Set within the charged insularity of rural West Virginia, Mesha Maren’s Sugar Run is a searing and gritty debut about making a break for another life, the use and treachery of makeshift families, and how, no matter the distance we think we’ve traveled from the mistakes we’ve made, too often we find ourselves standing in precisely the place we began. In 1989, Jodi McCarty is seventeen years old when she’s sentenced to life in prison. Eighteen years later, she finds herself at a Greyhound bus stop, reeling from the shock of unexpected freedom but determined to chart a better course for herself. Not yet able to return to her lost home in the Appalachian Mountains, she heads south in search of someone she left behind. There, she meets and falls in love with Miranda, a troubled young mother living in a motel room, and together they head toward what they hope will be a fresh start.
In Meander Belt, M. Randal O’Wain offers a reflection on how a working-class boy from Memphis, Tennessee, came to fall in love with language, reading, writing, and the larger world outside of the American South. This memoir examines what it means for the son of a carpenter to value mental rather than physical labor and what this does to his relationship with his family, whose livelihood and sensibility are decidedly blue collar. Straining the father-son bond further, O’Wain leaves home to find a life outside Memphis, roaming from place to place, finding odd jobs, and touring with his band. From memory and observation, O’Wain assembles a subtle and spare portrait of his roots, family, and ultimately discovers that his working-class upbringing is not so antithetical to the man he has become.
Randal O'Wain holds an MFA from Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program. He is the author of Meander Belt: family, loss, and coming of age in the working class south (American Lives Series, 2019) and Hallelujah Station and other stories (Autumn House Press, 2020) His essays and short stories have appeared in Oxford American, Guernica, The Pinch, Booth, Hotel Amerika, storySouth, among others. He is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at UNC Chapel Hill.
Mesha Maren is the author of the novel Sugar Run, from Algonquin Books. Her short stories have appeared in Tin House, Oxford American, the Southern Review, Ecotone, Triquarterly, Crazyhorse, and elsewhere. She serves as a National Endowment of the Arts writing fellow at the Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, West Virginia, and is an assistant professor of the practice of creative writing at Duke University.