Bestselling author to visit Mount Airy library today

Staff report

New York Times bestselling author Sharyn McCrumb will present a program on her new Ballad novel today at 2 p.m. at the Mount Airy Public Library at 145 Rockford Street.

The program centers on McCrumb’s new novel The Unquiet Grave, a retelling of a true West Virginia ghost story, in which an 1897 murder trial hinges on the testimony of a ghost.

McCrumb, an award-winning Southern writer, is best known for her Appalachian “Ballad” novels, including the New York Times best sellers The Ballad of Tom Dooley, The Ballad of Frankie Silver, and The Songcatcher, and Ghost Riders, which won the Wilma Dykeman Award for Literature from the East Tennessee Historical Society and the national Audie Award for Best Recorded Book.

McCrumb, named a Virginia Woman of History by the Library of Virginia and a Woman of the Arts by the national Daughters of the American Revolution, was awarded the Mary Hobson Prize for Arts & Letters in 2014. Her books have been named New York Times and Los Angeles Times Notable Books. In addition to presenting programs at universities, libraries, and other organizations throughout the US, McCrumb has taught a writers workshop in Paris, and served as writer-in-residence at King University in Tennessee, and at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York.

Her most recent novel, published in September by Atria Books (a division of Simon & Schuster), tells the story of The Greenbrier Ghost of Greenbrier County, West Virginia, as told by the African-American attorney who second-chaired the defense. The trial of Trout Shue is hailed as the only case in America in which a man was convicted on murder based on the testimony of his victim’s ghost.

The Unquiet Grave has been chosen as this year’s selection for North Georgia Reads by the Georgia Public Library System, and as the All Conference Read for the West Virginia State Library Conference at the Greenbrier Resort in November.

Unlike the previous accounts of this incident, which treated the story as folklore, McCrumb has researched the story, using census materials, birth and death certificates, newspaper accounts, and other documents to evoke the life and times of Zona Heaster in 1890’s Greenbrier County. She made discoveries that no one has found before.

Using a century of genealogical material and other historical documents, McCrumb discovered new information about the story and in this book she brings to life the personalities in the trial: the prosecutor, a former Confederate cavalryman; the defense attorney, a pro-Union bridgeburner, who nevertheless had owned slaves; and the mother of the murdered woman, who doggedly sticks to her ghost story—all seen through the eyes of a young black lawyer on the cusp of a new century, with his own tragedies yet to come.

The story is told in part by Mary Jane Heaster, the woman who claimed to have seen her daughter’s ghost. Another principal character, who narrates much of the book, is James P.D. Gardner, who second chaired Rucker on the defense team of Erasmus “Trout” Shue. Shue was incarcerated in Moundsville, where he died in 1899. Gardner was the first African-American attorney to practice in southern West Virginia. All this is described in The Unquiet Grave.

The library has copies of McCrumb’s previous books on the shelf and the new book is available at Pages Book Store. Copies will also be available for purchase at the library on the day of the program. The library is not normally open on Sunday afternoons but will be opening the multipurpose room for this event.

Staff report

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