Join Waynesville author Holly Kays as she presents her newest book, Trailblazers & Traditionalists: Modern-day Smoky Mountain People, on Saturday, Feb. 1, at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva. Drop by starting at 2 p.m. to get an autographed copy and chat with the author, or wait till 3 p.m. for a book reading and exploration of some of the many fascinating stories contained in the book's pages.
Trailblazers & Traditionalists is a compilation of 33 feature stories previously published in The Smoky Mountain News, where Kays works as a journalist. Each piece highlights the life of a different mountain resident, offering an intimate look into the lives of some of the diverse and fascinating people who call this region home. From the first entry — the story of Ella Bird, one of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ two living Beloved Women — to the last — which is that of Mike Creason, who for four decades has been teaching the children of Western North Carolina to swim — this book celebrates people from all walks of life.
“I wrote these stories over a period of about five years of full-time work as a newspaper reporter, in that span easily interviewing thousands of people and writing hundreds of stories,” said Kays. “The stories that made it into this book are the stories that stuck with me. They’re the stories that resonated with me personally as well as professionally, and I hope they’ll do the same for my readers.”
Readers will meet Payson Kennedy, co-founder of paddling powerhouse Nantahala Outdoor Center; David and Susan Belcher, beloved former leaders of Western Carolina University; Jennifer Pharr Davis, who in 2011 set the unofficial record for the fastest thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail; and George Ellison, a celebrated writer and naturalist who makes his home in a remote cove adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In reading a pre-publication version of Trailblazers & Traditionalists, Ellison — himself a prolific and award-winning author — said he was impressed by the contents.
“This collection will become a popular item in its designated niche, by which I mean the loosely-defined but widely-read category of books with journalistic origins in newspapers and magazines,” Ellison said. “The content and style of Kays’ stories are anything but folksy; indeed, they are remindful of the sort of lengthy and in-depth stories associated with The New Yorker magazine.”
While Trailblazers & Traditionalists features some well-known names, its pages also contain many lesser-known ones that nevertheless have riveting stories attached to them.
Subjects include alpaca farmer Joe Moore, who refers to his animals as “livestock you love”; Danny Gibson, who has spent the past 10 years leading pack mules up and town the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; Jim Mills, whose passion for fly fishing has led him to become a sought-after rodmaker; and Darwin Thomas, a heating and air conditioning technician with a second life cultivating greenhouses full of carnivorous plants.
Regardless of their specific interest, readers are sure to find a story — or two, or more — that appeals to them over the course of this book’s nearly 200 pages.
Holly Kays is a journalist and author who makes her home in the mountains of Western North Carolina. In 2017, she published her debut title, a novel called Shadows of Flowers. Set amid the windswept prairies of Wyoming and rounded mountains of southwest Virginia, the novel follows the story of Virginia native Dana Stullman, whose world turns upside down when her boyfriend dies in a car accident. Becoming lonelier than she could have imagined, Dana finds solace in an unexpected friendship, but her life remains paralyzed until a crisis in the Wyoming wilderness forces her to confront the past and choose her path into the future.