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Author of 'Storming Heaven' Denise Giardina says coal is dying

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West Virginia author, Denise Giardina, who wrote a fictional retelling of the state's mine wars believes Southern West Virginia is "gone" and coal is dying.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A West Virginia author who wrote a fictional retelling of the state's mine wars believes Southern West Virginia is "gone" and coal is dying.

"It's clear it's dying," Denise Giardina said Sunday. "Probably not in my lifetime, but it's dying. And Southern West Virginia is dying. And it's not going to come back. Those mountains are not going to come back."

Giardina's comments came during the final installment of the 2012 Little Lecture Series by the West Virginia Humanities Council.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of her award-winning novel, "Storming Heaven," which tells the story of life in the state's southern coalfields and the events leading up to and culminating with the Battle of Blair Mountain.

Giardina summed up her novel and its follow-up, "The Unquiet Earth," by saying "The coal company giveth and the coal company taketh away."

The stories are fiction based on truth, she said. The author, who grew up in a coal camp in McDowell County, recalled miners talking about coal companies forcing them to vote a certain way. Families there lived in coal company houses and on their land, she said.

As a child learning in school about the Soviet Union, she thought the coal camp she lived in was more like that country than the United States, she said.

Parts of her stories came from accounts she heard from other people. For instance, a retired Logan County miner told her he once saw a black man thrown into a furnace for having a union card on him, she said. She used that account for a character in "Storming Heaven."

Giardina said throughout her education she had not been taught about the state's mine wars. She became interested in the mine wars after reading a book on the subject, she said.

The author's second book came out in 1992. Conditions for coal and the state's coalfields have gotten worse since then, she said.

She described coal's status today as Godzilla suffering a wound and thrashing around before death.

With coal's demise, so goes the southwestern part of the state, she said.

"What do we have left?" she said. "We have a community that's ravished by drugs, where there are no jobs."

With the exceptions of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd and Sen. Jay Rockefeller's latest comments on coal, the state's political system is "down the tubes," she said.

Coal is "not a corpse but a body on life support," Giardina said. "That's what we're left with in Southern West Virginia."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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