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Harper’s Ferry comes alive in debut novel by local man

By Staff | Apr 17, 2009

John Michael Cummings

As part of his month-long book tour in West Virginia, Harpers Ferry native John Michael Cummings will read from his debut YA novel The Night I Freed John Brown (Philomel Books, Penguin Group) at Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown this April.

His visit is scheduled for Wednesday, April 22, at 4 p.m.

His novel – seven years in the making – offers a native’s unique view of a famous and popular West Virginia town.

Nationally, “The Night I Freed John Brown” has been well reviewed by wide-ranging publications from Kirkus Reviews, USA TODAY, and The Boston Globe to Mid-American Review and The Texas Review. Other rave reviews include BookPage, Teenreads.com, and The ALAN Review, along with The Orange County Register and The Baton Rouge Advocate.

Regionally, his novel has been featured in five West Virginia newspapers, including The Times West Virginian, The Martinsburg Journal, and The Daily Athenaeum.

Cummings’ novel is also under consideration for the West Virginia Children’s Book Award, and at least five West Virginia librarians have nominated it for American Library Association’s two awards for debut novels: The William C. Morris Award and The Michael L. Printz Award. One West Virginia librarian recommended it, in writing, to the Newbery Award Committee.

“The Night I Freed John Brown” is suitable for ages 11 and up.

Over the last 15 years, Cummings’ short stories have appeared in more than 75 literary journals, including North American Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Chattahoochee Review, The Kenyon Review, and The Iowa Review. His short story “The Scratchboard Project,” published in The Iowa Review, received an honorable mention in The Best American Short Stories 2007.

Twice he has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. His novella “The House of My Father,” from which this novel was adapted, was a finalist in the 2006 Miami University Novella Contest.

Cummings grew up in Harpers Ferry in the 1970s. His family had no ties to the national park. His father worked for the post office, and his mother was the town clerk.

“We were locals,” he says. As The Brooklyn Daily Eagle puts it, “It isn’t every day that a debut novel is being praised by a Poet Laureate, Newbery Honor recipient, and Pushcart Prize winner, but The Night I Freed John Brown is a rare release.”