The Columns

R.T. Smith Publishes a New Collection of (Really) Short Stories

— by on October 28th, 2015

R.T. Smith, the award-winning author and editor of “Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review,” has published a new work of fiction, “Chinquapins” (Fiction Southeast).

His fifth collection of short stories is named for the Chinquapin oak tree and its edible acorns, an indigenous species in the Southeast. Like the tree, Smith’s stories in this book are indigenous to the region. “They’re very peculiar stories,” he said. Ranging from one to three pages, “they’re full of Appalachian vernacular and folkways and customs and religion, but are not set within any particular time frame.”

Smith has written four other collections of stories, “Sherburne,” “Faith,” “Uke Rivers Delivers” and “Calaboose Epistles.” He is the author of over 14 poetry collections, including “The Red Wolf: A Dream of Flannery O’Connor,” “Outlaw Style: Poems,” “The Hollow Log Lounge,” “Brightwood” and “Messenger.”

Although the stories in “Chinquapins” cover the age-old themes of love, death, courtship, murder and widowhood, Smith noted that what binds them together is his exploration of how the hard life in the Appalachians leads his characters to such extremes and anguish. “An agricultural life, where the rhythm of life conforms to the farmer’s almanac, brings all kinds of ordeals that people have to go through, like absolutely killing weather,” he explained. “Some of the stories are uplifting, a lot of them are not.”

His publisher offers this description of Smith’s newest book: “In the short short stories of ‘Chinquapins,’ Smith exposes crucial moments in the lives of Appalachian characters and culture while exploring thresholds between poetry and prose, as songbirds fall from the sky, borders are violated and old war wounds linger over in the hills and hollers. Whether the issue at hand involves dulcimers, mill accidents, bear hunts or lost children, passion and peril entwine in a hardscrabble world where the sorrowful lyrics of ballads and the robust vernacular of the rural Blue Ridge Mountains echo on the wind.”

In addition to editing “Shenandoah,” Smith is W&L’s writer-in-residence, and teaches creative writing and literature courses at W&L and directs an internship program at “Shenandoah.”

He has received one fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, two Virginia Arts Commission fellowships, three Alabama Arts Council fellowships and the Alabama Governor’s Award for Achievement by an Artist. He also received three fellowships for an individual artist from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Smith’s writings have won the Pushcart Prize three times, have been published five times in “New Stories from the South,” and have also been published in “Best American Short Stories,” “Best American Poetry,” “Atlantic Monthly” and “Southern Review,” among others.

He twice won the Library of Virginia Poetry Book Award, for “Messenger” and for “Outlaw Style: Poems,” and the 2013 Carole Weinstein Prize in Poetry.

“Chinquapins” is available as both a traditional-bound book or as an e-book at fictionsoutheast.org and on Amazon.

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