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April 8, 2014

Carter Caves State Park
Carter County, Kentucky

I thought I would say a few words about the writer  Breece Pancake today, I just happened to find out that this is the 35th anniversary of his death, which sadly was self-imposed.  Pancake was born in South Charleston, West Virginia and grew up in Milton, just up the road from here.  I had never heard of Pancake until I happened to notice a book of short stories on my Kindle recently.  Evidently I had somehow "discovered" him at some point in the past and had bought the book where it resided in the cloud for future reading until just a few weeks ago.  Pancake, who used the name "Breece D'J Pancake" attended Marshall University in Huntington WV and after graduation he enrolled as a graduate student in the creative writing program at the University of Virginia.  Pancake really never had a career, during his life he had 6 published short stores, several of them in Atlantic Monthly.  His only book was published posthumously and is made up of these stories plus several others.  He was just on the edge of success when it all ended.

With such a brief career, you would think his life and his writing would both have faded away long ago.   But that is far from the truth, just do a Google search for Breece Pancake and you'll find pages and pages of articles written.  It becomes quickly obvious that he is a writer that other writers admire and these are his followers.  With Pancake, he is a writer's writer because of  the "voice" that he gives the characters.  The vivid way he describes both what they see and what they feel.   These are certainly not feel-good stories, at several points I found myself thinking that I can't believe he is writing about these things.  He definitely does not try to "pretty-up" the scenes.   But it is truthful writing and to the point, like Hemingway.  The stories are troubling though.

For more reading:

 At NPR, Breece D'J Pancake's Short, Sunning Career

Enotes, "The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake"

The Atlantic Monthly, "Transcripts of a Troubled Mind".  (Probably the most comprehensive but a long read)