Novelist Robert Gipe to appear April 20 in Appalachian’s Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series
By Ken Keuffel
BOONE, N.C.—When Robert Gipe appears April 20 in the Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series at Appalachian State University, the occasion will spotlight a current attraction and a coming one.
The current attraction is “Trampoline” (Ohio University Press, 2015), an illustrated novel, which received the 2015 Weatherford Award in fiction from the Appalachian Studies Association and Berea College. The Weatherford recognizes works that “best illuminate the challenges, personalities and unique qualities of the Appalachian South.”
Gipe will read from “Trampoline” at 7:30 p.m. in Room 201B (Table Rock Room) of the Plemmons Student Union. From 2 to 3:15 p.m., he will offer a craft talk titled “Arts & Activism: The Unnatural Nature of Natural Storytellers” in the same location. All series events are free and open to the public, and book sales and signing will follow each event.
The coming attraction, also an illustrated novel, is “Weedeater,” which Ohio University Press will publish in the spring of 2018. Gipe will treat series patrons to a reading from this book as well, which is a sequel to “Trampoline.”
Gipe’s presentations will wrap up the spring 2017 portion of the series. He is fast emerging as one of the most talented and dynamic voices in Appalachian literature today. After graduating from Wake Forest University, he earned a master’s degree in American studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee, and has worked as a pickle packer, a forklift driver and educational services director for Appalshop. He lives in Harlan, Kentucky, and works as the director of the Appalachian Program at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, where he is a key producer of “Higher Ground,” a series of community-based musical dramas inspired by oral histories and local issues. Gipe will talk about “Higher Ground” during his craft talk.
Sandra Ballard is the editor of the Appalachian Journal, which is published at Appalachian. She recommended Gipe for the series and expressed great enthusiasm for “Trampoline,” which is set in Kentucky coal country. In it, a teenager named Dawn Jewell takes on life with what Ballard described as “real gumption,” living with her addict mother and her inspiring grandmother, whose stance against the coal companies is not sitting well with many folks in her community. Dawn supports her grandmother’s fight against mountaintop removal mining.
“Robert Gipe has written an innovative first novel that offers a new example of what Appalachian fiction is,” Ballard said. “It’s brutal and hilarious and full of illustrations that you cannot skip over – they are essential to the story. There is a girl with green hair who wants her driver’s license and a boyfriend and Appalachian mountains not to be blasted into oblivion…We ache for Dawn and cheer for her and love her, and there’s humor without sentimentality in this book. Here is a gritty contemporary Appalachian novel with edgy illustrations and a warm, beating heart.”
As for “Weedeater,” it is set in eastern Kentucky at the nadir of the prescription drug epidemic. “It is the story of Dawn Jewell, a young mother confronting tragedy and loss, ill-conceived love and environmental protest, and decisions that might cost her her life and the lives of those she loves,” reads a description provided by Ohio University Press.
Gipe said that he plans to write one more book featuring Dawn and characters who also appear in “Trampoline” and “Weedeater.” He offered two reasons for writing sequels. The first is serious. The second reflects what Susan Weinberg, the series’ coordinator, called the dry humor that comes through in Gipe’s presentations.
The first reason: “I like Dawn and wasn’t done listening to her.”
The second reason: “I like stories that keep on going. I guess because I grew up watching television shows that just kept on going.”
About the Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series
The Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series, named in honor of alumna Hughlene Bostian Frank ’68, brings distinguished and up-and-coming creative writers to the Appalachian State University campus throughout the year to present readings and discuss their works. Frank is a 2013 Appalachian Alumni Association Outstanding Service award recipient, past member of Appalachian’s Board of Trustees, current board member of the Appalachian State University Foundation Inc., and generous supporter of Appalachian. Learn more at http://visitingwriters.appstate.edu.
The Spring 2017 Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series is supported by the Appalachian State University Foundation Inc., Appalachian’s Office of Academic Affairs, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English, Office of Multicultural Student Development, University Bookstore, Belk Library and Information Commons, and the Appalachian Journal. Business sponsors are The Gideon Ridge Inn, The Red Onion Restaurant and The New Public House & Hotel. Community sponsors include John and the late Margie Idol, Paul and Judy Tobin, Alice Naylor and Thomas McLaughlin.
About Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 18,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.