[Note: Initially I got a few details wrong about which actual side of my husband’s family some of this stuff is from; they’re corrected now]
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History is out today. You should get it, so here’s where you can:
Print ($19.95) ISBN-13: 978-0-9913921-0-0
Ebook ($9.99) ISBN-13: 978-0-9913921-1-7
I just finished reading the last story this morning (Sabrina Vourvoulias’s “The Dance of the White Demons”, which totally gut-punched me in the end) and I can say with absolutely no reservations whatsoever that this is one of the finest anthologies I’ve ever read. I would be saying that even if I wasn’t in it. It’s beautiful and wrenching, it’s sad and angry and horrifying and hopeful, and above all it’s necessary. You say you want diverse speculative fiction? Here you go. Buy it. Read it. Support it. Let it transport you.
By the way, another anthology that’s gotten somewhat less attention but which I think is a perfect companion to Long Hidden is We See a Different Frontier: A Postcolonial Speculative Fiction Anthology (in which I also have a story). It takes a different but very complementary approach to marginalized peoples and forgotten histories, in part because it also turns an eye toward an imagined future. It’s fabulous. Get it.
So let me talk a little about my story, “Across the Seam”. Because how it came to be is a story in itself.
Some time ago, my husband started doing some genealogy work on both sides of his family. His maternal side has roots in Sicily. Both his maternal and paternal side have roots in the coal mines of McDowell County in West Virginia – now the most profoundly impoverished county in that state but a place of astonishing strength and endurance in spite of that, and also a place of startling, stark beauty. Here’s a post that deals with our trip there and our exploration into some of that family history.
But it yielded an even more fascinating story.
The child of working class South Philadelphians, my husband has always been told that his paternal family was Ukrainian in origin (also “Austro-Hungarian”, which means absolutely anything), but when he started digging deeper into that history, the truth he uncovered was a good deal more complicated – and certainly fits the definition of hidden, or at least lost to displacement and trauma and time. It’s a long story and I honestly still can’t keep all of it straight – I very much hope that someday he’ll compile it into a single narrative volume – but essentially, my husband’s paternal family originally hails from a small village on the Polish-Ukrainian border. It was predominantly populated by members of an ethnic group called the Lemko, a people who have long been inhabitants of the Carpathian Mountains. They were farmers and herdsmen with deep ties to their land, and like many minority ethnic groups of that kind they were – and are – fiercely proud and protective of their culture.
Nothing remains of that village now. It was destroyed after World War II as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign called Operation Vistula that resettled – often forcibly – undesirable groups along the border into the “recovered territories” of western and northern Poland. The members of my husband’s family who had not already traveled to America were loaded into boxcars and transported to bombed-out cities in the north of Poland. The same happened almost everywhere. If you’ve never heard of the Lemko, that’s by design; they were intentionally scattered as part of a concerted effort to destroy them as a distinct ethnic group, as these things always go. Their stories were erased along with their homes, buried along with their people.
But now we know this story, my husband and I. So when I saw the call for stories of marginalized people that had been lost and hidden, it seemed imperative to tell it.
In the end it was a combination of family histories, as well as my own personal biography. From the paternal side of my husband’s family I drew the story of a Lemko immigrant in a foreign land, in many ways as hostile as the one they fled. From the more recent history of that side I drew the story of a coal miner and the fight for rights and dignity into which miners threw themselves at the turn of the century. This is not confined to West Virginia; Pennsylvania itself was flooded with immigrants from Eastern Europe seeking the plentiful but profoundly dangerous jobs that the mines offered. From myself I drew the story of someone struggling with identity and the loneliness that comes from that struggle, the desire to know oneself and the anger of being made to suffer for that self-knowledge.
I needed a final time and place to tie it all together, and that time and place was the Pennsylvania coal town of Lattimer in September of 1897, when a sheriff’s posse opened fire on a march of between three and four hundred unarmed striking miners. Nineteen were killed and scores more were wounded. In 1972 a small monument was erected on the site, which reads:
It was not a battle because they were not aggressive, nor were they defensive because they had no weapons of any kind and were simply shot down like so many worthless objects, each of the licensed life-takers trying to outdo the others in butchery.
I opened “Across the Seam” with that inscription, as well as a short verse by a Lemko poet that expresses longing for the land of his ancestors. And then the story was finished.
Through the process of telling this story, I learned this story. There was a great deal that I didn’t know when I started. There’s still a great deal that I don’t know. Part of the task of uncovering hidden history is learning how much you don’t know and how much you have left to learn. So the telling of these stories is not a final word on anything but a door that we open, through which we must have the courage to walk.
The rest of the anthology gave me other stories, each of them precious and each of them vital. I’m grateful for them, and for the fact that my own story – which is not even entirely my story – gets to stand among them.
Here’s a piece of it.