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Thomas Jefferson historian to open 'Sunday' series

January 26th, 2013 7:04 pm by staff report

Henry Wiencek, author of the controversial new book “Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves,” will kick off the annual “Sunday with Friends” writers’ series at the Washington County Public Library with a lecture at 3 p.m., today in the library’s conference room.


According to Wiencek’s book, Jefferson was not the reluctant slave owner that historians have often portrayed him as, but rather a willing participant who allowed the profits from slavery to rescue the Jefferson family countless times from near financial disaster.


Wiencek also is the author of “The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White,” which won the 1999 National Book Critics Circle Award for biography. Wiencek’s work on George Washington and his slaves, “An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America,” similarly won many awards.


“Jefferson, his children and his grandchildren forever referred to slaves at Monticello as a burden,” Wiencek wrote, “and historians have sympathetically echoed that complaint, writing that Jefferson was ‘trapped’ or ‘entangled’ in a system he hated. But again and again the sale, the hiring or the mortgaging of black souls rescued the Jeffersons from a bad harvest, bought time from the bill collectors and kept the family afloat while a new and grander version of Monticello took place.”


Wiencek makes his forceful case through a careful description of Jefferson’s letters, plantation records, and actions, as well as memoirs by his former slaves and archaeological findings at Monticello.


Other writers upcoming in the “Sunday with Friends” series include Kentucky writer Silas House, one of Appalachia’s leading writers and the NEH Chair in Appalachian Studies at Berea College. His library appearance is scheduled for Feb. 3.


After publishing three acclaimed novels — “Clay’s Quilt,” “Parchment of Leaves” and “The Coal Tattoo” — House has recently branched into a variety of literary forms. He helped oversee a book about mountaintop removal, “Something’s Rising,” which features articles and oral histories about the practice of mountaintop removal in the Coalfields, and had two plays produced, “Long Time Traveling” and “The Hurting Part.”


House has had two young adult novels have been published recently, “Eli the Good,” already acclaimed as an American classic from the same mold as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “Same Sun Here,” an epistolary novel with correspondence between an Indian girl in New York and a coal miner’s son in Kentucky.


On March 3, Virginia’s new poet laureate, Sofia Starnes of Williamsburg, will be the headline poet in a regional poetry celebration. Starnes is overseeing “The Nearest Poem Anthology” as part of her work as poet laureate, which will collect from average Virginians between 50 and 100 poems that are most meaningful to them.


Starnes is the poetry editor of “The Anglican Theological Review,” an international scholarly journal of theological reflection. She has published several volumes of poetry, including “The Soul’s Landscape,” which was a co-winner of the Aldrich Poetry Prize, and “Corpus Homini: A Poem for Single Flesh,” which won the Whitebird Poetry Series Prize. She will be joined at the reading by several members of the Appalachian Center for Poets and Writers.


On April 7, the former First Lady of Virginia, Roxane Gilmore, will deliver an illustrated lecture on the book she wrote about the lengthy process she oversaw to restore the Executive Mansion in Richmond. The book shows before and after images of the restoration — with many images from historic archives — and draws on insider’s knowledge of the problems and their solutions to the restoration process of the oldest, continuously used state house in the nation.


Gilmore was the only First Lady of Virginia to maintain her career during her husband’s time in office, remaining in her position as assistant professor of classics at Randolph-Macon College. She is married to Jim Gilmore II, the 68th Governor of Virginia. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from the University of Virginia.


Betsy K. White, the retired director of the William King Museum, will discuss her new book, “Backcountry Makers: An Artisan History of Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee,” published by the University of Tennessee Press, on April 21.


The book, based on 10 years of field research, focuses on the artisans who worked in the region in the 19th and early 20th centuries — where they came from, where they learned their trade, what their families were like. Included in the book are profiles of 67 artisans, including cabinetmakers, silversmiths, blacksmiths, jewelers, embroiderers, potters, weavers, quilters, carvers, basket makers, folk sculptors and artists.


The book is a sequel to White’s “Great Road Style: The Decorative Arts Legacy of Southwest Virginia & Northeast Tennessee,” published by the University of Virginia Press.


The final writer to be showcased in this year’s series will be novelist Matt Bondurant, author of three novels: “The Third Translation,” “The Night Swimmer” and his national bestseller, “The Wettest County in the World,” which was recently made into the film “Lawless.” He will speak May 5.


Part family history, part fiction, “The Wettest County in the World” patches together the legend of his paternal grandfather and uncles, a fearsome trio of bootleggers in rural Prohibition-era Franklin County, Va. The book evokes the historical atmosphere — the elaborate stills camouflaged in the woods, the music and the drunken gatherings that explode into shattering violence.


Bondurant earned his doctorate in literature and creative writing from Florida State University and teaches at the University of Texas at Dallas.


The “Sunday with Friends” annual literary series is sponsored by the Friends of the Washington County Public Library. Events are free and open to the public, and are followed by a question and answer session, refreshments, book sales and signings.


For more information, email Lisa Jett at ljett@wcpl.net.

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