Lee’s new memoir, Dimestore will be published in March, 2016 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Click to hear Lee Smith read a portion of The Last Girls.

Sitting on the Courthouse Bench

When Lee Smith, one of the country's preeminent authors, learned that the only salvation for her rural Virginia hometown meant, in a sense, it destruction, she was compelled to tell the story. Working with Debbie Raines, an English teacher at Grundy High School, and students from the school's Oral Communication Seminar, she has produced a rich oral history. Archival and contemporary photographs depict a small town ravaged by decades of flooding. In this volume, we journey with Lee Smith and the townspeople of Grundy, in a literal and figurative sense, as they anchor their town on higher ground to begin anew.

The history of a community is often contained only in the collective memory of its people. When those people are gone, the history vanishes with them. This is even truer when the core of the town--its very physical presence--is slated for demolition. Author Lee Smith's hometown of Grundy, a small rural community in the far western mountains of Virginia, faces an uncertain future. Located on the banks of the Levisa River, Grundy has been devastated time and again by major flooding. The only hope for its survival appears to come from drastic measures--to literally move the major portion of the town, which fronts on the river, to higher ground. Already hard-hit by the loss of the coal mining industry, another flood could deal a fatal blow.

As she told The Atlanta Journal and Constitution's Don O'Briant, "When everything you've been connected to is literally going underwater, it's galvanizing. That town where we grew up and went to school and came to pay our taxes, where we got a marriage license or bought our son a bike for Christmas, will be gone forever. The only thing left will be our memories."

Through this delightful oral history, we will remember Grundy. We will know its past and what its future may hold, in the words of its townspeople. By leafing through this family album of over one hundred and forty photographs, we will experience the permanent visual record of Grundy.

Communities, large and small, have faced annihilation when local industries, such as textiles, steel or mining, have closed or moved away. Natural disasters can virtually erase much of a town's fabric. The survival rate varies, but one thing is certain: no town or community, threatened or not, can live fully in the pages of history if its residents' memories and stories are lost. This model oral history project is a call to action for every community in the country.

To order autographed copies of Sitting on the Courthouse Bench, contact info@leesmith.com