Prayer at Sunrise

The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man was published anonymously in 1912. Its title can be confusing, since the book is a work of fiction, based heavily upon the personal experience of its author, James Weldon Johnson. If you haven’t, please read the novel someday. Like any great piece of literature, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured […]


Stumps and logs were what remained of the American chestnut tree on our farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains when I was a boy. At woods edge near the house stood a lone tree, stunted, no more than ten feet tall. For years it leafed out in the spring, but the leaves withered. Then, only […]


Yesterday I listened to an NPR interview with author Peter Ross Range, who’s just published the book, 1924: The Year That Made Hitler. “This was the year of Hitler’s final transformation into the self-proclaimed savior and infallible leader who would interpret and distort Germany’s historical traditions to support his vision for the Third Reich,” reads […]

Buffalo Laughter

Last week I read Richard Nester’s collection of poems, Buffalo Laughter. In Floyd County, Virginia, where Richard and I grew up, there’s a hump-shaped peak known as Buffalo Mountain. Floyd County High School (FCHS), where we met, is home to the Fighting Buffaloes. A year ahead of me, Richard went from Buffalo to Cavalier, attending […]

The New Year

Storms this holiday killed 43 people in the United States. Homes were shredded to kindling by 200 mph cyclones, while vehicles were tossed like bathtub toys in roiling floodwaters. Yet my big concern this morning was the dogs won’t go out to pee in the rain. It’s a great weight, isn’t it, the weight of […]

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus

“Is there a Santa Claus?” asked little Virginia O’Hanlon in a letter to the editor of the New York Sun newspaper in 1897. Francis Pharcellus Church wrote the paper’s legendary reply. “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus,” Church said. “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that […]

Why Old Men Plant Trees

Magnolia grandiflora. Even the name is beautiful, isn’t it? Never mind the fragrant blossoms with petals like white satin, or the shimmering green leaves, rusty on the underside. My wife Mary Leigh frets about the litter of big leaves and fruit, but I say no one complains about picking up after a successful party. Oh, […]

Skeleton in the Closet

When I arrived at the University of Virginia in 1968, I sometimes whispered to myself the names I saw memorialized on facades and statues. Surely those were great men, I thought. Soon I had a part-time job in a lab located in the Barringer wing of the University hospital. I gave little heed to the […]

To Mary Leigh with the Blue Eyes

“The fiction of good storytellers can get at some of the barren heartache and injustice behind those old Jim Crow stories as well as the brand new Jim Crow stories of massacres and ‘legal homicides’ showing up in our newspapers at the beginning of another century, the twenty-first. Travel back a hundred years or so […]

Sheriff R. K. Curtis

How excited I was when I found the photograph of the six men above! Why? The man standing at the far right is the historical Sheriff R. K. Curtis, who arrested and held Virginia Christian in the Elizabeth City County jail in Hampton. Sheriff Curtis’s deputies accompanied the girl to the courthouse the days of […]