Jack Prather celebrates greats with Grateful Steps
by Rob Neufeld
Grateful Steps, one of the generators of this region’s literary vitality, is reaching out in many directions to fulfill its mission of diversity in publishing.
On Aug. 4, the non-profit foundation and publisher hosts its “biggest event ever,” says Grateful Steps owner Micki Cabaniss, as Jack Prather, along with notables celebrated in his new book, “Twelve Notables in Western North Carolina,” gather in the foundation bookstore
Three of the notables—musician-storyteller David Holt; poet Glenis Redmond; and Doug Orr (President Emeritus, Warren Wilson College)—will perform.
Grateful Steps has published 50 books since its founding in 2004. Forty more are in production; 100 more on a waiting list.
One upcoming book, “Why the Clown Wouldn’t Smile,” is by a Prather notable, Dr. Olson Huff. It features artwork by disabled children Huff has known through five decades of pediatric caring.
“Dr. Huff is the consummate child advocate and everyone’s role model community pediatrician,” Dr. O. Marion Burton, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, testifies in a quote that opens Prather’s 29-page chapter on Huff.
In each chapter, testimonials lead to bulleted biographical notes and substantial interviews. Prather’s notables, selected through recommendations and research, give themselves over to the generous space Prather provides them.
Prather’s journey started with Joe Epley, novelist and public relations all-star, whom Prather had met at a Public Relations Society Meeting in 2004. Epley led Prather to Huff.
David Potorti, N.C. Arts Council Literature Director, led Prather to basket artist Billie Ruth Sudduth and studio glass artist Richard Ritter.
“When I started glassblowing,” Ritter told Prather on a tour of his studio, “There were no furnaces or equipment commercially available, do you had to build your own.”
Ritter had attended Penland School of the Arts in 1971, and served as its Artist-in-Residence from 1972-76. A few years later, he and wife, artist Jan Williams, had moved to a house a few miles away.
“I wanted to get to know my neighbors,” Ritter says, “and I also wanted to join the Volunteer Fire Department. As a kid I always wanted to be a fireman.” He eventually became chief of that organization.
“I’m pacing a bit,” Prather writes, describing his excitement before interviewing Dr. Huff. “Suddenly striding my way,” he narrates, “is a spry septuagenarian with Carl Sandburg-like hair and bright smiling eyes.”
“Doctor Huff, please share with me how you stay so trim and fit,” Prather asks when they settle in Huff’s office.
The ensuing conversation touches upon Huff’s childhood in hardscrabble Kentucky; his discovery of medicine as a career; Vietnam War service; “Country Remedy,” the movie based on his book about a pediatrician; Smart Start; childhood obesity; MAHEC; Mission Children’s Hospital; and faith.
“My life began in a religious environment that was pretty restrictive,” Huff responded with frankness to Prather’s admiring inquiries. Influenced by caring parents and role models, Huff stated, he “began to look more at the broadness of what it means to have a faith.”
He identified with the role of healer.
Prather published the book through his own company, Future Now Publishing; and connected with Grateful Steps to promote and sell it.
Grateful Steps Foundation embraced the “Twelve Notables” message; and its publishing house applied parts of its full-service (edit-design-promote-distribute) operation.
“All our books are top quality,” Cabaniss attests. “We work one-on-one with the authors sometimes for years.
“We bring voices to the community that wouldn’t otherwise be heard.”
The bookstore, opened a year-and-a-half ago, helps get out the word, and includes consignment books, representing other publishers.
Additional collaborative efforts include providing space to writing classes, Tek Kids, and Creative College; support of Wordfest, the annual Asheville poetry festival directed by Laura Hope Gill, Grateful Steps’ marketing director; and interfaith book discussions.
This past January, Grateful Steps Foundation received non-profit status.
“Just like Hub City Press in Spartanburg,” Cabaniss relates, “we are a non-profit publishing company with a book shop…There are some highly respected non-profit publishing companies outside of universities and religious organizations” she notes, also citing Graywolf Press in Minneapolis and Sarabande Books in Louisville.
Grateful Steps’ mission statement identifies its guidelines: to publish under-represented voices; preserve and teach the history of Appalachia; and to promote multicultural, interfaith and economic community development.
The interfaith focus connects to a spiritual foundation.
“We have crosses on our logo,” Cabaniss states. “We have a Christian base to our company. People here have a Christian base to their personal lives, and we start our days with prayer.
“We feel it’s a ministry of sorts to open the door respectfully to others’ beliefs, and to share with them ours.”
The books speak
The message is in the diversity of Grateful Steps’ books.
One book, soon to go to press, is by an inmate who turned his life around and became a chef and now a novelist.
“Near Death” by Steven Cox portrays evil-doers who are brainwashed by a tribunal to believe that they have died, faced judgment, and been given a second chance at life. When they discover the scam, many years later, they have second thoughts about their fates.
Here is a sampling of other Grateful Steps books:
THE EVENT & BOOK
Jack Prather launches his book, “Twelve Notables in Western North Carolina,” 7 p.m., Aug. 4, at Grateful Steps, 159 South Lexington Ave., Asheville. He will be joined by notables Dr. Olson Huff, Joe Epley, David Holt, Doug Orr, Glenis Redmond, and Rev. Dan Matthews.
Learn more about the event, the publisher, and Prather’s notables.
Part of the proceeds of the sale of the book will go to the Warren Wilson College Young Writers Scholarship, to be awarded annually to an incoming freshman majoring in Creative Writing.