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The Milkweed Ladies


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About the Author

Louise McNeill has published, in addition to her several books of poetry, short stories and essays. She has been poet laureate of West Virginia since 1979, and in 1988 she was awarded the Appalachian Gold Medallion by the University of Charleston.


In this graceful, poignant memoir, poet McNeill writes of the West Virginia land that has been in her family for nine generations. With a meandering, appealing style, she recounts the history of the Swago Farm, from Grandpa Tom, who took the area from the Indians in 1769, down to her father, G. D., sailor, lawyer, teacher and farmer. Short, flowing chapters chronicle a rustic childhood with hardworking Mama, whose Japanese kimono is her one luxury, crotchety Granny Fanny, who roams the hills gathering herbs, and Aunt Malindy, the beloved, idle boarder. Chores mark the passing of seasons: maple-sugaring in winter, plowing and planting in spring, haying and blackberry picking in summer and Apple Butter Makin' Day in fall. The farm is so safely isolated that the family does not learn of World War I until a telephone is installed in 1916. But soon, with the railroads and the lumber industry, the world encroaches. McNeill leaves for college, begins publishing poetry, gets married. It seems the farm will always remain, in her mind, untouched by timeuntil August 7, 1945, while sitting in a New York hotel and reading in the newspaper about Hiroshima, she realizes that ``Never again would I be able to say with such infinite certainty that the earth would always green in the springtime, and the purple hepaticas come to bloom on my woodland rock.'' (September)

"In this graceful, poignant memoir, poet McNeill writes of the West Virginia land that has been in her family for nine generations." --Publishers Weekly
"Delicate, tensile, bittersweet, Louise McNeill's The Milkweed Ladies is a memoir of importance, full of detail about the soul of a place--our place--and the influence of a now lost world on an accomplished individual life." --Jayne Anne Phillips

"Oh what a treasure of weathered beauty and wisdom this book is; what a magical evocation, not only of seventy-five years of deepest living in this our time, but also informed with a poet's memoried sense of nine generations of her people." --Tillie Olsen

Poetically and magically, McNeill unfolds her memories of the farm at Swago Crick, West Virginia, which has existed in her family for nine generationsover 200 years. Through intimate reflection of a place seen over time, she provides at once a glimpse of rural America and of world history. She describes Swago Crick not only by its geography but also by its annual cycle of activities and its people. Among the relatives she introduces is her colorful Granny Fanny, who seems to have ``set her thorn broom handle into the world's axis and brought it to a grinding halt,'' until the advent of the automobile made her jerk it out. Recommended. Jeris Cassel, Rutgers Univ. Libs., New Brunswick, N.J.

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