Through the Cumberland Gap

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Through the Cumberland Gap

by Doris Betts
Southern Cultures, Vol. 8, No. 1: Spring 2002

"For hours I would practice in front of a mirror that trick of merely narrowing both eyes with anger, a tiny movement sure to strike terror into crooked card players and rustlers."

These days most American teenagers have traveled in Europe, but I still haven’t crossed an ocean. I was already middle-aged before I got more than one or two states away from home. Then my family and I crossed the country so we could ride through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River in a rubber raft. This journey was my first sight of the far American West, where, said another North Carolina writer, Thomas Wolfe, “all the states are square.”

I’ve now published two novels about what the arid stone-and-sky landscapes of Arizona and Nevada did to this native of North Carolina’s green piedmont Iredell County. Researching both books made me explore what southerners and westerners have in common, how perhaps psychologically we are second cousins once removed. Many of us southern writers, Clyde Edgerton, for example, have written about both regions.

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