On July 4, the winners of the Southern Book Prize will be announced. Throughout June, WUNC-TV will re-air North Carolina Bookwatch programs that featured finalists for the award.
Finalist Lee Smith, author of 13 novels and numerous short stories, has written a memoir, “Dimestore: A Writer’s Life,” that opens the door for her many fans to know her as well as her good friends do. It gives clues about how her life influenced her writing. She shares her growing up years in a small Appalachian coal mining town and her times working, writing and raising a family here in North Carolina
In a chapter titled “Kindly Nervous,” Smith describes the “immense anguish” her beloved father felt during bouts of bipolar mania.
But for Smith there was a bright side to her father’s condition, which he described as “kindly nervous.” When her father could not sleep, he would work all night long at the Dimestore he owned in downtown Grundy, Va. Smith went with him and slept on a pallet under his desk. In the morning, he took her to breakfast. “How I loved those breakfasts! I got to have my scrambled eggs and my own big white china cup of sweet, milky coffee alongside early-morning truckers and the miners who’d just worked the graveyard shift, their eyes rimmed with coal dust like raccoons.”
“This is an enviable life, to live in the terrain of one’s heart,” she writes. “Most writers don’t — can’t — do this. Most of us are always searching, through our work and in our lives: for meaning, for love, for home. Writing is about these things. And as writers, we cannot choose our truest material. But sometimes we are lucky enough to find it.”
EDITOR’S NOTES: D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on WUNC-TV. … This week’s guest on Sunday, June 4 and Thursday, June 8 will be Southern Book Prize finalist Lee Smith talking about “Dime Store: A Writer’s Life.’ … Other finalists for the Southern Book Award can be found online at www.sibaweb.com/siba-book-award