The Tangierman's Lament, and Other Tales of Virginia

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Go where the story is—that’s one tenet of journalism Earl Swift has had little trouble living up to. In two decades of covering the commonwealth, Swift has hiked, canoed—even spelunked—a singular path through Virginia. He has also stopped and listened. This collection brings together some twenty Virginia tales wherein hardship is revealed as tragedy, and humor appears as uncanny, illuminating strangeness.

The Pulitzer-nominated title story takes us to the Chesapeake island of ...

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Overview

Go where the story is—that’s one tenet of journalism Earl Swift has had little trouble living up to. In two decades of covering the commonwealth, Swift has hiked, canoed—even spelunked—a singular path through Virginia. He has also stopped and listened. This collection brings together some twenty Virginia tales wherein hardship is revealed as tragedy, and humor appears as uncanny, illuminating strangeness.

The Pulitzer-nominated title story takes us to the Chesapeake island of Tangier, home to a Methodist enclave over two hundred years old, with an economy almost wholly dependent on the blue crab. The gradual exodus of the island’s young people and the dwindling crab hauls point to an inevitable extinction that finds a dramatic metaphor in the erosion of the island itself, which is literally disappearing beneath its inhabitants’ feet.

An epic piece of reporting, "When the Rain Came" revisits the August night in 1969 when Hurricane Camille descended on Nelson and Rockbridge counties, bringing with it a deluge of nearly Biblical proportions that killed 151 people. It was later characterized by the Department of the Interior as "one of the all-time meteorological anomalies in the United States." Swift looks beyond the extraordinary numbers to find the individual stories, told to him by the people who still remember the trembling floorboards and rain too heavy to see, or even breathe, through.

Other stories include a nerve-wracking inside look at the Pentagon on the morning of 9/11, the travails of a failed novelist turned folk-art demigod, an account of a 1929 Scott County tornado (deemed the deadliest in Virginia history), and a profile of Nelson County swami Master Charles, who boasts a corps of meditative followers, a mountain retreat in Nellysford, and an incomplete resume. Each piece reconfirms Virginia as a land uncommonly rich in stories—and Earl Swift as one of its most perceptive and tireless chroniclers.

University of Virginia Press

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Editorial Reviews

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Norfolk Virginian-Pilot journalist Earl Swift sees stories where others see only numbers. Behind the numerical decline of Tangier Island, for example, he perceives a heroic 100-year epoch being literally washed away. The Department of the Interior called 1969 Hurricane Camille "one of the all-time meteorological anomalies" in our country's history, but Swift views it as a bracing catastrophe that ripped families apart and shredded houses like paper toys. This collection of 20 nonfiction pieces about Virginia shows that grassroots reporting can snap the big picture into human focus.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813926223
  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press
  • Publication date: 10/10/2007
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

A staff writer for the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, Earl Swift has been a Fulbright fellow, PEN finalist, and five times nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He is the author of Where They Lay: Searching for America’s Lost Soldiers and Journey on the James: Three Weeks through the Heart of Virginia (Virginia), winner of the 2002 Phillip D. Reed Award for environmental writing.

University of Virginia Press

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Table of Contents


Introduction     1
The Immortal Dismalites     5
The Unexpected Artist     14
The Tangierman's Lament     19
Bang the Drum Loudly     41
When the Rain Came     48
Playing the Last Round     82
Where Is the Fabulous Dewey Diamond?     87
In the Radiance of Master Charles     94
Ricochet     105
Meat     113
Flush wich Success     119
A Song of Sorrow     123
Love and Justice     129
To the Lighthouse     132
At a Fork in the Trail     148
History Floats     154
The Race Is Off     163
Tory Terrorist     173
Out of Nowhere     179
Claimed Only by the Flood     215
Notes on the Stories     223
Acknowledgments     231
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