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Spooks Branch, a human history story

Spooks Branch was a singular place in settlers’ loreby Rob NeufeldImportant editorial note:This is a significant historical story that is also, in parts, personal and controversial.  It is about a few families who settled a particular cove and played out their heroic and complex legacies in ways that interacted with place and time.  You don't read this kind of story much because people don't like to expose themselves or stir up trouble, even a little.  This caution makes history classes boring…See More
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City Lights Bookstore posted events
Nov 21
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

The Rise of Asheville by Marilyn Ball

History of the "Asheville 1000" and the 1970s renaissance                       Let’s not miss the history of Asheville’s renaissance, Marilyn Ball’s new book, “The Rise of Asheville,” advocates.            She’d come here in 1977, making her one of the advance guard of “artists, entrepreneurs, and off-the-grid…See More
Nov 20
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Century-ago woman's apple cake recipe

Mmm, them apples in Beaverdam coveIn 1972, Helen Nelon wrote about the traditions of old-time Spooks Branch, off Beaverdam Road.  Here's what she said about her use of apples in a cake.(The full story of Spooks Branch will appear soon.)There were apples for delicious cider cooled in the spring "dreem" (drain), apples for frying for cold winter days, and for special days there were dried apple sauce fruit cakes.These cakes were made of very thin, sweet dough with dried apple sauce spread between…See More
Nov 18
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Nov 16
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Dignity is the key to Richard Russo's inspiration

So funny, and yet so exposing--Richard Russo's geniusSnakes on the lane            In Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Empire Falls, the protagonist, Miles recalls the time his father, driving, had accelerated into a box on a highway.  “What if that box had been full of rocks?” Miles asks.  Unfazed, Max quizzes his son about what he would do about the box.  Max says he'd stop and look in it,  “What if it was full of rattlesnakes? “ his father asks.            The verbal match…See More
Nov 14
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Nov 13
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Nov 12
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Humanize the history--especially with Civil War--writes acclaimed author

Writer illuminates tangled web of Civil Warby Rob Neufeld             David Madden has written a book, “The Tangled Web of the Civil War and Reconstruction,” that deserves special attention.            First, there’s Madden’s background.  In 1992, he founded the U.S. Civil War Center in New…See More
Nov 12
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Nov 11
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Nov 10
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Coming attraction--Singleton at Malaprop's & City Lights for Calloustown

George Singleton's latest collection of stories, Calloustown...features the folk who try to survive in a place that has little to offer besides a Finger Museum and a taxidermy petting zoo,It's funny, but also tragic and angry.  The review, "Love-hate humor cries in Calloustown," appears in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Sunday, 11/15/2015.  Singleton's at Malaprop’s Bookstore, 7 p.m., Wed., Nov. 18; and at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 21.Here's an excerpt from the…See More
Nov 10
Lockie Hunter posted an event

Juniper Bends Quarterly Reading at DownTown Books & News

November 13, 2015 from 7pm to 8pm
Our very special Autumnal edition starts at 7PM and is sure to be a lively and vibrant set, with featured writers Randi Janelle, Tina FireWolf, Logan Parker, and Annabelle Crowe. Two of our readers have new books out, and as always there is wine flowing by donation. Hosts Lockie Hunter and Caroline Wilson look forward to seeing you there----remember, your wellbeing depends upon it.See More
Nov 9
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Love and Mercy ~ Up On Roan Mountain

My family lived and loved up on Roan Mountain and in the surrounding mountain areas, and this is their story. It's woven into a tapestry that weaves down through the years, before the days of the Civil War and up to present day. They were…
Nov 9
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It's All Relative--50 WNC women write about family

Family life as perceived by 50 WNC authorsby Rob Neufeld             If you have biases against small press books or anthologies of local writers’ work, I recommend you lay them aside and take a look at “It’s All Relative” (Stone Ivy Press), 52 stories and poems by 50 WNC women authors writing about family.           …See More
Nov 6

Stories and insights teem in Morgan’s new history

by Rob Neufeld


            Robert Morgan’s new book, “Lions of the West” is a compelling and insightful history that reads like the talk of a learned companion. 

It’s not the intimacy of his novels nor the music of his poetry—Henderson County farm products—that you get, but rather an assortment of styles to keep you going.

            In telling about the “heroes and villains of the westward expansion,” as his subtitle announces, Morgan roams far.   He follows ten westward men and details the key tensions and intentions in their lives.


Very different idealists


            In his chapter about John Chapman—aka “Johnny Appleseed”—Morgan first muses, “Wherever cultivated people went they took their orchards with them.”

            After conveying a little storehouse of knowledge about apple culture, Morgan then presents his protagonist, a kind of saint who can’t help but inspire poetic thinking.

            “He respected all livings things,” Morgan writes, “including mosquitoes and rattlesnakes, conversed with animals large and small, as well as with angels, created orchards for those who would follow him…”

            There is no such lyricism in the Thomas Jefferson passage in which Morgan outlines Jefferson’s frontier-winning business plan.  But then, after a few pages in the middle of that chapter, the narrative dives down to hold up Jefferson’s June 20, 1803 letter to Meriwether Lewis—a masterpiece.  Morgan adopts a different tone.

            “It has been said that the most important secret of good writing is rewriting,” he offers as he reveals that the Lewis letter had been at least the fifth draft of a vision Jefferson had articulated on other occasions. 

            “Another secret of good writing,” Morgan adds, “is the selection of the right subject.”  He’s referring to Jefferson’s lifelong passion for exploration and settlement, but he might also be talking about his own interest in Jefferson.

            I like it that Morgan identifies with his subjects, as I like Morgan’s interaction with school curricula—Put the Jefferson-Lewis letter in your textbook! 


Mind of a farmer


            In his chapter on Andrew Jackson, Morgan makes another personal identification.

            “It is probably impossible for us in the twenty-first century,” he begins, “to understand what land meant to poor white people in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.”

            For instance, to a released indentured servant, the west meant salvation, Morgan explains.  Then, he shifts into such a person’s mind.

            “There seemed to be no end to the wild lands—if only Indians could be cleared away—and no limits to hope,” Morgan imagines his character thinking.  “All you needed were an ax, a rifle, and a wife, and maybe a horse or ox.”

            We are reminded of Morgan’s fictional character, Tom Powell, a land-obsessed, poor farmer in “The Truest Pleasure.”

            Morgan’s non-fiction reflection continues along another enlightening path.

            “But even if you had no wife,” he continues, “one could be found among the Indians.  In fact, for settling down at the edge of the wilderness, an Indian wife might be the best of all.”  She would be a good worker; plus, “married to an Indian woman, you were halfway a member of the nation yourself.”

            From the mind of the homesteader, Morgan moves to a survey of Creek society and then to the drumbeats of war, as the Upper Creeks enlist in Tecumseh’s apocalyptic campaign against whites.  On Aug. 30, 1813, an Upper Creek force brutally massacred about 500 settlers, soldiers, and slaves at Fort Mims, north of Mobile.

            The ensuing Creek War was the moment of destiny for Andrew Jackson, commander of the Tennessee militia.  Thus, after 11 fascinating pages, Morgan backs up to March 13, 1767, the date of Jackson’s birth, and fills you in on his character.


Morgan’s American contribution


            Every one of Morgan’s profiles—Jefferson, Jackson, Chapman, David Crockett, Sam Houston, James K. Polk, Winfield Scott, Kit Carson. Nicholas Trist, and John Quincy Adams—share the distinction of emblematic Americans.

            A part of Morgan’s art in presenting these figures is creating human portraits within the pages that couch their historic actions.

            For James K. Polk, 11th president, Morgan juxtaposes a few sources to create a complex take.  Polk, a Scots-Irishman whose parents had followed the path of many Scots-Irish families in this region, but had stopped in the Charlotte area, apparently lacked a sense of humor. 

            Gideon Welles, a fellow politician, said that Polk “possessed a trait of sly cunning which he thought shrewdness, but which was really disingenuousness and duplicity.”

            Morgan notes that Polk had gone into his presidency with the promise that he’d serve just four years and accomplish four major things, all of which he did.  Acquiring California was one of them.

            Kit Carson was a scrawny kid in a large family that followed Daniel Boone on his traces.  As a child in Missouri, Carson got to know Fox and Sac Indians as individuals.  He had a thirst for languages as well as travel.

            His fierceness was legendary.

            “In the summer of 1835,” Morgan narrates, “when he was twenty-five years old, Carson attended the annual meeting of trappers and traders on the Green River in southwestern Wyoming.”  It was called The Rendezvous.

            One of the French Canadians in attendance hated that the belle of the Rendezvous, an Arapaho girl named Singing Grass, had chosen Carson over him, and sought Carson out.  Carson forced a duel on mounted horse with guns, survived a head graze, and shot off his opponent’s thumb.  He married the girl.

            In “Lions of the West,” Morgan entertains with adventures and details, both high-minded and handy.   His largest achievement is something of special note here. 

            In his fiction, poetry, and history, Morgan represents a Scots-Irish/British tradition, and fuses, for all of America, romantic and pragmatic traditions. 



Robert Morgan presents his new book of history, “Lions of the West,” and his new book of poems, “Terroire,” at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, 3 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 29 (call 254-6734); and at Fountainhead Bookstore, 408 North Main St., Hendersonville, 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 29 (the event is ticketed; call 697-1870).

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