Ann Pancake gave background about her Common Reading selection
“Strange As The Weather has Been,” during a lecture hosted by Shepherd University.
The Frank Center Auditorium was filled will students and local folks Tuesday evening for Shepherd University’s annual Common Reading lecture event.
This year’s featured novel is a first person account set in present day Appalachia and tells the story of an small town mining family who must face the consequences of mountaintop removal.
Pancake gave the audience a look at some of the real-life stories that inspired her writing.
In the early 2000s Pancake traveled around the state of West Virginia with her sister Catherine, who was interviewing subjects for a documentary called “Black Diamonds: Mountaintop Removal and the Fight for Coalfield Justice.”
Pancake said it was during this experience that she met a family in Boone, County who served as the inspiration for the protagonists in her book.
“That really changed my life,” she said.
“I never planned to write fiction about mountain top removal,” Pancake explained.
Typically a short story writer, Pancake said the experience with the family “planted a fertile seed in my heart and my imagination.”
A book without a happy ending, Pancake said “Strange As This Weather Has Been,” is an “honest” look at the real life issue.
“There hasn’t been any happy ending to mountain top removal,” she said.
Pancake discussed the role coal extraction has played in Appalachia and the environmental issues that are impacting the global community as a whole.
“It’s not just Central Appalachia that’s in dark times right now. The whole globe is. We can’t keep denying that,” she said.
Pancake said engagement and education is crucial in changing the average person into a steward and activist for environmental issues.
“I believe that change will have to come from the bottom. From us, the people,” she said.
Pancake stressed a “revolutionizing of people’s interiors.”
She said the method of “infusing worldviews” is imperative in changing commonly accepted paradigms.
In the state of West Virginia, Pancake said Shepherdstown offers certain key features that can promote change throughout the state.
Describing it as a threshold, Pancake said “You sit on a borderline between Appalachia and what I’ll call, ‘dominant culture,'” she said.
Pancake stressed the virtue of a “hybrid consciousness,” that exemplifies the best qualities of Appalachia and the larger cultural community, as a means for creating real change.
A native of Hampshire County who now resides in Seattle, Wash, Pancake said she’s learned firsthand the benefit of a widened perspective.
“I call on both sides to become more open minded to each other,” she said.
Shepherd’s Common Reading program will host a series of events throughout the year. For more information about Common Reading and for a list of future events visit www.shepherd.edu/commonreading/.