Denise Giardina is an acclaimed West Virginia author whose writing is grounded by her McDowell County coal camp roots. Her novels have won numerous awards, including the American Book Award, the Lillian Smith Award for fiction and the Boston Book Review Fiction prize.
Her signature book “Storming Heaven,” published in 1987, examines the events surrounding the Battle of Blair Mountain as told by four main characters – activist mayor and newspaperman C.J. Marcum; mineworker union organizer Rondal Lloyd; feisty nurse Carrie Bishop; and long-suffering Italian immigrant mother Rosa Angelelli. Each of these characters has a different voice and perspective when narrating their lives, yet their stories are united by their love of their families, their communities and the mountains that sustain them.
Giardina’s writing is informed by her personal Appalachian history: Her grandfather and two uncles were coal miners, her mother a nurse and her father a bookkeeper for a coal company. Although “Storming Heaven” is fiction, it provides an authentic portrayal of the lives of miners and their families during the tumultuous years of early union organizing.
Giardina’s imagery is stark and haunting: “In Justice town, the houses stabbed pillars of stone and wood into the flesh of the hillside and clung there like a swarm of mosquitoes.” Describing the cemetery at the Homeplace, she writes,”It was a tranquil place, but no one could ever imagine a quiet slumber for the dead in that earth. They are not a people made for eternal peace, and even if they were, the mountains would not let them rest. The mountains are conjurers, ancient spirits shaped by magic past time remembered.”
Denise Giardina will present “Storming Heaven at 25 – A Retrospective” at the Hillsboro Library on Saturday, November 3. The evening will begin at 6 p.m. with a covered dish dinner. Music will be provided by the Stamping Creek Blue Grass Boys with Lynmarie Knight singing traditional coal mining ballads. Giardina’s talk will begin at 7 p.m., followed by dessert and beverages.
The event is sponsored by the Hillsboro Library Friends and is free and open to the public. For more information call the Hillsboro Library at 304-653-4936.