Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Along for the Ride

Tom Piazza makes a perilous Opry run with bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin

In the day, country music characters like Grandpa Jones, Mel Tillis, and George Jones left a wake of hilarious, poignant, and bawdy tales that Music Row insiders passed around like baseball cards. Of these, none were more often repeated than those involving self-proclaimed “King of Bluegrass” Jimmy Martin, a notorious loose canon. In 1998 music writer Tom Piazza followed Martin on a harrowing visit to the Grand Ole Opry, during which the inebriated singer came close to fisticuffs with at least two members of that venerable institution. Ten years after appearing in The Oxford American, the resulting article, “True Adventures with the King of Bluegrass,” is now available in paperback.

Read more

Inventing Tennessee's own Yoknapatawpha County

Novelist William Gay talks with Chapter 16 about his books, his beginnings, and why he writes better in Hohenwald than anywhere else on earth

In just over a decade, William Gay has gone from being an unpublished drywall hanger to one of Tennessee’s most acclaimed living writers. Often compared to William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, and Thomas Wolfe, Gay was born in 1943 in Hohenwald, Tennessee. After living in New York and Chicago in the 1960s and ’70s, he returned to his hometown—where he still lives—to work in construction by day and write fiction by night. His first novel, The Long Home, won the 1999 James A. Michener Memorial Prize. He subsequently published two novels, Provinces of Night and Twilight, and a book of short stories, I Hate to See that Evening Sun Go Down. In 2007 Gay was named a USA Ford Foundation Fellow, and in 2010 he will publish his fourth novel, The Lost Country.

Read more

Molehills Out of Mountains

In a new oral-history project, novelist Silas House assembles a powerful collection of voices speaking out against the coal-mining practice of mountaintop removal

There are places in the Appalachians where entire mountaintops are blown to smithereens; bulldozers push trees, topsoil, dirt, and rocks off the mountainsides; and the debris fills rivers and streams in the valleys below. This practice, known as mountaintop removal mining and valley fill, turns lush green mountains into barren gray moonscapes. Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal, a new collection of oral histories by Silas House and Jason Howard, gives a tally of just what we’re losing to this destructive mining method and notes that the relatively small seams of coal unearthed by the process come at an immeasurably high price.

Read more

From Memphis to Montpelier

Lisa Patton’s novel leads a Southern Belle into a wintry hell—where, to her own shock, she thrives

Lisa Patton‘s debut novel, Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’easter, is a calorie-free popsicle of a story about a Southern girl out of the pool and into the snow. Vermont might as well be a foreign country to Leelee Satterfield, who has moved there from Memphis with her husband, daughters, and a Yorkie named Princess Grace.

Read more

Kindred Souls of Knoxville

Singer-songwriter-poet-playwright R.B. Morris orbits in the literary gravity of James Agee and their shared city

R.B. Morris recently received a phone call from his longtime friend and sometime touring partner, the legendary folk singer Steve Earle. Both have published books of poetry as well as music, and both share a deep interest in the writer James Agee. Earle explained that he had been asked to write a forward for a new edition of A Death in Family, Agee’s Pulitzer-winning novel based on his own boyhood in the Ft. Sanders section of Knoxville, the place—not coincidentally—where Morris grew up.

Read more