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In Their Own Country logo In Their Own Country text in English Vivace font
Winner of the national Gabriel Award for programs that uplift the human spirit.

Entertaining visits with fourteen of West Virginia’s most celebrated writers.  

Cynthia Rylant

Cynthia Rylant almost never grants recorded interviews. She gave this one to the people of West Virginia. This internationally-loved writer writes children's books, but this program will charm and stir adults as well. Listeners will enjoy full readings of four of her most popular books: When I Was Young in the Mountains, Scarecrow, Night in the Country, and The Relatives Came. Her down-to-earth tales of growing up in West Virginia mix with her down-to-earth observations about writing: poems that accompany Walker Evan photographs, a reading from her novel about World War II, poetic observations about coming-of-age in West Virginia.

Glimpses from readings: A charming duet between Cynthia and an 11-year-old Tucker County girl on Night in the Country ... delightful glimpses in poetry and conversation of Cynthia's growing-up years in Beaver ... a young man on a World War II battlefield ... a young girl is adopted by a delightfully eccentric older couple.

Personal: Born Hopewell, VA 1954; raised Cool Ridge and Beaver, WV. Has also lived in Ohio and Oregon. Now lives on island in Puget Sound, WA. Family traces back to coal mining during '20s in Alabama. Divorced, one son.

Publications: Over 100 books, most for children; e.g., When I Was Young in the Mountains, The Relatives Came, the Henry and Mudge series, the Mr. Putter and Tabby Series.. Notable books for adults: I Had Seen Castles and Something Permanent. Illustrated and wrote Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven. Publishers: Orchard, Dutton, Bradbury, Simon & Sschuster, Harcourt & Brace, Blue Sky, Scholastic.

Education and Career: BA Morris Harvey College 1975; MA Marshall University 1976; MLS Kent State University 1982. Children�s librarian Akron (OH), English instructor at Marshall University, lecturer at Northeast Ohio Universities School of Medicine. Full-time writer and essayist/book reviewer for Horn Book, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Washington Post, etc.

Awards: Newbery Honor Book for 1987 (A Fine White Dust); Caldecott Honor Book in 1983 (When I Was Young in the Mountains; Caldecott Honor Book in 1986 (The Relatives Came); Three Junior Literary Guild selections: Henry and Mudge in the Green Time, All I See, and Night in the Country; Children's Choice books (Birthday Presents and Blue-Eyed Daisy) . Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies for 1985 (The Relatives Came); Four Notable Children's Books of their years of publication; two Best Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association (A Fine White Dust and A Kindness).

Reviewers' Comments:  
- "Rylant's words are simple but evocative and filled with wonderful sensory images, similes, and metaphors. Rylant steps with great delicacy and grace straight into the most difficult of subjects, acknowledging the sadness of loss and the necessity of continuing to love anyway." (Booklist)
-  "--Apt descriptions and artful repetitions--lyrical, understated prose." (Kirkus Reviews)

Excerpts from In Their Own Country:
Cynthia: If you're a serious writer, a serious artist, you write about those things that you're deeply moved by. And I think most people are deeply moved by the same things that I'm moved by. I just happen to be the one who was given the ability to put that swelling of the heart--that sweet reverence that you have for those things around you and those people that you live with--into some kind of language. And that seems to be my particular gift in this world.

Kate: Some people have natural storytelling voices. And when I ask them about their childhoods, there's always somebody they heard telling stories. Those four years you were living with your grandparents (as a small child) ...

Cynthia: Well, they just liked to reminisce. And I guess that's what storytelling is in a lot of Appalachian families. And so the relatives would come up from Virginia, and everybody would sit around the table, and they'd just laugh about all the trouble Aunt Agnew got into when she was eighteen. And they'd laugh about Uncle Leo and how he liked to take his naps in  the back seat of the car, parked out in the yard under the cherry tree. They had a history together. They had memories that were all the same. And they loved to relive them. And so, as a child, I got to sit in on all of that.

Their language was natural. They didn't feel they had to impress anybody. They didn't have to sound smart. They didn't have to sound philosophical. They were just laughing and being themselves. And I think that kind of honesty helped me, as a writer. Just try not to, you know (laughs) "Don't be so uppity!" my grandmother would say. All that family influence, I'm sure, had a great deal to do with the kind of writer I turned out to be.

I didn't use the public library when I was growing up because it was in the city (and she lived in the country). I grew up on Nancy Drew books. I never realized that there were novels, poetry, incredibly artistic picture books for children out there in the world. When I got that minimum wage job as a clerk, I discovered that whole heavenly collection of beautiful art and language that was in the children's room. And having just finished a college degree in English, I'd read the best writers in the world. I had an appreciation for beautiful language. I guess those two tings came together, and for the first time, I wanted to write. I had never wanted to write adult novels or short stories. For the first time, I wanted to write books. And I wanted to write children's books, because I thought they were so perfectly beautiful.

I just go months and months without writing anything. Most writers I've heard speak about themselves and their work usually say that they write every day. I go months without putting a word down on a piece of paper. I wait. I just wait and wait and wait for that feeling inside me. It's hard to explain the feeling. But this day just comes along, and suddenly I feel like it's the day (laughs). It's very hard to explain. I just get restless inside, and I can feel the tips of my fingers tingling. I'll pick up my yellow notebook and my pen, and I'll go find a comfortable place and wait and see what it is that I'm supposed to be putting on paper.

If it's nice weather, I always sit outside. I don't write a whole lot in the winter because I get a little blue in the winter, like most people. So I'm not at my best creatively. But I do love springtime and summertime for writing. So I'll just go outside with my yellow notebook and my dogs, and we'll sit outside, and I'll wait. And pretty soon, I'm writing. It's impossible to explain how why I thought about writing about a scarecrow that particular day or why I thought of writing a book of poems about my childhood in Beaver, WV that particular day. That's always just the mystery of it.

People who feel that pull to write will sometimes distract themselves with reading all the books about what's trendy, what's being bought in New York. Or they will go to all the conferences to figure out some way to plug in, some trick, some magic key. And as they're busy doing this, they sometimes simply forget to sit at home and read fine writing. Because I do think it's like preachers who learn to preach from other preachers. There's a certain cadence, a certain rhythm, there's a certain buildup to those alleluias, to get those people to flock down the aisles of a church. And any young man or woman who's raised in that environment has an innate sense of how that works. So, for me, the genre that I was most attracted to was children's books, I read tons of them. I read the very best. And when I found the very best, I made sure I had a copy of my own, and I would re-read it and re-read it until I had that sense, that innate sense.

When children ask me how to become better writers, I always tell them to go out and play. Sometimes you just miss way too much sitting in front of a table with a  blank sheet of paper in front of you. It's really important to just live life and wait for inspiration and write when you heart - or your humor - moves you to.

See also: Search Google for more than 90 Web sites about Cynthia Rylant, Mountainlit.com, Twentieth Century Children's Writers, Twentieth Century Young Adult Writers, Contemporary Authors Online.

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Last modified: 09/16/08