Novelist Cash receives a warm homecoming

Gastonia native Wiley Cash took the title of his first novel, “A Land More Kind Than Home,” from a passage in Asheville native’s Thomas Wolfe’s last novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again.”

Cash certainly came home again Thursday night, however, to a standing-room-only reception at the Penegar Events Hall in Loray Mill, where an excited and appreciative audience, many of whom had just purchased the book, listened to him talk about the background for his just-released third novel, “The Last Ballad,” and to read a brief excerpt from the new work.

“The Last Ballad” presents a fictional narrative tied to the bloody 1929 labor strike at the Loray Mill and the key protagonist behind that strike, Ella May Wiggins, a mill worker won over to the labor union by its promise of a better life for poor workers like her and her family. Wiggins was also known for writing and singing protest songs which fueled the energy of the strikers and won new members to their cause.

Although now considered a pivotal event in the history of the southern labor movement, Cash revealed that he had never heard of the strike, or of Wiggins, until he was a doctoral student on the campus of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and a professor mentioned it to him.

“I grew up in Gastonia. My mother was from a textile family here. My dad was from a textile family in Shelby, and yet I knew nothing about this key event in the history of the region,” Cash said.

“This was a story,” he added, “of race, and of class, and of gender, and of economics. It was a story that blew this town apart. And yet it was as if history forgot. I never heard this story from my family, or in college, or in church. I wanted to learn as much as I could about Ella May and what happened.”

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(Gaston Gazette, 10/6/17)