Celebrated as the "Dean of Appalachian Literature," James Still has captivated the hearts and engaged the minds of audiences within Appalachia and beyond for the past seventy years. His River of Earth (1940) and The Wolfpen Poems (1986) have become staples of Appalachian literature and his meticulous, rhythmic style has inspired a countless number of writers. But at the time of his death, one final manuscript, perhaps his strongest, remained unpublished.
After receiving the manuscript in a broken briefcase that Mr. Still had fastened shut with an old belt, fellow writer Silas House painstakingly waded through extensive writings, notes, and corrections, assembling and refining the story until he arrived at the intended product: Chinaberry. In this tale of a young boy who travels from Alabama to Texas to work on a cotton farm, Still artfully addresses the meaning of family and the impact that one person can have in the lives of others. Named for the ranch that serves as the centerpiece of the story, Chinaberry shares the boy's tale as he makes his home with owners Anson and Lurie Winters, a couple whose characters have been molded by intense labor, strong family ties, and the tragic death of a child.
A mix of imagination and narrative, Chinaberry reflects several experiences from Still's childhood. Similar to the main character, Still was raised in a cotton-farming family in Alabama, and his parents had strong ties to Texas, marrying and having their first three children there. Still often related the story to friends as if it was his own, but no definitive proof of its truth exists. Whether fiction or memoir, Chinaberry stands as a final gift to readers from a beloved author, and the universality of his story of family is sure to resonate. As House writes in the introduction, "We each have our own Chinaberry."
James Still (1906–2001) was the author of several works of fiction and poetry, including River of Earth, The Wolfpen Poems, and From the Mountain, From the Valley.