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In Their Own Country logo In Their Own Country text in English Vivace font
Winner of the national Gabriel Award for programs that uplift the human spirit.

Entertaining visits with fourteen of West Virginia’s most celebrated writers.  

Pinckney Benedict

Benedict writes stories about people struggling to keep their dignity and humor against big odds, mixed with fast-paced, dark tales of giant hogs and drug lords. Often funny, often violent. A controversial writer who delivers memorable writing advice and talks frankly about his writing and himself. 

Examples of readings in show: a young man busts a beloved older man out of a nursing home -- a giant, dangerous white hog attacks two teenagers -- a judge's wife waltzes into a farmhouse and asks to buy a piece of the family furniture   

  Born and raised on dairy farm near Lewisburg 1964.  Married to writer Laura Philpot Benedict, one daughter, one son.  

Publications:  Town Smokes, Ontario Review Press, Princeton 1987; The Wrecking Yard, Doubleday 1992; Dogs of God, Doubleday 1994; Four Days, screenplay, Cite Amerique Films, Montreal, 1999, distributed by Paramount Home Video. Stories and essays published in Esquire, Zoetrope: All-Story, Ontario Review, etc.  Frequently anthologizes; e.g., The Oxford Book of American Short Stories, the Pushcart Prize collection, the O. Henry Awards anthology, and the New Stories From The South series.

Education and Career:  AB Princeton 1986 (studied with Joyce Carol Oates); MFA University of Iowa 1988.  Contributing editor Pushcart Prize series.  Instructor/professor Oberlin College (OH), Ohio State University, Princeton University, Hope College (MI), Hollins College (VA).  Screenwriter, opera lyricist.

Awards:  Nelson Algren Short Story Award, Chicago Tribune, 1986; Steinbeck Award (Britain); Literary Fellowship from the West Virginia Arts and Humanities Council, 1994; Literature Fellowship in Fiction from the National Endowment for the Arts, 2000;Town Smokes, The Wrecking Yard, Dogs of God all named Notable Books by New York Times Book Review.   Work compared to William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, Breece Pancake, Joseph Conrad, James Dickey.

Reviewers' Comments:
-"Benedict has managed to make a major contribution to almost every prose publishing niche worth inhabiting�. [His attractiveness is based on] elemental good-old boy wit, self-effacing charm, and ability to produce beautiful language."  (Brad Vice in The Novel and Short Story Writer's Market, Writer's Digest 2000). 
-"Benedict searches out the moral dimension in the hardscrabble lives of rednecks and country people, and transcends the folksy bromides they espouse.  He discerns the confusion and ambiguities in their seemingly uncomplicated lives.  Benedict's range is expansive, his vision focused, and his voice true."  (Kirkus Reviews)

Benedict�s Comments about writing from In Their Own Country: "[Stories] are not satisfactions. Often, stories work best when they deny us their expected or hoped-for satisfaction and give us some other experience instead of that. The writer as moralist [is] obligated to observe carefully and truthfully and record what the writer observed. That's sort of the highest calling I can imagine for myself, just to observe truthfully.

Excerpts from In Their Own Country:

Pinckney: I remember, I think it was The Times, the New York Times review of Dogs of God that said something like, "One fears for the sanity of the writer who dared to look the devils in the eye" or something like that, and I figured, about the time I've got people worried about my sanity, I must be doing something right.

Pinckney: Robertson Davies is a writer I admire a lot, a Canadian writer, a really great novelist and essayist. And he saw the role of the writer as moralist. Not to moralize or proselytize or set out any moral standard. But the writer as moralist was really obligated to observe carefully and truthfully and record what the writer observed. And that seems to me to be the highest calling I can imagine for myself, is just to observe truthfully. And try not to lie about things.

That said, of course, I'm making stuff up and writing fiction. But I'm just trying to observe with as clear an eye as I can.

Pinckney: The one thing I try not to do in my fiction is over-intellectualize. I mean, I do it a lot in my own life. I'm sitting around in a room just thinking myself into a big hole, you know. But my characters don't do that. And they have recourse to their bodies, a lot. They exist in their bodies rather than solely in their heads.

Pinckney: Everybody's a really good storyteller, at least when they're asleep. Because your dreams are you, right? You generate your dreams. They come out of things you know. You recognize people in them. You recognize places in them.

And you have some kind of control of them, in that, without you, they don't exist. And they're utterly convincing. And they terrify you. Or delight you. You can laugh in your dreams. You can scream. You can cry. You can have sexual adventures. And at the same time, the dream is using the material of your brain in some way to shape itself.

You don't know what's going to happen, but it's you that's doing it.

If you've ever had a dream where you're told a joke or someone has told you a joke, and when you hear the punch line, you laugh, because it's a surprise to you. But then you wake up, and you think, How could it have been a surprise? I told myself that joke. I mean, there's nobody in there but me.

Well, that's very much what writing is like for me when it's going well. There is this fully-realized world that is utterly convincing to me, that I recognize parts of, although they're often recombined. You know, there'll be some of my grandmother's house joined to some of my parents' house, joined to some of my own house. Just like in dreams. And the characters are often people I recognize, although they shift and transmute and change and take on different aspects in  the course of the writing. And they'll say things. And they'll surprise me. It is like I'm dreaming them or they and I are participating in some common dream.

See also: Contemporary Authors Online, The Novel and Short Story Writer�s Market, The Southern Review, Mountainlit.com

Links: The Works of Pinckney Benedict
Rescuing Moon from The Wrecking Yard
O. Henry Collection short story, Buckeyes

Hollins University English & Creative Writing

 Program music performed by: Ron Sowell

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Last modified: 09/16/08