Edwina Dawn Pendarvis
Born in Weeksbury, Kentucky, Edwina (Eddy) Pendarvis spent her childhood in coal towns in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia, until the family moved to Florida—part of the out-migration of Appalachians that has gone on for the past three-quarters of a century. Now retired from Marshall University, Eddy lives in Huntington, where she does some adjunct teaching and consulting, free-lance writing and editing, and serves as book review editor for Now & Then: The Appalachian Magazine. Her poems, essays, and stories appear in anthologies and periodicals, such as Appalachian Heritage, Appalachian Journal, Café Review, Indiana Review, and Louisville Review. Her most recent poetry collection, Like the Mountains of China, and a book of family memoirs, Raft Tide and Railroad: How We Lived and Died, were published by Blair Mountain Press. She has written several young-adult biographies of Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature, published in dual language editions by Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press. Her writing in these and other works reflects her commitment to the Appalachian region and its egalitarian spirit.
Hallowmas is an old word associated with Halloween. It referred to October 31, now our Halloween, and the two days after it. These church feast days honored the saints (on November 1, All Saints Day) and, more broadly, all dead loved ones and, later, all the dead, beloved or not (on November 2, All Souls Day). The pagan traditions that cling to Halloween suggest that it was an ancient celebration that predated the masses and rituals established by the church.
What inspired you to write this story?
An image of a pale, beautiful teenage girl with black hair blown in strands across her face as she stood on a front porch on Halloween night came to me for some reason. I think she appeared like one of the supernatural creatures from the world beyond this one to right some wrong. There’s little in the story to suggest that the people she hurt deserved to be hurt. I’m not even sure she hurt them on purpose or knew what happened to them as she washed their clothes. But I think that the three parts of the story—her appearance out of the night, her boiling the clothes on the stove in the kitchen, and the priest who blesses her with the sign of the cross at homeless shelter—are linked to the three days of Hallowmas and especially to the idea that the church co-opted an older, pagan celebration when it declared those as holy days. This is a long explanation of a very short story!
Have you written other Halloween/spooky-type pieces?
No, my nightmares stay mostly confined to my sleeping hours. I usually write realistic stories set in the mid-twentieth century and based on real life in the eastern Kentucky coal fields.
What other types of writing do you write? Tell us about your other publications.
I write mostly poetry, essays, and book reviews. Poetry comes most naturally to me, though, and any other kind of writing is a real struggle between my natural laziness, fear of failure, and the desire to put into words on paper the things I think are beautiful or important. A list of my publications would include nine nonfiction books, authored or co-authored; two poetry collections; and hundreds of poems, essays, and book reviews—these numbers mostly just let you know I’m old!
What inspired you to write about Pearl Buck?
I read The Good Earth years ago, in college, and admired it; but when I read it again, about ten years ago, after visiting Buck’s birthplace in Hillsboro, West Virginia, I was amazed at how modern her thinking was. She was so far ahead of her time, and yet also in possession of an old wisdom. A little later, I happened to observe a classroom—I think it was in a middle school in Richwood—and the students were reading Buck’s story “The Old Demon.” Those eighth-graders cared so much about whether the old woman died at the end that I knew the story had to be powerful, so I found it and read it. To me, it’s one of the greatest short stories any American author has ever written. I wanted everyone, especially young people in West Virginia, to know about her. I was busy with other projects, so, I tried to convince Christina St. Clair, who had written an article on Pearl Buck for Wonderful West Virginia magazine, to write a children’s biography about Buck. Christina kept being stubborn and not doing it (she had other projects too), so I finally told her if she wasn’t going to write it I was, but I’d like for her to write it with me. And she did!
Why did you decide to send this for consideration in Fed from the Blade?
I selected this story mostly because I wanted to submit things that were a little different from what I usually write.
How often do you write creatively and where is your favorite place to compose?
The creative part is debatable, but I write almost every day, usually in a focused way in the morning and just editing—between other chores—in the afternoon. My desk sits in front of a beautiful Japanese screen, black with greens, blues, gold, and some touches of white and brown. When I look up from my work, I see a lovely and mysterious world with bamboo fronds, mountains in the distance, and one bird perched on a branch in the foreground.
What advice would you give someone who wants to write a spooky story?
One piece of advice I’d give West Virginia writers especially is to read Davis Grubb’s collection of stories, You Never Believe Me, which has some fine spooky stories in it. Another good collection is the anthology, American Gothic, which includes among many great stories, one by Hawthorne, one by Melville, and one by Breece D’J Pancake, from Milton, West Virginia!
Do you think you’ll write more spooky stories in the future?
The teenage girl in “Hallowmas” intrigues me, and I think she’ll haunt another story or two.