Award winning author Sharyn McCrumb made an appearance at the West Jefferson United Methodist Church on Tuesday to discuss the historical significance of her books.
McCrumb was recently named Virginia Woman of Achievement in Literature and was awarded the 2005 Writer of the Year Award by Emory & Henry.
“My job as a writer is to be a speaker for the dead; for people who never had a chance to tell their story,” said McCrumb.
McCrumb’s latest release, The Ballad of Tom Dooley, examines the true story behind the celebrated folk song made famous by the Kingston Trio. She is currently working on a novel about the Battle of Kings Mountain, which was considered by Franklin D. Roosevelt to be the turning point of the American Revolution.
McCrumb’s stories retell history from the perspective of the characters involved in making it. According to McCrumb, this way of presenting history blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction.
“Non-fiction is more of a style than anything else,” said McCrumb.
McCrumb’s best selling novel, “The Ballad of Frankie Silver,” “exemplifies this writing style perfectly,” said McCrumb.
The novel was based on the real-life story of the execution of a wife (Frankie) who murdered her husband (Charles Silver), even though nobody knows what actually happened between the teenage couple.
McCrumb explained the historical significance of the case, saying this story displays a cultural divide between the people who lived in the mountains of Western North Carolina, and those who live in the Piedmont and coast.
When Frankie Silver was tried for the murder of her husband in Burke County, she was considered to be incompetent and could not testify in her own defense.
According to McCrumb, this was because of a cultural misunderstanding of those who live in the mountains. At the time, the “mountain people” were thought of poorly by those who lived closer to the Piedmont area, said McCrumb.
Because of that false perception, Frankie Silver never told her side of the story, and she was executed for something she most likely didn’t do, said McCrumb.
This cultural divide also led to very difficult times for this area during the Civil War. According to McCrumb, the citizens living in the Piedmont and coast supported the Confederacy during the war because they owned plantations and had a greater stake in the slave trade.
However, Western North Carolina was much more divided during the Civil War. McCrumb said most families in the Blue Ridge Mountains could not afford to own slaves or large farms, and were much more hesitant to leave the Union.
McCrumb said Western North Carolina suffered more than anyone during the Civil War because of this divide. Several of McCrumbs books have been about the build up and aftermath of the Civil War.
According to McCrumb, one of her goals is to share the history and culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her novels are sold from coast to coast in the United States and distributed to 11 different countries.
“People want to read my books because they tell good stories, not because they can learn history. But readers pick up pieces of the mountain’s history and culture along the way,” said McCrumb.
Following the program, refreshments were available and guests visited McCrumb to either buy one of her books or have a book signed.