“Am I to understand that our good brother was married four times?”
“You shore air,” said Len. “There lays four of as good wives as a man ever had. Them tombstones don’t tell no lies. They’s all ’fore my time, savin’ Aunt Lindy, his last ’un, but I’ve hearn enough to know what they wuz.”
“But four? Isn’t it a little unusual?”
“Well, maybe it is, but Uncle Nathe wuzn’t no hand to set at home by hissef.”
from Highland Annals
New York: Scribners, 1925
Poet, playwright and novelist Olive Tilford Dargan, widely considered to be one of the best authors ever to come out of the Appalachian South, was born Jan. 11, 1869 in Litchfield, KY. Dargan’s writing focused on women and working class issues of the region. Few have surpassed her in description of mountain beauty or in her sympathy for the less fortunate. She was especially interested in fighting the stereotypes of mountain people and culture that were propagated in local color writings, especially Earley Muriel Sheppard’s Cabins in the Laurel.
A feminist and a socialist, Dargan provided one of the few strong southern female voices to the proletarian fiction of the 1930s. As an active participant in that movement, she wrote a series of radical feminist/socialist novels on the Gastonia mill strikes. Her 1932 radical feminist novel, Call Home the Heart, written under the pen name Fielding Burke, was reprinted by the Feminist Press in 1983.
Olive Tilford Dargan began her literary career in 1904 with the publication of poetic dramas and lyric poetry. While in college at Radcliffe, she had gone on a camping trip to the mountains of North Carolina and had vowed to have a home there one day, a dream that was fulfilled in 1906 when she and husband Pegram bought Horizon Farm on the Nantahala River in Swain County. Having dependable tenants allowed them to travel extensively, and Olive spent much of her time in England. There she completed a non-fiction work, The Welsh Pony, followed by her first book of mountain poetry, Path Flower and Other Verses.
When Pegram drowned off the coast of Cuba in 1915, Dargan returned to the North Carolina mountains and spent most of her time there until the farmhouse burned in 1923. During this period, she published three distinctly different collections of poetry. The Cycle’s Rim (1916), a collection of sonnets dedicated to her late husband, won a $500 prize from the Southern Society of New York. Lute and Furrow (1922) contained lyrical verse inspired by her love for the mountains, as does The Spotted Hawk (1958), which won the Roanoke-Chowan Poetry Award.
After moving to Asheville, NC in 1925 she wrote the collection of short stories many consider her best work, Highland Annals, and three novels under Fielding Burke, as well as a final book of verse and a last short story collection. Highland Annals was extensively revised and reissued as From My Highest Hill in 1941. The second edition included for the first time fifty striking illustrations by photographer Bayard Wootten.