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Writer Breece Pancake (June 29, 1952-April 8, 1979) was born in South Charleston and grew up in Milton, Cabell County. He attended West Virginia Wesleyan College and graduated from Marshall University. From an early age, Pancake was interested in local history and culture and enjoyed listening to the older generation of storytellers in Milton.

Pancake viewed writing as his calling, but worked at a variety of jobs and taught for a time at two military schools in Virginia. In 1976, he entered the Creative Writing Program of the University of Virginia and studied with such authors as James Alan McPherson, Peter Taylor, and Mary Lee Settle. In the mid-1970s, he wrote human interest stories for a Milton newspaper and began serious work on short stories. Early stories were published in literary magazines at the University of Virginia in 1976. His first major breakthrough was the publication by The Atlantic Monthly of ‘‘Trilobites’’ in December 1977. When the magazine misprinted his middle initials (D.J. for Dexter John) in the byline as D’J, he kept the unusual middle name.

Many of Pancake’s stories are set in Milton, fictionalized as ‘‘Rock Camp.’’ Others are set in the southern coalfields, Huntington, the north-central mountains of the state, and along curvy mountain roads. The stories are starkly written, sometimes with ironic humor, and always without sentimentality. His characters are often poor, lost, or trapped by forces beyond their control or by their own past. They are not among the winners in life, but they grimly keep on plodding.

Pancake committed suicide on Palm Sunday. The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake was published by Atlantic Monthly Press/Little Brown in 1983. In 1984, Holt, Rinehart and Winston published a paperback edition. The book was published in Great Britain in 1993, in German in 1990, and in a Brazilian Portuguese edition in 1994. In 2020, Library of America published The Collected Breece D’J Pancake: Stories, Fragments, Letters with an introduction by Jayne Anne Phillips.

This Article was written by Rick Wilson

Last Revised on February 26, 2021

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Douglass, Thomas E. A Room Forever: The Life, Work and Letters of Breece D'J Pancake. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1998.

Cite This Article

Wilson, Rick "Breece D’J Pancake." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 26 February 2021. Web. 22 July 2024.


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