Valerie Nieman is an award-winning writer, teacher, and editor whose work emerges from her Appalachian roots. She is the author of three novels, the most recent of which, Blood Clay, has garnered critical praise and reader raves.
She also has published a collection of short stories, Fidelities, and a poetry collection, Wake Wake Wake. Her work has appeared widely in journals, from Poetry and New Letters to theNorth Carolina Literary Review, and in several anthologies. She has received an NEA creative writing fellowship as well as grants in North Carolina, West Virginia, and Kentucky, and prizes including the Eric Hoffer Prize in General Fiction, two Elizabeth Simpson Smith awards in fiction and the Greg Grummer Prize in poetry.
She graduated from West Virginia University and Queens University of Charlotte. A longtime newspaper reporter and editor, she now teaches creative writing at North Carolina A&T State University and is the poetry editor of Prime Number magazine.
Nieman has appeared on college campuses, visited book clubs, and conducted writing workshops at John C. Campbell Folk School and other locations throughout the mid-Atlantic.
On blogging - I wrote a guest post at Clifford Garstang's blog about Neena Gathering returning to life.
On Blood Clay - This novel of the New South won the 2012 Eric Hoffer Award for General Fiction. The judges commented: "Touching on themes of loneliness, belonging, and racism, this book will haunt the reader." In addition, the novel was a finalist for the 2012 John Gardner Fiction Book Prize, shortlisted for the 2012 Montaigne Medal honoring thought-provoking books, and longlisted for the SIBA Awards. Hear my radio interview with Public Radio East.
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Writers and readers are talking about Blood Clay:
“Blood Clay is a victorious book in many different ways. I was entertained and remain mightily impressed!” Fred Chappell, author of Look Back All the Green Valley and a host of novels, stories, books of poetry, former NC poet laureate.
“I started Blood Clay one day, finished it the next. VERY difficult to put down. What a great book!”— David Halperin, author of Journal of a UFO Investigator.
“I finished Blood Clay today and it is the best novel I have read in a long time. This is a terrific book, told well, amazing descriptive passages dropping in out of almost nowhere into the middle of a moment, sensitivity to everything and everyone, understanding of that Southern ethos that exists outside the cities . . . my gosh. I've told my daughter she just has to see that this is on her book club's agenda for the next round of books they read.” —Jean Rodenbough
"I read this book with the curiosity that I assume a cultural anthropologist would feel and a perspective a poet would enjoy. This is a book that needs to be savored. Leisurely." By Vijya Campagne, Member of Winston-Salem Writers
“Devoured Blood Clay in a day. It is beautifully written, honest and moving.” — Avra Wing, author of Angie, I Says.
"Val Nieman has written what is destined to become a classic novel of Southern life. I love this book." — Elizabeth Stuckey-French, author of The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady
“The precipitating event of Valerie Nieman's Blood Clay - a brutal dog attack on a young girl in rural North Carolina - is in itself a small masterpiece of dramatic storytelling. What unfolds from there is a compelling, wise and nuanced exploration both of life in today's changing South and the struggles of ordinary people to live with hope and a sense of belonging, despite their fears and failings. This is a true-to-life, sensitive and gripping piece of fiction.” — John Cochran
Reviewers have this to say:
Blood Clay is a little (it weighs in at just around two hundred pages), great American novel in story, character, and writing. Ours is a country of immigration and migration, and one constant within that instability is a person's search for companionship in her new home, at a community level and a more intimate one, to be part of "the even numbers of the regular world." ... Even the details in Blood Clay exude a particularly American atmosphere: Tracey is a northerner who moves deep into rural North Carolina tobacco country. When geography-based issues aren't the simmering—or explosive—heat beneath a relationship in this book, race, class, and gender are. The sanctity of individuality and personal property? Yes—that's one of the big matters in the investigation into the violent death of one of the school's young students. Justice, the media, gossip—"the rumors fly so fast, they grow wings and maybe horns and tails"—and that peculiar thirst for blood in a competitive society, "the moment of potential, the blood under the skin ready for spilling"? Most definitely those are all here." American Book Review
“Nieman, whose lyrical writing edges on poetry, tells this story with insight and compassion. She doesn’t idealize the South: troubled race relations, provincialism, and phony politeness all play a part. But the novel also captures what makes the town humane, large-minded, and forgiving. The message is optimistic: Although life inevitably causes pain, we can still find a home.” Our State
"Not only her nuanced plot, setting and characters but also Nieman's poetic language brings her world to life. She paints the setting with precise, laser-cut visuals. Nieman's journalistic background shows in her tight economy of construction. She offers a near-sociological view of this world, involves the reader deeply with several characters and provides true, aching insights about identity, both personal and cultural, and she does so in fewer than 200 pages. Not a word, image or event is wasted." Charleston Gazette-Mail
“This is one of the best contemporary Southern novels I’ve read in a long time. There is no exaggerated humor here, no condescension, no frothy romanticism – but there is plenty of truth, and a story you won’t soon forget.” Linda Brinson, Briar Patch Books
"In her new novel, Blood Clay, set rural North, Carolina, Valerie Nieman is interested in the tangled social lines of the new South, the struggle of newcomers to belong, and of natives to keep their balance in changing times. Beneath the fascination with change runs a deep love for the changeless, the way the deep roots of a place can hold and comfort, despite the complications of both past and present." Gently Read Literature
"Weaving together a tale of small-town culture with various kinds of disconnected citizens, Nieman courageously approaches subjects that continue to haunt the South: racism, ignorance and violence. The pain of families and their dysfunction sits side-by-side with tobacco culture. Yet, there is beauty here and a sense of pride in history...(Tracey) Gaines wants to stay put for the first time ever; in spite of the tragic, limping life she has made, her desire is to claim it." The Southern Pines Pilot
“…This is one of the joys of the book – that however shocking or terrifying the events, people wake up the next morning and make tea, feed the cats, go to work…Indeed, their relationship to work, too, is one of the triumphs of the novel: the characters don’t self-destruct in the face of their suffering, but rather work – both at jobs and on their living spaces." — Books for Readers