Ann Pancake is an American fiction writer and essayist. She has published short stories and essays describing the people and atmosphere of Appalachia, often from the first-person perspective of those living there. While fictional, her short stories contribute to an understanding of poverty in the 20th century, as well as the historical roots of American and rural poverty.
Originally from Romney, West Virginia, Pancake grew up in Romney and Summersville. She is the sister of filmmaker Catherine Pancake and actor Sam Pancake, and a distant relative of the writer Breece D'J Pancake. Ann Pancake graduated summa cum laude from West Virginia University with a degree in English. She earned her M.A. in English from the University of North Carolina, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Washington.
She has taught English in the United States, American Samoa, Japan, and Thailand. She currently lives in Seattle, Washington and teaches in Pacific Lutheran University's MFA program. Pancake is also a Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Context, themes, and style
Many of Pancake's characters make their home in rural West Virginia. This includes the Potomac Highlands and areas in the southern part of the state. For example, her story Wappatomaka describes the Trough region of the Highlands, where severe flooding on the Potomac River often occurs.
Poverty can be reflected in violence, and in her stories Pancake addresses both the Vietnam War and domestic abuse. Dirt chronicles a family's reflection of a son taught to burrow shafts in the Vietnam War, and the entrapment and dread that this environment echoes for them at home. In Jolo, a boy's neglect by his family is literally seared into his skin in a trailer fire.
Pancake's characters live in opposition to mainstream American society, often without conscious choice. Others revel in their outsider status and maintain a connection to nature that resists societal pressures. Her title character in the story Jolo is wanted by police investigating a series of arsons. While the boy is a fugitive he agrees to secretly meet with a local girl, Connie, in a remote location on the banks of a river. The river serves as a reminder of Jolo's untamed nature and his preference for the wilderness over village life. At the same time, Connie sees how cut off he is from the rural society both of them were born into. This is a virtue of physical deformities he has suffered, but also because of the comparative economic poverty of his upbringing.
While some critics have chosen to place Pancake firmly in the tradition of Appalachian writing, her stories describe more than regional color, history, and concerns. The subtext of much of her work is the separation of individuals from the rest of society, often in cycles of poverty. Early motherhood, hunger, and alienation from mainstream economies are manifest in stories such as Ghostless and Tall Grass. The sharply divided interests of urban and rural Americans and the powerful determinant of social class is manifest in Bait and "Redneck Boys" where the death toll of rural highways is both the cause of nonchalance and horror.
Pancake's work often stresses voice, contrasting perspectives and colloquial speech with unusual sentence structure and unusual use of dialogue and dialogue markers. She also has a specialized vocabulary for describing natural phenomena and colors.
"They're moving. The night fishermen across the water, mumbly drunk, to be avoided, and the single night train, baying its lonesomeness, and the corn pollen a green sensation in the back of their throats, not quite smell, not quite taste."
- Ghostless (The Virginia Quarterly Review)
- Revival (The Virginia Quarterly Review)
- Jolo (Mid-American Review)
- Wappatomaka (Antietam Review)
- Dirt (The Chariton Review)
- Tall Grass (Shenandoah)
- Sister (Wind)
- Bait (Sundog)
- Getting Wood (Antietam Review)
- Redneck Boys (Glimmer Train Stories)
- Crow Season (The Chattahoochee Review)
- Cash Crop: 1897 (Massachusetts Review)
Additional stories include:
- Dog Song (Shenandoah)
- Coop (Quarterly West)
- In Such Light (Harvard Review)
Novel: Strange As This Weather Has Been
Ann Pancake's first novel Strange As This Weather Has Been was published by Shoemaker & Hoard/Counterpoint in October 2007. Set in southern West Virginia, the novel has been widely reviewed, and was termed by Wendell Berry "one of the bravest novels I've ever read."  Strange as This Weather Has Been won the 2007 Weatherford Prize. It was also on the Kirkus Reviews Top Ten Fiction Books list, a finalist for the 2008 Washington State Book Award for fiction, and a finalist for the 2008 Orion Book award.
Film: Black Diamonds
For a discussion of the themes, geography, and production of this film, see Bret McCabe's article Tragic Mountains from the Baltimore City Paper.
Short story collections
- Given Ground, University Press of New England, 2001
- Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley: Novellas and Stories, Counterpoint Press, 2016
- Strange As This Weather Has Been, Counterpoint Press, 2007
Selected awards and fellowships
- 2016 Barry Lopez Visiting Writer in Ethics and the Community Fellowship
- 2010 Thomas D. and Lily Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature
- 2010 Brenda Ueland Fiction Prize for “Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley”
- 2007 Weatherford Prize for best fiction/poetry about Appalachia, for Strange As This Weather Has Been
- 2006 Plattner Award for Nonfiction for “Virtual Hillbilly”
- 2005 Doris Roberts/William Goyen Fellowship in Fiction, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation
- 2005 Artist Trust/Washington State Arts Commission Fellowship
- 2005 Julia Peterkin Prize
- 2004 Pushcart Prize for “Dog Song”
- 2004 West Virginia Commission on the Arts Fellowship
- 2003 Whiting Award
- 2003 Glasgow Prize for Given Ground, from Washington and Lee University
- 2000 Bakeless Literary Publication Prize for Given Ground
- 1996 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writers' Fellowship Grant
- Pancake, Ann. ""Letter to West Virginia"". Souvenir: A Journal. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
- "Authors: Ann Pancake". Counterpoint Press. Counterpoint Press. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
- Backcountry: Contemporary Writing In West Virginia. Ed Irene McKinney. Morganown, WV: Vandalia Press. 2002.
- Judd, Elizabeth. Books in Brief: Given Ground. New York Times, August 12, 2001.
- Pancake, Ann. Given Ground. Hanover, NH: Middlebury/University of New England Press. 2001. p. 26
- Frizelle, Christopher. Literature: Ones to Watch, Ann Pancake. The Stranger, Pullout Section. http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/Content?oid=23583.
- http://www.blackdiamondsmovie.com/Accessed[permanent dead link] Online Dec. 20 2006.
- McCabe, Bret (March 29, 2006). "Tragic Mountains: Local Filmmaker Catherine Pancake Hopes To Bring the Devastation of Mountaintop Removal Mining To a Theater Near You". Baltimore City Paper. Archived from the original on July 22, 2012. Retrieved 12 March 2017.