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Every Leaf a Mirror

Every Leaf a Mirror: A Jim Wayne Miller Reader

Morris Allen Grubbs
Mary Ellen Miller
Introduction by Robert Morgan
Afterword by Silas House
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Every Leaf a Mirror
    Book Description:

    Jim Wayne Miller (1936--1996) was a prolific writer, a revered teacher and scholar, and a pioneer in the field of Appalachian studies. During his thirty-three-year tenure at Western Kentucky University, he helped build programs in the discipline in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio, and worked tirelessly to promote regional voices by presenting the work of others as often as he did his own. An innovative poet, essayist, and short story writer, Miller was one of the founding fathers and animating spirits of the Appalachian renaissance.

    In Every Leaf a Mirror, Morris Allen Grubbs and Mary Ellen Miller have gathered essential selections from the beloved author's oeuvre. Highlights from the volume include touchstone poems; seminal articles; a rare autobiographical essay; a commencement address; and an excerpt from the previously unpublished short story "Truth and Fiction." Revealing the scope and significance of Miller's contributions as an artist and cultural scholar, this reader captures the excitement that surrounded the birth of modern Appalachian literature.

    With commentary by Mary Ellen Miller, an introduction from well-known author Robert Morgan, and an afterword by the notable Silas House, Every Leaf a Mirror provides an unprecedentedly intimate look at Miller's writing. This long overdue collection not only celebrates the life of this revered ambassador of Appalachian literature and culture but also introduces a new generation of readers to his work.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4726-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    M. A. Grubbs
  4. Chronology
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  5. Introduction: A Radiating Presence
    (pp. 1-10)
    Robert Morgan

    It is a special privilege to introduceEvery Leaf a Mirror: A Jim Wayne Miller Reader. But I must concede at the start that anyone introducing Jim Wayne Miller will have trouble deciding how to describe him. He was a poet, short story writer, novelist, playwright, essayist, critic, lecturer, professor of German, translator, teacher of workshops and summer seminars. He was a roving ambassador for the literature and culture of the Appalachian region, a friend and encourager of many other writers, mentor to dozens if not hundreds of younger writers, editor, anthologist, historian. He was a connoisseur of the fine...

  6. Part 1. Poetry

  7. Part 2. Fiction

    • From Newfound
      (pp. 85-91)

      I listened to Mom, and I’d ask Dad questions when he came by on Sundays to take Jeanette and Eugene and me down to Grandma and Grandpa Wells’s. Remembering how it had been, living together in our own house, I realized now that I’d never known we were a family, or even thought about it, until we weren’t any longer. The family had always just been there, even when Mom and Dad argued and I’d be upset. The family was there like the sun and air, as unshakable as trees on the mountains all around. But now that Mom and...

    • From His First, Best Country
      (pp. 92-100)

      He drove. Got out on the interstate and drove. Scanned late night radio talk shows. Found nothing more interesting than people who had run up colossal debts on credit cards, and a psychologist giving advice on premature ejaculation. He turned off the radio and drove on until, exhausted at three a.m., he stopped at a motel outside Morristown. Now that he was out of the car, he found himself once more wakeful, alert. He clicked through the tv offerings. Weather, a movie, real estate seminar, evangelist. He went to sleep listening to somebody talking about sick building syndrome.

      Again, five...

    • Cheap
      (pp. 101-110)

      When Clavern Redmon came to me needing hay, I told him what I had to have for it—a dollar and a quarter a bale. You’d think I’d hit him with a hoe handle! He’d squinted his right eye when I said a dollar and a quarter, like a sharp pain had hit him. The way he rocked back on his heels, you’d think I’d coldcocked him with a fencepost.

      How many bales would he be interested in? I asked.

      Well, he said—and his voice was thin and weak, like he’d been sick—he needed about a hundred and...

    • Yucatan
      (pp. 111-116)

      Been writing any lies about me lately?

      Now, no! McLendon answered, gladdened by the sudden company of this jug-eared boy from a story he’d been thinking about for years.

      This was how it had always been with his characters. He’d overhear something, read something in a book or magazine or newspaper, and the first thing he knew, a character would just be there one day—and begin to talk to him. Suddenly they’d be walking along with him, or they’d come through the walls of his house, like ghosts, so real he could see the freckles on the back of...

    • Truth and Fiction
      (pp. 117-124)

      It was curious, I thought, how thirty minutes in McLean’s presence exhausted me. And yet, it was no wonder. For already I had been charged with ordering McLean’s breakfast, taking up arms for McLean in a review—and now McLean was recommending a book I should read, the latest of at least two dozen books he had recommended to me over the last ten days. When McLean noticed, with obvious annoyance, that I didn’t jot down the title, as I had on other occasions, he said: “You ought to write that down.” His arm flew up, “So you’ll be sure...

  8. Part 3. Nonfiction

    • Citizens of Somewhere
      (pp. 127-133)

      I aim to be brief. I hope I hit reasonably close to where I aim. It’s dangerous to speak too long. A story about that famous Kentuckian, Henry Clay, illustrates the point. Clay served in the United States Congress with a General Smyth, representative from Virginia. General Smyth considered himself a great orator. Actually, he was a tedious speaker who tortured the entire house with his prolonged speeches. One day he was being particularly laborious. He had spoken a long time, and the end seemed nowhere near. Henry Clay made no secret of being bored and restless. This annoyed the...

    • Living into the Land
      (pp. 134-145)

      H. L. Mencken was fond of saying that our task as writers is not so much to discover new truths as it is to correct old errors. The notion that all literature is local somewhere, and that therefore the universal not only can be found in the regional, but must be found there, if anywhere, is not a new truth. Imaginative writing of all genres deals with particulars. The poet, Shakespeare says inA Midsummer Night’s Dream,“gives to airy nothing/A local habitation and a name,” which is to say the poet’s abstractions reside in particulars. All effective writers of...

    • Appalachian Literature: A Region Awakens
      (pp. 146-152)
      Jim Wayne Miller

      Back in the 1940s and 1950s, Lawrence County, Kentucky, native Cratis Williams attempted to find a university where he could write a doctoral dissertation about the literature of the Appalachian South. He couldn’t find a graduate English department in his home state, or in North Carolina, where he was living, or in any other southern state that would permit him to undertake the serious study of Appalachian literature.

      In those days the very term “Appalachian literature” struck most graduate English professors as a contradiction in terms. Why, there was no such thing! At the very most, a few folk tales...

    • In Quest of the Brier: An Interview by Loyal Jones
      (pp. 153-174)

      Loyal Jones: Jim Wayne Miller is a poet, essayist, short story writer, and he has commented on many aspects of Appalachia in various forms. He also is professor of German Language and Literature at Western Kentucky University in the Department of Modern Languages and Intercultural Studies. He’s a student of the history and literature of the southern Appalachian region and is a native of North Turkey Creek in Buncombe County, North Carolina. He earned a degree in English from Berea College and a doctorate in German and American Literature at Vanderbilt. He is author of several books, has edited several...

    • I Had Come to Tell a Story: A Memoir
      (pp. 175-208)

      I don’t remember it, but my mother tells me that at about the age of three I would dance when my uncle played his fiddle. That would have been when we were still living with my grandmother and grandfather Miller, on the Sandy Mush Creek Road in Buncombe County, about fifteen miles from Asheville, in mountainous western North Carolina.

      I do remember my grandmother Miller reciting—Kipling’s “If,” “The Little Match Girl”—and repeating what she called “declamation pieces”—set speeches on subjects like truth, courage, and virtue remembered from her school days. Her repertoire was extensive; she could recite,...

  9. Photographs
    (pp. 209-216)
  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 217-220)
    Mary Ellen Miller

    I have made several trips through the poems of Jim Wayne Miller, hundreds and hundreds of them. My most recent trip was for the specific purpose of choosing poems to include in this volume.

    I made some new discoveries. For example, I had not before realized how many of the poems, from early to late, simply throb with an eerie undertone of mysticism, transcendentalism.

    In “Hanlon Mountain in Mist” (one of the poems about his grandfather’s death) the hounds sense a presence on the mountain and won’t move beyond the lantern light.

    I trust the hounds: they know what made...

  11. Afterword
    (pp. 221-228)
    Silas House

    In Jim Wayne Miller’s lovely 1993 novel,His First, Best Country,there is a powerful scene (included in this reader) wherein a young Appalachian woman is moved to tears by hearing the history of her place and her people spoken of in a complex and eloquent way for the first time.

    “I’ve been ashamed all my life,” she says to the speaker. “Why didn’t they teach that when I was in school? I’ll never be ashamed again as long as I live.”

    This is what Miller’s writing has done for so many of us. It has had a profound impact...

  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 229-230)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 231-234)