue Ridge.
Frank and Spencer Arwood, Sharyn McCrumb's father and grandfather McCrumb's great-grandfathers 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. It is from them, she says, that she gets her regard for books, her gift of storytelling and public speaking, and her love of the Appalachian Mountains.
"My books are like Appalachian quilts," says Sharyn McCrumb. "I take brightly colored scraps of legends, ballads, fragments of rural life, and local tragedy, and I piece them together into a complex whole that tells not only a story, but also a deeper truth about the culture of the mountain South."
McCrumb provides her own point of view about living in and between these cultures in the following excerpts from an interview with Rebecca Laine:
"I always was interested in the songs and the legends. Those from my father's side of the family always seemed to have so much substance. Mother was from the flatlands of North Carolina around New Bern; that was, I suppose, the Plantation South. Her stories didn't resonate with me. I guess I wasn't meant to be a Southern writer in the Pat Conroy sense of the word."
"Arwood"Hollywood doesn't seem to pick up on this, but it's pretty obvious to everyone else that the South has more than one culture. The Flatland South is very different from the Mountain South. The Flatland South was settled primarily by the English, by people who didn't mind neighbors, who liked living in community. I've always joked that the mountain people don't work and play very well with others."
"The first indication my parents had that they were from two cultures, although they were born only two hundred miles apart, came when my mother first took my father home for Sunday dinner. He was a young second lieutenant in World War II. Miss Helen was dating the entire officer corps from Camp Davis. When it came his turn to go to dinner, her mother put out all the silver and crystal and linen and served fried chicken and homebaked biscuits and green peas and rice. Lt. Arwood took it all, then reached for the cream and sugar... and put it on his rice! In the mountain culture, the Scots-Irish people saw rice as a grain and used it as a breakfast cereal like oatmeal or porridge; in the flatland South, people put gravy on their rice... that's what the gravy boat was there for. So right there, the cultural chasm was defined."
"My mother grew up very social, very Southern. The unwritten rules were more important than the written rules. My father was a mountain man from the mountains of western North Carolina; when he was small, his parents moved to east Tennessee, a distance of only about twenty miles. His ancestors on his mother's side came to western North Carolina in 1791. My great, great, great grandfather, Malcolm McCourry, deserves his own mini-series; he was kidnapped from the island of Isla in the Hebrides in 1760 and taken to sea as a cabin boy on a sailing ship. He later became an attorney in Morristown, New Jersey, served as a quartermaster during the American Revolution, and finally settled in western North Carolina within a few miles of the Tennessee line. I told the story of Malcolm McCourry in my novel The Songcatcher (NY: Dutton, 2000)"
"On the other side the Arrowoods [pronounced "Arwood"] and the Honeycutts came about the same time, around 1790, to what is now Mitchell County. Today we think of the West as Matt and Miss Kitty and Dodge City, Kansas, but that was the 1880s. In the 1780s the West was the Pennsylvania border around Fort Duquesne and western Carolina and east Tennessee and southwest Virginia. I grew up with all these wonderful stories of relatives finding lost silver mines and running away from armies during the Civil War."
She Walks These Hills
She Walks These Hills is the story of mountain journeys, both literal and figurative. Charlotte Pentland's passion is the first Appalachian journey: that of the mountains themselves. Through a vein of the mineral serpentine that runs from the hills of Georgia up to Nova Scotia, she hopes to trace the mountains' kinship back across the ocean following the serpentine chain to its beginning, in the mountains of western Scotland. Scholarly research in a good place to hide from an unpleasant reality: that Charlotte's father is the escaped convict, even now wandering in the Appalachians.
Historian Jeremy Cobb is backpacking on the Appalachian Trail, attempting to retrace the tragic journey of Katie Wyler, who was kidnapped by the Shawnee in 1779, and who escaped, making her way home through hundreds of miles of wilderness. Jeremy has no trail experience, but he is determined to complete his scholarly quest or die trying. He doesn't know that the spirit of Katie Wyler is still seen wandering the hills, trying to get home. Mountain wise woman Nora Bonesteel sees her every autumn "when the air is crisp, and the light is slanted, and the birds are still."
Sheriff Spencer Arrowood feels sorry for Harm, imprisoned for life for killing a hated local bureaucrat. There is even some doubt about Harm's guilt. Besides, the elderly convict has Korsakoff's syndrome, a side effect of chronic alcoholism that robs its sufferers of their recent memories. To Harm, it is always 1967. As the psychiatrist tells a deputy: "You may get this fellow out of the hills, but you'll never get him out of the past. He's got nowhere to go." Harm doesn't even remember the crime. He doesn't know he's an escaped convict. For Martha Ayers, who wants the job of deputy, catching Harm Sorley would be the best way to prove her fitness for the position.
Harm, an Appalachian Don Quixote on the edge of reality, meets both Jeremy and the still-wandering Katie Wyler on his journey back to a home that isn't there any more. He is the "last moonshiner," holding the dream of an unspoiled wilderness in the fragile web of his delusions. When he goes, it will be lost forever.