Maggie Marangione on the history of displacement that created the Shenandoah National Park
Author Maggie Marangione writes about the history of the Blue Ridge Mountains in her new novel, which explores the social and political changes of industrialization, women's equality, and the removal of families to form the Shenandoah National Park. She's our speaker for WMRA's November 2022 Book & Brews at Pale Fire Brewing Company.
WMRA's Chris Boros spoke with her and asked her to describe the families that were forced from their homes on the mountain.
MARANGIONE: They came from all different economic strata, again they were very much vilified back in the 1920s and '30s as being just kind of very poor, but that is not true. They had a tendency to grow, and farm, and support themselves... some certainly worked off the mountain, but they made their living from a variety of means, from the chestnuts, tanning bark, stone masonry, carpentry, certainly farming, and then lived in kind of tight knit communities.
BOROS: Was there a reason you chose to tell their story through a novel as opposed to a nonfiction book?
MARANGIONE: Well one, I kind of just got the creative spark for it. But two, I believe stories have a way of resonating with people more than let's say academic nonfiction books do. It makes something come alive and as human beings we are just primed for a story. And stories are one of the ways we learn about our own family history, we have usually good memories of stories, so stories are a good way to communicate ideas I think.
BOROS: What type of research did you do in order to provide an accurate picture of this time in history?
MARANGIONE: Well, uh, you know the research was kind of piece meal. I worked on it slowly over probably 10 years. You know, and that included, you know, gathering stories from people I met, and my neighbors. Doing research with what eventually became the JMU oral history collection of the stories from people who left the park. Going to Shenandoah national Park archives and and talking to the rangers and people up there. And then, you know, hiking in the mountains and finding the old home sites and graveyards were always an inspiration.
BOROS: What was the main reason that these people were forced out of their homes?
MARANGIONE: To make a park on the east coast that would be accessible to people from Washington DC.
BOROS: How did most of the people react to that? Were there some that said, "Yeah, give me some money for my house," or were there, I'm assuming there were a lot of people who were very much against it.
MARANGIONE: The stories we tend to hear more of are the stories of people who were devastated, who didn't want to leave, who had to be dragged out, whose farms were burned behind them. But certainly there were some people who looked at it as a means for, you know, as a means of maybe getting off the mountain. You know unfortunately they weren't paid a lot of money for their farms, so it didn't go terribly far.
BOROS: What draws you to the park and to the mountains?
MARANGIONE: Well certainly it's the beauty, it's the sense of freedom. I am not a city person, I never really was. In fact at my first farm, I lived way way way up in the mountains by the Blue ridge parkway, just kind of surrounded by the national Forest. it's a way of life that definitely has appealed to me.
BOROS: What's most important to you about the history of the mountain in the park? Is it these families who were forced to leave?
MARANGIONE: Yeah, you know, it's such a complex story. Certainly they are not the first, or the last large group of people that are going to be displaced from their land. I mean certainly when we think about American history we have to think about the native Americans. Some people were, you know, referred to as feeble-minded and they would get moved to the Virginia colony, and as well as there's so much continued from future generations, the resentment, it's still held with a lot of these families.
BOROS: Maggie Marangione is a professor of American and Appalachian literature at Blue ridge Community College. Her new book is "Across the Blue Ridge Mountains" and she's our guest for tomorrow's Books & Brews in Harrisonburg. Maggie congratulations on the book and we're really looking forward to Books & Brews tomorrow, thank you for your time.
MARANGIONE: Thank You.