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Author Will Make Tour Stops In Wetzel County

By Staff | May 5, 2009

Author John Michael Cummings will be visiting Wetzel County next week as part of his “Panhandle to Panhandle” West Virginia Book Tour. A native of Harpers Ferry, Cummings will visit 25 counties in this month-long adventure.

His stops in local schools include Short Line School on May 11 at 8:30 a.m.; Valley High School on May 11 at 1:30 p.m., Hundred High School on May 12 at 9 a.m.; and New Martinsville School on May 12 at 12:30 p.m. Then on May 11 at 7 p.m. he will speak at New Martinsville Public Library for a By the Fireside program and May 12 from 5-6 p.m. Cummings will make an appearance at The Book Store on North Street, New Martinsville. For those who cannot attend the local public appearance, he will also be at Waldenbooks in Bridgeport’s Meadow-brook Mall May 8 from 5-8 p.m. and May 9 from 4-8 p.m.

During this tour Cummings will be reading from his his debut young adult novel “The Night I Freed John Brown” (Philomel Books, Penguin Group).

“The Night I Freed John Brown” is a contemporary coming-of-age story set in historic Harpers Ferry suitable for ages 11 and up.

Cummings grew up in Harpers Ferry, swam in its rivers, worshiped in its old St. Peter’s Church, and walked its brick and cobblestone streets. He moved to New York City 11-years ago, then across the East River to Brooklyn, N.Y., three years ago. He lives with Susan, his wife who is a lawyer, and their cat, Sentry. But his heart is apparently still in West Virginia.

Author John Michael Cummings

“It haunts me,” he said. Writing this debut novel, an expanded version of his novella “The House of My Father,” caused nostalgia to creep up while he was capturing memories. Cummings described the unique amalgamation of people that still exists to some extent in Harpers Ferry today: the tourists, suburbanites, Appalachi-ans, seasonal park rangers, and the locals all bring a lively mix of cultures that is conveyed in the book.

Cummings vividly describes his 13-year-old protagonist’s hardscrabble life as a poor native in a tourist town famous for the sad adventures of John Brown, the abolitionist. It is this John Brown who is a silent but ever-present subject.

“The Night I Freed John Brown” is a mix of family dynamics, adventure, history, and mystery. Young Josh Connors knows a side of the town that the tourists will never know, and he also knows things his father doesn’t know, like why it’s important to be able to change long-held convictions, let go of ancient angers, and ultimately, change our hearts.

But it’s an empty and abandoned, many-roomed old white house that once belonged to Josh’s grandmother that grips our hero’s imagination. Its history is one of the many things that keep Josh searching, struggling to discover secrets and learn more about its shadows – running, always running, with John Brown’s ghost close behind him all the way.

Cummings’ novel is under consideration for the West Virginia Children’s Book Award, and at least five West Virginia librarians have nominated it for American Library Association’s two awards for debut novels: The William C. Morris Award and The Michael L. Printz Award. One West Virginia librarian recommended it, in writing, to the Newbery Award Committee.

The novel has recently been featured in five West Virginia newspapers, Tyler Star News, The Times West Virginian, The Morgan Messenger, The Martinsburg Journal, and The Daily Athenaeum.

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph says, “From a literature standpoint, ‘The Night I Freed John Brown’ is a masterful work that is crafted in the time-honored genre that Mark Twain milked so gracefully in ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ the most compelling works of that ilk in American letters.”

Over the last 15 years, Cummings’ short stories have appeared in more than 75 literary journals, including North American Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Chattahoochee Review, The Kenyon Review, and The Iowa Review. His short story “The Scratchboard Project,” published in The Iowa Review, received an honorable mention in The Best American Short Stories 2007.. Twice he has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. His novella The House of My Father, from which this novel was adapted, was a finalist in the 2006 Miami University Novella Contest.

More about Cummings can be found on his Web site, http://johnmichaelcummings.com/.

The Buffalo News writes, “Cummings grew up in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and his compelling novel-of a sensitive boy growing up in the long shadows of his angry father and the grim statue of the fiery abolitionist staring at him from the museum across the street-owes much to the vivid descriptions of this particular place. . . the author offers a compelling narrative of a troubled family and a dark secret of past grudges and grievances.”

Other great reviews of his novel include BookPage, Teenreads.com, The Orange County Register, and The ALAN Review, along with five award-winning literary journals, including Mid-American Review, Black Warrior Review, and The Texas Review. It has also been blurbed by Newbery Honor recipient Ruth White, Pushcart Prize winner R.T. Smith, and Poet Laureate Fred Chappell.

As The Brooklyn Daily Eagle puts it, “It isn’t every day that a debut novel is being praised by a Poet Laureate, Newbery Honor recipient, and Pushcart Prize winner, but ‘The Night I Freed John Brown’ is a rare release.”