Caleb Johnson and Kevin Powers discuss their latest novels: Treeborne and A Shout in the Ruins
Monday 5/20, 7pm
Janie Treeborne lives on an orchard at the edge of Elberta, Alabama, and in time, she has become its keeper. A place where conquistadors once walked, and where the peaches they left behind now grow, Elberta has seen fierce battles, violent storms, and frantic change—and when the town is once again threatened from without, Janie realizes it won’t withstand much more. So she tells the story of its people: of Hugh, her granddaddy, determined to preserve Elberta’s legacy at any cost; of his wife, Maybelle, the postmaster, whose sudden death throws the town into chaos; of her lover, Lee Malone, a black orchardist harvesting from a land where he is less than welcome; of the time when Janie kidnapped her own Hollywood-obsessed aunt and tore the wrong people apart.
As the world closes in on Elberta, Caleb Johnson’s debut novel lifts the veil and offers one last glimpse. Treeborne is a celebration and a reminder: of how the past gets mixed up in thoughts of the future; of how home is a story as much as a place.
About A Shout in the Ruins:
Spanning over one hundred years, from the antebellum era to the 1980's, A Shout in the Ruins examines the fates of the inhabitants of Beauvais Plantation outside of Richmond, Virginia. When war arrives, the master of Beauvais, Anthony Levallios, foresees that dominion in a new America will be measured not in acres of tobacco under cultivation by his slaves, but in industry and capital. A grievously wounded Confederate veteran loses his grip on a world he no longer understands, and his daughter finds herself married to Levallois, an arrangement that feels little better than imprisonment. And two people enslaved at Beauvais plantation, Nurse and Rawls, overcome impossible odds to be together, only to find that the promise of coming freedom may not be something they will live to see.
Seamlessly interwoven is the story of George Seldom, a man orphaned by the storm of the Civil War, looking back from the 1950s on the void where his childhood ought to have been. Watching the government destroy his neighborhood to build a stretch of interstate highway through Richmond, he travels south in an attempt to recover his true origins. With the help of a young woman named Lottie, he goes in search of the place he once called home, all the while reckoning with the more than 90 years he lived as witness to so much that changed during the 20th century, and so much that didn't. As we then watch Lottie grapple with life's disappointments and joys in the 1980's, now in her own middle-age, the questions remain: How do we live in a world built on the suffering of others? And can love exist in a place where for 400 years violence has been the strongest form of intimacy?
Caleb Johnson is the author of the novel Treeborne— an honorable mention for the 2019 Southern Book Prize. Johnson grew up in Arley, AL, studied journalism at The University of Alabama and earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Wyoming. His writing is forthcoming or can be found in Southern Living, the Paris Review Daily, The Bitter Southerner, Lit Hub, Gravy, Southbound, and other publications. Johnson has earned fellowships and grants from the Sewanee Writers' Conference, the Jentel Writing Residency, and the University of Wyoming. His previous jobs include newspaper reporter, janitor, and whole-animal butcher. Currently, Johnson teaches writing at Appalachian State University and lives on a former horse farm near Boone, NC, with his wife, Irina, and their dog, Hugo.
(photo credit: Irina Zhorov)
Kevin Powers was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. A former soldier who served with the US Army in Iraq in 2004–5, he studied English at Virginia Commonwealth University after his honorable discharge and received an MFA in Poetry from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. His debut novel, The Yellow Birds, won the Guardian First Book Award and the PEN/Hemingway Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award. His first collection of poetry, Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting, was published in 2014 and was shortlisted for both the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Prize.