Writer Denise Giardina was born October 25, 1951, in Bluefield and raised in neighboring McDowell County. She is best known as a novelist and also has a long history of community activism, including a run for governor of West Virginia in 2000.
Giardina received a B.A. from West Virginia Wesleyan in 1973 and an M. Div. in 1979 from the Virginia Theological Seminary. In her five novels to date, all historical fiction, Giardina depicts Henry V in pre-Renaissance England in Good King Harry (1984); Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1930s–40s Nazi Germany in Saints and Villains (1998); and in Fallam’s Secret (2003) she explores the subject of time travel. Her most successful novels, Storming Heaven (1987) and The Unquiet Earth (1992), feature the fictitious coal miners Rondal Lloyd and Dillon Freeman making their hard way in central Appalachia, circa 1890–1990. In all of her books, Giardina is interested in the complexities and ambiguities of the individual destined to answer the call of his or her particular moment.
As a political activist Giardina participated in and wrote about Appalachian labor-capital conflicts of her day, including the A. T. Massey (mid-1980s) and Pittston (1989–90) coal strikes. In the following years she was vocal in her critique of surface mining, particularly mountaintop removal. She highlighted such issues in her unsuccessful campaign for governor as the candidate of the Mountain Party in 2000.
Giardina’s honors include the Weatherford Award for both Storming Heaven and The Unquiet Earth; the Lillian Smith Award and an American Book Award for The Unquiet Earth; the Fisk Fiction Prize for Saints and Villains; and the Lillie Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing. Giardina is writer in residence at West Virginia State University. Her most recent book, Emily’s Ghost (2009), is a novel based on the life of Emily Bronte.
This Article was written by Stephen D. Mooney
Last Revised on October 25, 2012
Ballard, Sandra. Political and Spiritual Dimensions of the Work of Denise Giardina. Carson-Newman Studies, 1997.
Denise Giardina Issue. Iron Mountain Review, 1999.