Denise Giardina is a novelist. Her book Storming Heaven was a Discovery Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club and received the 1987 W. D. Weatherford Award for the best published work about the Appalachian South. The Unquiet Earth received an American Book Award and the Lillian Smith Book Award for fiction. Her 1998 novel Saints and Villains was awarded the Boston Book Review fiction prize and was semifinalist for the International Dublin Literary Award.
Denise Giardina was born October 25, 1951 in Bluefield, West Virginia, and grew up in the small coal mining camp of Black Wolf, located in rural McDowell County, West Virginia. Like the rest of the community, her family's survival was dependent upon the prosperity of the mine. Giardina's grandfather and uncles worked underground and her father kept the books for Page Coal and Coke. Her family lived in Black Wolf until she was thirteen, when the mine closed. In order to find work, her family moved to the state capital of Charleston.
Giardina received a Bachelors degree from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1973. She pursued graduate work at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, later receiving a Masters in Divinity from the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia in 1979. In 1980 she decided against ordination in favor of pursuing a career in writing. In order to fund this career choice, Denise Giardina did secretarial work during the day so she could write in the evenings. Giardina currently lives near Charleston and teaches at West Virginia State University. In 2007 she was reinstated as an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church.
Run for governor
The Mountain Party of West Virginia was born as a result of Giardina's candidacy for Governor of West Virginia in the 2000 general election. She received 10,416 votes, 1.61% of the vote, coming in third behind Democrat Bob Wise and Republican incumbent Cecil H. Underwood.
Denise Giardina's first novel, Good King Harry, about Henry V of England, was published in 1984. Despite positive reviews, the novel sold poorly. Denise Giardina also wrote guest columns for The Charleston Gazette and submitted pieces to The Washington Post while continuing her secretarial work.
Her next novel, Storming Heaven, was published in 1987. This time her novel had a West Virginia setting. The story takes place in the coalfields along the West Virginia - Kentucky border during the West Virginia Mine Wars. It covers the period 1890-1921, when coal miners were fighting to be unionized. The climax of the novel is based upon the historical 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain between U.S. Army troops and a resisting fledgling union organization. The mining camp Denise Giardina spent her childhood in was less than 100 miles from Blair Mountain and served as the model for the town of Winco in the novel.
Denise Giardina's 1992 work, The Unquiet Earth, also explores life in the coalfields of West Virginia from the 1930s into the 1990s. As with Storming Heaven, the novel is written from the first hand perspective of several narrators, enabling readers to clearly understand the characters' views of the United Mine Workers of America and the hope that it is believed to bring. Denise Giardina incorporates a diversity of portraits, not only of coal miners, but also of coal operators, politicians (local and national), and VISTA workers into her works. The novel also chronicles the continual lack of concern for human life by the coal mine operators. This includes such important issues as Coalworker's pneumoconiosis and culminates in a catastrophic flood at the novel's end, the author's fictionalization of the 1972 Buffalo Creek Disaster. Denise Giardina also captures such aspects of life in Appalachia as religion and racism.
Denise Giardina's 1999 novel Saints and Villains is a fictionalized biography of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who opposed fascism, became involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler and was hanged by the Nazis for his theological principles. Denise Giardina's novel dwells upon moral decisions, most notably the acceptability of sin if the sin will prevent a greater evil.
- Official Website: DeniseGiardina.com
- Excerpt from her novel, Fallam's Secrets: "New Shades o’Death Creek," Southern Spaces, May 21, 2009.
- Portrait and Biography from Robert Shetterly and Americans Who Tell The Truth