What a grand year!
This is the time of year for reflection and reconsideration - that same "Auld Lang Syne." I'm so grateful for the friendships gained and regained this past year, wonderful times with readers and writers from Sausalito to Manhattan to Pittsburgh.
I had a blast taking To the Bones and Leopard Lady on the road—finding cool bookstores, talking books, and encountering great folks at festivals and conferences. Two of my high school classmates drove down from western New York to surprise me at the reading in Pittsburgh! I got to reconnect with a lot of West Virginia writers I'd known from years before when I went to school at WVU, then farmed and worked just about every job in the newsroom up through executive editor.
Some other highlights of the more than 40 events of the 2019 book tour:
From an Epiphany opening at Malaprops, the road took me to Poetry Hickory and then to Parapalooza at Bookmarks in Winston-Salem. So & So Books in Raleigh is always a favorite stop, followed by my first Appalachian Studies Association conference in Asheville. Waterbean Poetry Cafe welcomed me in Huntersville, then it was on to the warm welcome at Upcountry Literary Festival in Union, SC, and a fine chat with Bobbie Ann Mason.
March closed out with the poets at High Road Festival, then it was on to Flyleaf Books and Scuppernong Books and McIntyre's, then a road trip to Isothermal Community College, and a grand day with Kathy Ackerman and the folks at the literary festival.
May took the show to the North Carolina coast, with Whirligig Stage at Greenville and The Nexus Poets in New Bern. After a trip to Bridgewater, VA, it was a hometown home stand with Greensboro Bound, a literary festival that Scuppernong Books has quickly made a booklover's highlight.
June was fantastic, from a visit with Pittsburgh's City Books through "Lunch with a Book" at the Ohio County Library with Marc Harshman and Kevin Rippin and their new books. I traveled to Richmond for an evening at Fountain Books with my Queens MFA classmate Cliff Garstang, then had the West Virginia book launch at Taylor Books, one of the great bookstores. The month closed out with a memorable adventure as I joined the Travelin' Appalachians Revue in Beckley for song and poetry and music, the Natural Rat Band and a very special possum.
July took me to the mountains for a workshop at the Moss Memorial Library, then my usual week of teaching at John C. Campbell Folk School. I headed back to West Virginia for a program at Inner Geek, then slid down the mountains to Asheville for a conversation with Jessica Cory at Malaprop's at 6.
After appearing in Why There Are Words in Pittsburgh, I reconnected with that national reading series at its home base in Sausalito, CA, in August. The Greensboro launch for To the Bones came a but later that month, followed by the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival. Add Burnsville, NC, to your must-visit list!
Bookmarks Festival welcomed To the Bones in September, and the end of the month saw me going home to Marion County for a reading at the Folklife Center at Fairmont State University. I was back in West Virginia twice in October, to appear at the West Virginia Book Festival and a Women of Appalachia Project event at WVU. In between, I journeyed to McNally-Jackson in Manhattan for an Appalachian Renaissance reading with Marc Harshman and Meredith Sue Willis.
November saw the last major event, and the longest drive, when I went to Lexington, KY, for the Kentucky Book Festival.
I've really enjoyed doing YouTube and podcast interviews with Arlan Hess at City Books, Frank Stasio at "The State of Things," Eliot Parker for Armstrong TV, Cat Pleska at the WV Library Commission, Giant Panda Podcast, and coming up on Jan. 21, Charlotte Readers Podcast.
Reviewers and interviewers have been so kind to both Leopard Lady and To the Bones in such great publications as The Rumpus, Monkeybicycle, Kendall Reviews, the Revivalist, Wilmington Star-News, Salisbury Post, News & Record, The Observer, Small Press Picks, New Pages, Center for Literary Publishing, LitChat, and Necessary Fiction.
Many thanks to the readers who have posted reviews on Amazon and GoodReads!
As the year closes out, I want to again honor two spectacular publishers in West Virginia University Press and Press 53 — shoutouts to Kevin Morgan Watson and Christopher Forest and Abby Freeland and Derek Krisoff and all the folks who make books go!
Onward into 2020, where some great events are in the offing. Check out my Events page for more details.
A new review for To the Bones
"Horror stories tend to take place in the dark—in haunted houses or underground caves. TO THE BONES has plenty of both. It would be hard to imagine anything more horrifying than waking up in a mine crack surrounded by rotting corpses. Federal auditor Darrick MacBrehon escapes this living death by using bones—two femurs—to climb out of the pit. Once he staggers, reeking of death, into sweepstakes parlor staffed by Lourana Taylor the horrors continue to pile up. He discovers a once beautiful river has been transformed by a mine blowout into acidic orange sludge that can (and does) burn people alive. He also discovers that a gash on the back of his head that exposes the bone of his skull and oozes blood throughout the book despite Lourana's efforts to bandage it—has somehow imbued him with supernatural and deadly abilities.
The evil behind all this creepiness is the family Kavanagh, robber barons who have sucked the life out of generations of inhabitants of Redbird, West Virginia, while extracting coal from its ground. Among others that the Kavanaghs have disappeared is Lourana's adult daughter Dreama. Darrick and Lourana unite in a quest to find out what has happened to Dreama and solve the mystery of the polluted river.
Darrick and Lourana are both deeply rendered, sympathetic characters, each flawed and lonely. They form the psychological heart of this novel, lending credibility to the crescendoing psychic phenomena. The crimes against society and the environment committed by the Kavanaghs give the book its gravitas. Poetic interludes written, it turns out, by the younger Kavanagh son, speak to Nieman's large ambition to lift horror from genre to literature. Spot-on dialogue and vivid prose paint a portrait of a tortured and beloved place.
Finally we return to the bones—in a crypt under the Kavanagh mansion, where flesh melts before the reader's eyes and exhausted seams of coal could be metaphor for the bones of the earth."
Deborah Clearman, author of Todos Santos
A bit of recent news: Leopard Lady: A Life in Verse was nominated for the Roanoke-Chowan Award and was runner-up for the Brockman-Campbell Book Prize, the top poetry prizes awarded for books by North Carolina writers or about the state.
"Valerie Nieman's Leopard Lady: A Life in Verse sweeps aside everything you might think about sideshow and carnival performers of the mid-20th century. Her poems open up the private life of a mixed-race woman, Dinah, the titular Leopard Lady....
Leopard Lady is a truly amazing book that succeeds in several areas. It illuminates how carnival artists are united by the very diversity that sets them apart from commonly perceived norms. It reveals the life of one woman who, it turns out, is more like every woman than may be imagined. And for those not inclined to read poetry, Nieman's writing is so skilled, so smooth, that her poetry unfolds like a piece of fascinating prose."