“Pancake’s stories are the only stories written in just this way,” observes Jayne Anne Phillips in her introduction to this volume, “from inside the minds of protagonists coming of age in the mountains of an Appalachian world closed to others.” As beautiful, stark, and solemn as the landscape in which they are set, the stories concern miners, truckers, farmers, waitresses, and others possessed by dreams of change they can neither relinquish nor quite bring themselves to believe in.
Breece D’J Pancake was a gifted and original writer who died far too young, having published only a few stories before taking his own life in 1979 at twenty-six. Recalling the overwhelming response to those early stories, Phoebe-Lou Adams, his editor at The Atlantic, concluded that “whatever it is that truly commands reader attention, he had it.” Four years after his death a collection of twelve stories appeared that drew enthusiastic praise from such writers as Joyce Carol Oates (“one is tempted to compare his debut to Hemingway’s”) and Margaret Atwood (“an exceptional voice; gritty, mordant, invested with the texture of stroked reality”). Today, Pancake’s diverse admirers include Andre Dubus
III, Samantha Hunt, Tom Waits, and Lorde.
Bringing together the entire text of that landmark 1983 collection with additional story drafts, fragments from Pancake’s two planned novels, and a selection of Pancake’s letters that illuminate his life and art, this Library of America special publication is the ultimate edition of an American writer whose legacy continues to grow.
Breece D’J Pancake (1952–1979) was born in South Charleston, West Virginia. He was a graduate of Marshall University and the creative writing program at the University of Virginia. The posthumous collection, The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, appeared in 1983.
Jayne Anne Phillips, a finalist for the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award, was born and raised in West Virginia. She is the author of two short story collections, Black Tickets and Fast Lanes, and five novels: Machine Dreams, Shelter, MotherKind, Lark & Termite, and Quiet Dell.