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James Still

Publication Year: 2011

Celebrated as the “Dean of Appalachian Literature,” James Still has won the appreciation of audiences in Appalachia and beyond for more than seventy years. The author of the classics River of Earth (1940) and The Wolfpen Poems (1986), Still is known for his careful prose construction and for the poetry of his meticulous, rhythmic style. Upon his death, however, one manuscript remained unpublished. Still’s friends, family, and fellow writer Silas House will now deliver this story to readers, having assembled and refined the manuscript to prepare it for publication. Chinaberry, named for the ranch that serves as the centerpiece of the story, is Still’s last and perhaps greatest contribution to American literature. Chinaberry follows the adventures of a young boy as he travels to Texas from Alabama in search of work on a cotton farm. Upon arriving, he discovers the ranch of Anson and Lurie Winters, a young couple whose lives are defined by hard work, family, and a tragedy that haunts their past. Still’s entrancing narrative centers on the boy’s experience at the ranch under Anson’s watchful eye and Lurie’s doting care, highlighting the importance of home, whether it is defined by people or a place. In this celebration of the art of storytelling, Still captures a time and place that are gone forever and introduces the reader to an unforgettable cast of characters, illustrating the impact that one person can have on another. A combination of memoir and imagination, truth and fiction, Chinaberry is a work of art that leaves the reader in awe of Still’s mastery of language and thankful for the lifetime of wisdom that manifests itself in his work.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

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Table of Contents

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pp. ix-xviii

When James Still’s literary advisers, Bill Marshall, Lee Smith, and Bill Weinberg, first asked me, back in 2004, if I would be interested in editing the manuscript James Still had left behind at his death, I didn’t even have to think twice. I agreed instantly, feeling daunted but also incredibly blessed to have an opportunity to work on a manuscript by one of my literary heroes...

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Chapter One | Gone to Texas

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pp. 3-12

This was a place where half the world was sky, a place I had never imagined, much less expected to be. We had passed through Waco the day before, heading west, looking for work. The cotton fields we had passed thus far had only begun to whiten, and until now there had been no market for our services...

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Chapter Two | Anson and Lurie

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pp. 13-20

Lurie had first laid eyes on Johnnes Anson Winters when she was twelve, and she had resolved to marry him or not marry at all. So she decided to wait for him. There was not a woman in the counties thereabouts, it was commented, who wouldn’t abandon spouse and offspring should the opportunity have blossomed to be his second wife after the death of his first one. He was known, after all, as that cowboy who had carried his afflicted son in his arms from birth until his death at the age of...

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Chapter Three | Cotton Fields

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pp. 21-27

We had arrived at siesta, that period between high noon and two when the Texas sun is at its most torrid and brightest, and the leaves of the trees hang limp and blades of the corn curl. “Nappy time,” Anson dubbed it. All labor ceased. Following dinner, everybody slept or found a cool spot to await a lessening of the heat. The sounds...

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Chapter Four | Discovering Chinaberry

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pp. 28-37

We were to only have that one day in the cotton fields. Anson hadn’t needed us in the first place. On our second day at Chinaberry, he had other jobs for us. Having already apprized Ernest’s experience in the livery trade, he proposed that Ernest work with the horses at the ranch, in part to spell himself. That way, at least until fall roundup, he’d have more...

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Chapter Five | Little Johnnes

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pp. 38-49

After the passing of the first wife, Melba, Anson had remained at the small lying-in hospital in the county seat for two weeks helping attend to Little Johnnes, who was fighting for his life and was hardly expected to survive. Anson did not attend Melba’s funeral, so precarious was the situation of their child, much to his mother-in-law’s dismay. To his father-in-law’s disapproval, Irena—Melba’s sister and the onetime object of...

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Chapter Six | Towerhouse

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pp. 50-58

Lurie and Anson had dressed me like a toy cowboy. On my head was a small Stetson, on my feet, cowboy boots with sharp toes. My pants were store-bought, but the shirt was one Lurie had cut out and sewed to match Anson’s. The occasion for my outfit...

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Chapter Seven | Magnolia grandiflora ; Or, Anson and Lurie, Revisited

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pp. 59-63

I was to hear of Lurie and Anson’s courtship on one of those late afternoons when we sat outside, awaiting Anson’s return. A telephone message came through from Towerhouse to let us know that Anson would be late; he was dickering with a buyer for the feeder calves...

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Chapter Eight | The Breaking In

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pp. 64-72

Looking back to my time at Chinaberry, I can now understand that Lurie was both delighted and concerned by my unexpected appearance in their midst. Concerned that I could only be temporary, that Anson’s involvement with another child might be too great, only to suffer loss again. She was to tell me in due course, and at a moment of bitterness, that we were both substitutes. She was the substitute...

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Chapter Nine | Oxyuris vermicularis

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pp. 73-78

The temperature hovered at ninety degrees during most of August, often rising to ninety-eight, and more than occasionally past one hundred for the hottest part of the day. We took many cooling baths. Anson and I favored the shower in the washhouse while Lurie soaked in the bathtub. Understanding the ...

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Chapter Ten | Buffalo Wallow

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pp. 79-84

“This boy’s papa is giving me the devil about bringing him home to go to school,” Ernest told Anson. There was never any question about my attending; the problem was where. Some six miles to the east was a county supported secondary school at a hamlet called Veasey, with some eighty enrolled, all the children of cotton growers. A third....

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Chapter Eleven | Blunt Arrow

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pp. 85-92

“All of the old heads in this territory came from somewhere else,” Anson told me. “Papa came from Tennessee, and he remembers a little about living earlier than that as a child in North Carolina. Mostly he says he recalls his mother dressing him in shirttails. He remembers the plow horse named Bess and his father scratching out...

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Chapter Twelve | Bluebonnets

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pp. 93-100

From the tender beginning of a few “smacks,” there was an increase to many. Mine were smacks; Lurie’s were kisses. By Anson’s definition, a smack was a light touching of the lips to a forehead, a chin, a cheek. Besides lifting me to greet me, he often pitched me into the air and caught me. As a prank, he sometimes carried me upside down and talked to my feet. The occasional red spots that turned up...

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Chapter Thirteen | The Bull Run

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pp. 101-106

The winters family was an open-hearted group of people, even if they did not seem so to the casual onlooker. They owned gifts of the earth—land, cattle—and had money in the bank. They were not grasping, not asking for more. They had come by it hard, yet it had not hardened them. Many thought the Winterses were strange, not easy to know. The womenfolk did not “hang on the telephone...

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Chapter Fourteen | Irena

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pp. 107-112

Chinaberry was a place bursting with stories, and there was another that I was told, which deserves to be told now—the story of Irena Kendrick, the sister of Anson’s first wife, Melba. Irena was a year and a day younger than Melba. From infancy their mother had dressed them...

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Chapter Fifteen | The Flower Pit

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pp. 113-120

High winds were tearing the clouds to rags. To the southwest, a band of clouds, low-lying and lumpy like the Buckalew Mountains back home, as black as the earth of Chinaberry farm, stretched halfway up the sky and were rendered the darker by the cotton fields below. It had been a day of both sun and cloud, and the cotton pickers were grateful...

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Chapter Sixteen | Questions Answered

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pp. 121-125

A portion of the grassland was rich earth, taken over for grazing as the ranch expanded. Here the grass had been sown and cattle stood knee-deep in acres of clover, and there were even copses of trees that furnished them shade. At noon, many lay as if slain under the water oaks, shifting as the shade shifted, the ground appearing as a wall of flesh, heaving now and then, with a sudden rising at times. Anson, pointing to a cow standing...

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Chapter Seventeen | Nino

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pp. 126-130

Sunday. Quiet. Still. Dad-o had driven away after breakfast. A telephone call had alerted him to meet at mid-morning a representative of a Dallas packinghouse to work out a contract for next year’s feeder calves. Those now being finished off were spring-dropped, had been full-fed during the summer in dry lot, and within the...

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Chapter Eighteen | A Particular Day

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pp. 131-134

October. The chinaberry leaves were down, and those still clinging to the live oaks were troubled by a chilly southeast wind. Sunlight, pale as winter butter, made stark the brown cotton fields, now picked clean and awaiting a plowing-under. The early September duties that had required Dad-o’s presence at the ranch were for the most part fulfilled. The feeder calves were shipped, the roundup accomplished...

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Chapter Nineteen | Alabama, Alabama

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pp. 135-142

I was back home, on our farm at the Carlisle Place, in Chambers County, Alabama. Returning in the Hudson borrowed from Anson, Ernest and I had crossed the piney scrubland of East Texas, the swamps of Louisiana, the empty cotton fields of Mississippi and Alabama, all in three and a half days. There were no breaking points. The Hudson never once went out to slow us down, as Ernest’s Model T had done on our journey west. There were no...

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Afterword |

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pp. 143-153

james still is a writer who leaves his readers wanting more. His works are not long, and in my mind, there are not enough of them. Thanks to Silas House and the support of Still’s literary advisers, along with his daughter, Teresa Reynolds, the publication of this special volume of Chinaberry is a welcome addition to the Still canon. Not surprisingly, a good part of its appeal is that the questions than it answers. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813133737
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813133720

Page Count: 172
Publication Year: 2011