Black Bear Creek: Stories

Joshua Cross (@JCrosswords) | Twitter

This week’s other featured books, “The Nature of Remains,” by Ginger Eager and “Two Truths and a Guy,” by Jeannine Henvey, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the author’s name on our Authors page.


THE BOOK: Black Bear Creek: Stories.

: 2021.

THE AUTHOR: Joshua Cross.

THE PUBLISHER: Southeast Missouri State University Press,

SUMMARY: Tucked away in a remote hollow of West Virginia’s Coal River Valley, lies the town of Black Bear Creek, well past its glory days, and ravaged by the mining industry on which its people depend. The characters in Joshua Cross’s debut story collection struggle to survive against rampant poverty while their drinking water is poisoned and the mountains around them are stripped away. Spanning decades, these are stories of couples who marry too young because they have no other choice. Of life shattering injuries inflicted by the dangers of working in the mines. Of wounded men and women forced to be so hard they are frequently surprised by their own vulnerability. And despite the bleak backdrop of the only home many of these characters will ever know, these are stories about how they find ways to love and hope and fight.

THE BACK STORY: I began writing the stories that make up this collection when I was working on my PhD at Oklahoma State University. I had moved a number of times throughout my life, but always within a few hours of southern West Virginia, where I was born and raised. Oklahoma was the first place I’d ever lived that was in a different time zone and that felt like a completely different country, with none of the mountains or forests that had been familiar all my life. Something about that distance allowed me, for the first time, to write about the people and the places I’d known all my life. The first story in this collection, “Dessert in the Dinner Hole,” was the first story I ever wrote about coal mining, and the rest of the collection grew from there.

WHY THIS TITLE?: So many fiction writers I admire have set their work in fictional towns based on real places, so I knew I wanted to do the same. In the Coal River Valley of West Virginia, many of the unincorporated communities are named after creeks, like Rock Creek or Dry Creek, so I drew inspiration from that custom. The black bear is the state animal of West Virginia, so I named the town Black Bear Creek. Once it became clear that this place would link all these stories together, the collection had named itself.

From reactions to the book so far, it seems like people from southern West Virginia and other parts of Appalachia appreciate the familiarity of these characters and places. But I’ve also heard from a lot of people who have never been to the region who find it speaks to what they know of working-class people and their lives. For me, I love reading books that take me to a place and put me solidly in that physical space. I hope I have done justice to one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever known.

REVIEW COMMENTS: The nine stories in Joshua Cross’s Black Bear Creek pulsate with astonishing power and precision. His voice is mordant and gritty like the mines his characters exist in, steeped in the confines of domestic dysfunction, alienation, and struggle. His stories—all of them—are haunting, yet they reverberate with a message of hope in the mind long after you finish reading them. Cross is a great storyteller. —Brandon Hobson, National Book Award Finalist and author of The Removed

In Joshua Cross’ West Virginia, coal dust coats the playgrounds, the rivers smell like metal, and two-lane Route 3 is hardly a way out. His is an Appalachia of unromantic nouns: feral dogs, miscarriages, fire ants, divorces, drownings, black lung and kettle bottoms, ghost mines, and pumping hearts. Cross is a virtuoso with point-of-view—his characters are so varied in vision, voice, and spirit, birthed in a singular homeground of subterranean malaise. But it’s also a place of hope, where dreams hang aboveground, like low clouds, and just over the next ridgetop. Black Bear Creek has reclaimed my conviction in contemporary southern fiction and I’ve put it on my arms-reach shelf next to TR Pearson, Alyson Hagy, Rick Bass, Ron Rash, and Breece D’J Pancake. –Jon Billman, Author of When We Were Wolves and The Cold Vanish

Black Bear Creek is a brawling study in the gravity of kinship. Decades of blood and bone trapped in the coal mines cannot be ignored. Wielding honesty sharp as an axe, Cross descends, cuts through dark substrata, cleaves common ore, and returns with something fiery and soulful. —Ron A. Austin, author of Avery Colt Is a Snake, a Thief, a Liar

With each individual short story being an inherently absorbing read, Black Bear Creek is one of those collections that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. A truly impressive anthology, Black Bear Creek is especially and unreservedly recommended addition to personal reading lists, as well as community, college, and university library Contemporary American Literary collections. —Midwest Book Review

AUTHOR PROFILE: I grew up in Beckley, WV but currently live in Conway, SC with my wife and son. My stories have appeared in Beloit Fiction JournalBig MuddyFailbetter, and elsewhere. I earned my BA in English from Shepherd College, an MA in English from UNC-Charlotte, and a PhD in English—Creative Writing: Fiction from Oklahoma State University. I currently teach creative writing and composition at Coastal Carolina University.
 I hope these stories help to bring the underrepresented people of the Southern Appalachians and West Virginia in particular to a wider audience, and to examine the environmental and human toll that energy production takes on this region.

SAMPLE: You can read “The Dog You Feed,” one of the stories in this collection, on where it was originally published.

LOCAL OUTLETS: Order it from your favorite local independent bookstore, or directly from the publisher at

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon (,  Barnes & Noble (, or Target (

PRICE: $18.00

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: You can find out more on my website,, or contact me on Twitter @JCrosswords.

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Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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