Note: In 2011, Hinton writer and lawyer Perry Mann went to Virginia Tech to read from the compilation of his essays "Mann & Nature." His son, Jeff Mann, introduced his father. Nearly deaf, Perry Mann could not hear what his son said about him to the crowd, but later said, "Later, I read it, and I treasure it." In view of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, one that married same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits and another that effectively allows same-sex marriages in California, the comments were timely again. "His struggle and my help are part of the victory," Perry Mann said.
By Jeff Mann
My father, Perry Mann, is a lawyer and a farmer. He is also a fine writer, which is, obviously, the point of our gathering here tonight. He's been publishing essays in several West Virginia newspapers for decades, and now, thanks to Ann Farrell Bowers, a former student of his and now the head of Kettle Moraine Publishing, he has published a collection of essays about country living and the environment, Mann & Nature, from which he will read this evening.
Rarely have I had the opportunity to introduce a writer who has influenced me as profoundly as my father has. From him I've gotten my dedication to books and literature (witness my English degrees from West Virginia University, my voracious reading, and my own publications), my love of the outdoors (witness my Nature Interpretation degree from the same institution and my compulsive botanizing in poem after poem), my pride in my country roots and the Appalachian culture that has shaped me, my devotion to down-home cooking and strong drink, and my snarly detestation of conservatives and religious fundamentalists. In fact, almost every intellectual or emotional trait I possess - other than my same-sex attraction to hairy men, a mystery no science can yet explain - I can trace to his influence.
On this point, my lusty admiration for men, I should add that not only has my father been hugely understanding, but he's been protective as well, even using his literary abilities to defend me and my queer kind. In the late nineties, my sister Amy called one weekend to ask if I'd seen the latest issue of The Charleston Gazette. I had not.
"Well," she advised, "You'd better. Daddy published an article about you." Oh, Lord. I tracked a copy of the newspaper down. In it was my father's letter to the editor, "Hatemonger preachers could inspire violence." Turns out that a Baptist minister in the Kanawha Valley had stated in the Gazette that "gays, lesbians, and pedophiles" were not welcome in the Mountain State.
Daddy - yes, even at my present age of 52, I still call my father "Daddy" - began his attack on the nasty preacher by proclaiming, "My son is gay. Further, he is not normal. He never has been, nor ever will be."
After that statewide outing, I began joking about being "The Official Homosexual of the State of West Virginia," but of course I was hugely grateful for his eloquent words against homophobia. God knows there are many LGBT folks whose families are far less understanding.
Once, in the early eighties, having fallen in love with another in a long line of handsome, callous narcissists, I'd gone into therapy in search of some relief from pain and romantic confusion. My therapist at one point said, "Well, you know the only reason you think the way you do about so many things is because your father has taught you to think that way." I cogitated, then said, with less defensiveness than pure conviction, "That's true. But he's right."
I still think that. He's right about the wholesomeness of country living. He's right about religious conservatives and their virulent hypocrisies, and he's right about the prime importance of nature in our lives. I'm not the only one to think so. He has a wide and enthusiastic readership, not only folks all over West Virginia, but now, thanks to the Internet, all over the world. He has an enviable collection of fan letters, both e-mailed and hand written. Robert Shetterly, whose portrait of Daddy serves as the cover of Mann and Nature, included him in Americans Who Tell The Truth, among such famous figures as Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman.
This honor is well deserved. Daddy's been telling his truths, however unpopular they might occasionally be, all his life. He was outspoken in the sixties, when his protests against racist policies in the schools of Covington, Va., where he taught at the time, cost him his job. He's been outspoken throughout his writing career, championing liberalism and the environment, and so has racked up a good bit of hate mail along with those many fan letters.
His courage - to be and believe and say what he will -his defiant Emersonian nonconformity, his freedom from that suffocating small-town constriction, "What will people think?!" his Appalachian self-reliance, and his restless desire for knowledge are his greatest legacies. Thanks to his essays - those published far and wide, and now these collected in this volume from Kettle Moraine Publishing - the Mann legacy is one that, fortunately, is not restricted to his family. I am very proud and pleased to share him with you all tonight.
Mann, a poet and novelist, is an English professor at Virginia Tech.