GRAFTON—The Taylor County Arts Council welcomed author Jonathan Corcoran on Friday, March 17.
Gallery 62 West had a packed house to hear Corcoran read from his debut story collection, The Rope Swing. Corcoran has been touring to promote his collection, which was published in April 2016, by West Virginia University Press.
The Rope Swing has been named a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award in Short Fiction, and is a semi-finalist for the St. Lawrence Book Award.
According to Corcoran, the collections focus on life in small town Appalachia.
“My main goal with this book was to portray people and voices that aren’t always heard,” explained Corcoran. “West Virginia and rural America are complicated places, that often get thin portrayals in books and the media.”
The collection opens with a story about the day the last passenger train leaves town. He focuses on how it affected the town and those who inhabit it. Each story in the collection concentrates on different characters in the town, and every character is facing a hard decision about their life.
“I try to put my characters on the cusp, on the edge of moments that will have a big impact on their lives,” shared Corcoran.
According to Corcoran, the town in his stories is loosely based on his childhood home in Elkins, West Virginia.
“When I read his book, I thought ‘this guy is writing about me,’” shared Ron Curry, a Taylor County Arts Council member, who was instrumental in having Corcoran visit. “Even though it is a work of fiction, he knew about me, and knew about growing up in a small town in West Virginia.”
Curry said Corcoran captured the spirit and sense of nostalgia of small town life.
“We often leave West Virginia, but West Virginia never really leaves us,” expressed Corcoran. “Even though I’ve moved away, and live in Brooklyn, New York now, this is my home. It will always be my home.”
Corcoran said he has received emails from people across the country telling him they are from a small town, and his stories spoke to them.
The excerpt Corcoran chose to read was the story from which the book got it’s namesake. The story centers around two teenage boys, who are questioning their relationship.
“This is a hard subject to write about, and one that is not written about much in West Virginia,” said Corcoran. “Especially about people in West Virginia.”
Corcoran’s writing draws his readers into a scene along a river, where the boys often met up. The mountains and seclusion of an old highway offer them an escape, and security, to be free to be who they are.
“Christopher looks down at the sun reflecting river, through the shadowy forest, trying to imagine how many secrets have been imparted under the protection of these trees,” read Corcoran.
His words have a way of telling how secluded the area has become, after the construction of the highway was complete. He stated the highway ran where the heart of the mountains had been bombed off.
While at the river, the boys find a rope swing. After one of the boys uses the swing, allowing himself to be free for a moment, he encourages his friend to do the same. The last words Corcoran read mirrored Christopher’s desire to tell his friend how he really feels.
“He knows that when one jumps, one must also fall,” Corcoran read. “He fears that if he breaks the surface, he might never find the air again. Someday, Christopher says, but not today.”
Corcoran said he attributes his writing to two components—good teachers and the advice from someone to aim high.
“The first time I ever wrote a story, my third grade teacher pulled me aside and said ‘I think you have something, go sit in the corner and write,’ so I’ve had good teachers,” said Corcoran.
“We get so many negative messages in West Virginia, about our potential and what we can do,” shared Corcoran. “So, I think it is always important to remind each other to aim high.”
Corcoran’s collection, The Rope Swing, is available for order through West Virginia University Press, Amazon and Barnes & Nobel.