top of page

A Childhood Colored by Coal

by Catherine Young

In 1855, the landscape painter George Inness began work on his commissioned painting The Lackawanna Valley. A century later, a girl in Scranton, Pennsylvania, looks out over her coal-strewn homeland wishing for beauty and wondering where the artist had stood with his canvas. The interplay between the two stories is at the heart of Catherine Young’s memoir Black Diamonds: A Childhood Colored By Coal. Young invites readers into a world now vanished, but which lingers in shimmering portraits. A lyric work of environmental history, Black Diamonds gives voice to the birthplace of the industrial revolution in North America and the consequences for the people and the forgotten valley that once powered the nation.

September 2023 | Nonfiction | 9781948814836 | 288 pp | $17.95 


“Young’s revealing sentences sculpt an image of Lackawanna Valley that is both tender and terrifying. ”

—TAYLOR BRORBY, author of Boys and Oil: Growing Up Gay in a Fractured Land

“Catherine Young paints a lovely and dreamlike poem-portrait of her childhood in a Pennsylvania coal town. Black Diamonds beautifully captures a transformative moment in American history and is a skillfully written and remarkable ode to Place.”

—JONATHAN P. THOMPSON, author of Sagebrush Empire: How a Remote Utah County Became The Battlefront of American Public Lands


“Young is a poet of superb gifts that inform her prose at every turn. Black Diamonds is a book to treasure that is full of stories that are rich in memory and landscape.”

—JAY PARINI, author of Borges and Me: An Encounter


“With Young’s remarkable gift for description, she depicts the cost of the Pennsylvania coal boom to the land and the families who mined it with a loving honesty and a lyricism that will honor the Lackawanna Valley and its people for a long time to come.”

—NATALIE S. HARNETT, author of The Hollow Ground, winner of the Appalachian Book of the Year Award and the John Gardner Book Award


"Black Diamonds tells a compelling story of the complicated love of place particular to coal communities. Young brings a refreshing new voice to our grasp of geographical kinship. This much-needed memoir offers a uniquely empathetic critique of extractive communities. I look forward to placing it on my shelf next to Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge."

—JOHN HAUSDOERFFER, co-author and co-editor of What Kind of Ancestor Do You Want to Be?


“A fascinating, imperative recollection of her early years growing up in a fossil fuel economy, Black Diamonds is a tale told only as Catherine Young could tell it. It’s beautifully written with rich detail and warmth, from a place of memory, love and escape. Reading this, I now have an intimacy with the Lackawanna Valley and its industry I could not have expected and for that I am grateful.”

—SIMMONS BUNTIN, Editor-in-Chief,, author of Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places


“An breathtaking memoir. Young’s voice is electrifying.”

—ALEXIS POWELL, The King’s English Bookshop


"Together with George Inness’s famous The Lackawanna Valley painting, Young vividly depicts the anthracite coal town of her childhood. As she recounts life in coal country in the 1960s, she deftly weaves together threads of hardship and comfort, grief and acceptance, and change and stagnation. With poetic and evocative prose, Young’s Black Diamonds reveals how coal—like its black dust—is inescapable.”

—ARYN G. N. SCHRINER, University of Maryland



CATHERINE YOUNG worked as a national park ranger, farmer, educator, and mother before putting her heart into her writing. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, and holds degrees in Geography, Environmental Science, and Education. Catherine is author of the ecopoetry collection, Geosmin. She deeply believes in the use of story and art as tools for transforming the world, and she holds concern for water. Rooted in farmlife, Catherine writes with a keen sense of place and lives with her family in the Driftless region of Wisconsin.

bottom of page