Leopard Lady: A Life in Verse is the story of Dinah, a biracial orphan born in Appalachia in the 1930s and “given” to the childless Gastons to raise. She is gifted with psychic ability and eventually finds her way out of exploitation into a life on the road as a carnival hootchie-kootchie dancer and fortune-teller. When afflicted with vitiligo, she adds a turn as a “freak” called the Leopard Lady. Self-educated with the King James Bible and a volume of Shakespeare, her voice blends Elizabethan phrasings with Appalachian and carnival speech. When a dropout from divinity school joins the show, they begin a debate over the nature of God and man–each seeking an understanding of their place in the universe–that becomes a close friendship.
"Unique, deeply moving, funny, and withal composed on the edge of danger and enlightenment, Leopard Lady is masterful. Nieman's syntax, rhymes, meter and scenes make music while the reader is charged with an energy that takes us closer and closer to the singular truth we must bear." Kelly Cherry
New novel slated for 2019
My latest novel, To the Bones, has been accepted for publication by West Virginia University Press, with a release set for spring 2019.
I'm honored to have my work appearing with this fine press, which also published my short story collection Fidelities some years back.
This is a literary genre mashup, with elements of the Appalachian tall tale, zombie lit, romance, Celtic legends, and eco-justice. "Some folks say his appearance portends the Rapture, but in an Appalachian town ravaged by ecological catastrophe, one waylaid stranger discovers new and strange powers that may end a lethal coal mining empire."
The final draft has been sent off, and now the process begins!
Valerie Nieman is the author of three novels: Blood Clay, a novel of the New South, which was honored with the Eric Hoffer Prize in General Fiction; a novel about the Rust Belt of the 1970s, Survivors; and her first book, Neena Gathering, reissuedin 2012 as a classic in the post-apocalyptic genre. A fourth book, Backwater, is now in submission, and research for a new novel included a month hiking solo in Scotland.
Her second poetry collection, Hotel Worthy, appeared in 2015 from Press 53, and poems from that book were nominated for The Pushcart Prize and Best Short Fictions of 2016, where the title poem was named a finalist. She is also the author of a debut poetry collection, Wake Wake Wake, and a collection of short stories, Fidelities.
She was a 2013-2014 North Carolina Arts Council poetry fellow, and has received an NEA creative writing fellowship as well as major grants in West Virginia and Kentucky. Her awards include the Greg Grummer, Nazim Hikmet, and Byron Herbert Reece poetry prizes.
Nieman graduated from West Virginia University and Queens University of Charlotte. A former newspaper reporter and editor, she now teaches creative writing at North Carolina A&T State University and at venues ranging from the John C. Campbell Folk School to WriterHouse.