Book club returns in April! This month, we're reading The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake. We're excited to feature another WV author.
The next meeting will be Thursday, April 27th at 5 pm, both virtual and in person.
About the book-
Breece D'J Pancake cut short a remarkably promising writing career when he took his own life in 1979 at the age of 26. In 1983 Little, Brown and Company's posthumous publication of this book electrified the literary world with a force that still resounds across two decades. A collection of stories that depict the world of Pancake's native rural West Virginia with astonishing power and grace, The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake has remained continuously in print and is a perennial favorite among aspiring writers, participants in creative writing programs, and students of contemporary American fiction. "Trilobites", the first of Pancake's stories to be published in The Atlantic, elicited an extraordinary immediate response from readers and continues to be widely anthologized.
About the author-
Breece (Dexter John) Pancake was born in South Charleston, West Virginia, the youngest child of Clarence "Wicker" Pancake and Helen Frazier Pancake, and was raised in Milton, West Virginia. Pancake briefly attended West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon before transferring to Marshall University in Huntington where he completed a bachelor's degree in English education in 1974. After graduating from Marshall he spent time out West, visiting his sister in Santa Fe. As a graduate student he studied at the University of Virginia's creative writing program under John Casey and James Alan McPherson. Pancake also worked as an English teacher at two Virginia military academies, Fork Union and Staunton.
While at the University of Virginia, Pancake deliberately styled himself as an uncultured hillbilly, distancing himself from the mostly erudite students at the prestigious school. He was an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed hunting, fishing and camping. Pancake was a devout fan of the music of folk singer Phil Ochs, who had attended Staunton Military Academy, where Pancake later taught. His favorite song was Ochs' "Jim Dean of Indiana". Ochs committed suicide exactly three years and a day before Pancake. The unusual middle name "D'J" originated from a misprint of Pancake's middle initials by The Atlantic Monthly (D.J., for Dexter John) when Pancake's first published story, "Trilobites" was published in 1977. Pancake decided not to correct it. Dexter is Pancake's middle name, while John is the name Pancake adopted after converting to Catholicism in his mid-20s.
Pancake died from a self-inflicted shotgun wound in Charlottesville, Virginia. His death was officially labeled a suicide, although there has, over the years, been some debate from people who believe the gunshot may have been an accident. Pancake was buried in Milton. He was posthumously nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake.
His vivid, compact style has been compared to that of Ernest Hemingway. Most of his stories are set in rural West Virginia and revolve around characters and naturalistic settings, often adapted from his own past. His stories received critical acclaim from readers and critics. The Atlantic's editor recalled receiving letters that "drifted in for months - asking for more stories - inquiring for collected stories, or simply expressing admiration and gratitude ... in 30-something years at The Atlantic, I cannot recall a response to a new author like the response to this one." Among the writers who claim Pancake as a strong influence are Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club and Andre Dubus III, author of House of Sand and Fog. After Pancake's death, author Kurt Vonnegut wrote in a letter to John Casey, "I give you my word of honor that he is merely the best writer, the most sincere writer I've ever read. What I suspect is that it hurt too much, was no fun at all to be that good. You and I will never know."
Have you read these stories or have a love for this author's work? Let us know! We'd love to hear from you on one of our social media pages or in person.
As always, images and info are courtesy of other web pages such as Google, Goodreads, WV Reads, etc.