Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book Launch in Pittsburgh

The launch for Darkness Visible: A Novel of the 1892 Homestead Strike will take place at 3 p.m. in the Bost Building, strike headquarters for the union, at 623 E. Eighth Avenue in Homestead.

The launch will kick off the release of the novel. The event will begin with a slide show of photos of people (and one dog) on which characters are based, followed by a reading and signing.  Refreshments will be served.

Click on link to Rivers of Steel's website for details:
The author talks about Welsh connections in the book  to the Minnesota  St. David's  Society.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

On Saint David's Day

A 19th-century image of St. David in an Oxford chapel.
     Today is Saint David's Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Wales. Dewi Sant, as the Welsh call him, was born in Pembrokeshire circa 500 A.D., and died, according to tradition, on March 1, 589.  He was of the royal house of Ceridigion, but gave up the posh (for the 500s) life to take up a  monastic one.   He eventually became a famous ascetic, teacher and bishop, establishing a Celtic monastic community at Glyn Rhosyn (the Vale of Roses) on the western headland of Pembrokeshire (Sir Benfro).  A cathedral consecrated in 1131 stands on the site today.
      In the 6th century, the Celts were not broken in distinct groups.  In fact, Saint Patrick was likely born in Wales, hence the joke that a Welshman is an Irishman who can't swim.
     In my lifetime, the Welsh diaspora have been the ones to celebrate their heritage on March 1st.  But in recent years the Welsh themselves, perhaps looking for an excuse to take a day off and party, have been celebrating their national day with marches, concerts, and food festivals.   The ubiquitous spread of McWorld, the homogenizing culture of multinational corporations, is apparently spurring the Welsh to stand up for their national identity.
     Today I'm thinking about Wales and my connections to it. Nearly forty years ago, I embarked on a search for my relatives in Wales.  Despite my best efforts, I did not find them. (You can probably guess how many people named Ann Jones and John Edwards lived in Wales in the mid-1800s.)  But that doesn't matter now.  Instead of locating blood relatives in my search, I found a new "family" of Cymry:  teachers, ministers,  professors, students, people from all walks of life.
Vivan Jones bemusedly points to his house number, which Emyr and I missed.
     Several of these have been key to my research for Darkness Visible: the Rev. Mr.Vivian Jones (a Congregational minister who served for a time in Minneapolis), Dr. Bill Jones (a history professor who sent me documents about the Park Slip mining disaster), and Emyr Wyn Morris, whom I met through, of all places a chat room, #cymru, in the mid-1990s.
      In 2005 Emyr took me around South Wales to the sites I planned to use in the novel:  Treorchy, the Rhondda Valley, the Park Slip mine site outside Bridgend. We both took quite a few photos of the area, photos I had planned to use in my presentation "Wales and the Welsh in Darkness Visible."  However, earlier this week I could not open the bunch of '05 pics, so I asked Emyr if he could send me some of his.  He could not find his either, so he drove to Ton du and took pics of the old iron foundry and Park Slip memorial. (Yesterday, with much messing about, I finally opened mine.) Here are two Emyr took this week:
The old Tondu ironworks, founded 1836.

A coal car commemorating the Park Slip mining disaster, August 1892.
  Emyr isn't the only Morris who helped with the book. His mother, Ann, of Maenclochog (not too far from St. David's), a retired teacher in a Welsh-language school, did the translations for the Welsh dialog.
Workers' houses near Ton du
    The photos of Wales became a sort of virtual reality through which I envisioned life in Valley towns in the 1890s.With the publication of Darkness Visible, I feel I've acquired a new set of Welsh "relatives," the Phillips and Jones families, of Treorchy and Ton du, respectively.
    To mark St. David's Day, here's the Treorchy Male Voice Choir singing my dad's favorite Welsh song, "Myfanwy", with images of the town and its people as the setting.  I can't think of a more fitting tribute to my Welsh heritage.
A hand-painted sign welcoming people to the Valleys of South Wales.

Cymru am byth! Wales forever!