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NONFICTION | AVAILABLE SEPTEMBER 26

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BLACK DIAMONDS: A Childhood Colored by Coal

by CATHERINE YOUNG

"Young’s memoir of her hometown is as powerful a picture as Inness’ painting, revealing its harsh transformation a century later."

BOOKLIST

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 

"When my first child was young, I began telling him stories of where I am from–a place that no longer exists–a place that disappeared within the first ten years of my life.

 

As a child, I watched my coal mining city burn above and below ground. The air was saturated with smoke, and when it rained, we breathed sulfuric acid. In 1964, the New York Times documented our reality, the most poisonous air in the country. In one fog inversion, paint peeled from cars and laundry hung out to dry for a few hours came back in with holes as if moth-eaten. Within the timeframe between the late 1950s and the early 1970s, a way of life vanished and a city diminished as it burned down and fell into the mines. This was an astonishing time to be a child.

 

Having grown up in the devastated extractive environment of coal mining in the valley where the Industrial Revolution began in North America, I experienced firsthand the stress of economic and educational poverty while witnessing poverty of spirit. Keeping people from meeting their needs creates desperation which pushes them to destructive behaviors for earth and for one another.

 

Once I began telling the stories to my first child, they rose thick and fast, and I had to catch them and get them down on paper before they also vanished. As a late-in-life mother, I sat at the table nursing my second child, holding her with one arm while I wrote the stories of my childhood. I knew that it would be a book told in the form of a series of portraits. I’ve used the sensorial memory of my childhood as the basis for the book, and I framed it with my essays about my obsession with the George Inness painting."

—CATHERINE YOUNG

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Author photo: M. Sushoreba

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 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.

PRAISE FOR BLACK DIAMONDS

“Young is a poet of superb gifts, and those gifts come into operation here, informing her prose at every turn. Black Diamonds is a book to treasure, so full of stories, rich in memory and landscape, written in a style that has, for me, almost an hallucinatory feeling. This is a book to read and read again.”

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

 

 

“In vivid scenes, Young sculpts an image of the Lackawanna Valley that is both tender and terrifying.”

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

 

 

“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

 

 

“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-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. But it’s much more than that: it’s a history of the working subclass in America and how scraping by, by scraping coal from the ground, shaped not only the American fortune but also landscapes, communities, and families. Ultimately, it’s a tale told only as Catherine Young could tell it—beautifully, with rich detail and warmth, from a place of memory and love and escape.”

—SIMMONS BUNTIN, Editor-in-Chief of Terrain

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

—ALEXIS POWELL, The King’s English Bookshop

 

“Catherine Young paints a lovely and dreamlike poem-portrait of her childhood in a Pennsylvania coal town. A skillfully written and remarkable ode to Place.”

—JONATHAN P. THOMPSON, author of Sagebrush Empire

 

 

“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

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