Welcome to our new #FridayReads feature on the blog. Every week, we’ll be excerpting a chapter of one of our favorite books to start your weekend. This week, it’s New York Times bestselling author Lee Smith’s Dimestore: A Writer’s Life.
Lee Smith’s fiction has always lived and breathed with the rhythms and people of the Appalachian South. But never before has she written her own story. Dimestore’s fifteen essays are crushingly honest, wise and perceptive, and superbly entertaining. Together, they create an inspiring story of the birth of a writer and a poignant look at a way of life that has all but vanished.
Scroll down for an excerpt.
Excerpt from “On Lou’s Porch”
It was the hot, muggy summer of 1980; I was in Abingdon, Virginia, for a week to teach creative writing class. We had already gone around the table and introduced ourselves when here came this old woman in a man’s hat and fuzzy bedroom shoes, grey head shaking a little with palsy, huffing and puffing up the stairs, dropping notebooks and pencils all over the place, greeting everybody with a smile and a joke. She was a real commotion all by herself.
“Hello there, young lady,” she said to me. “My name is Lou Crabtree, and I just love to write!” My heart sank like a stone. Here was every creative writing teacher’s nightmare: the nutty old lady who will invariably write sentimental drivel and monopolize the class as well.
“Pleased to meet you,” I lied. The week stretched out before me, hot and intolerable, an eternity. But I had to pull myself together. Looking around at all those sweaty, expectant faces, I began, “Okay, now I know you’ve brought a story with you to read to the group, so let’s start out by thinking about beginnings, about how we start a story….let’s go around the room, and I want you to read the first line of your story aloud.”
So we began. Nice lines, nice people. We got to Lou, who cleared her throat and read this line: “Old Rellar had thirteen miscarriages and she named every one of them.”
I sat up. “Would you read that line again?” I asked.
“Old Rellar had thirteen miscarriages and she named every one of them,” Lou read.
I took a deep breath. “Keep going,” I said.
“Only of late, she got mixed up and missed some. This bothered her. She looked toward the iron bed. It had always been exactly the same. First came the prayer, then the act with Old Man gratifying himself….”
She read the whole thing. It ended with the lines: “You live all your life and work things up to come to nothing. The bull calf bawled somewhere.”
I had never heard anything like it.
“Lou,” I asked her after class, “have you written anything else? I’d like to see it.”
The next day, she brought a battered suitcase. “This ain’t all, either,” she said.