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Writer and American Book Award winner Denise Giardina was born October 25, 1951, in Bluefield. She lived during her early years in a coal company town in neighboring McDowell County and later in Kanawha County, where she graduated from high school. She is best known as a novelist and also has a long history of community activism, including a run for governor of West Virginia.

Giardina received a B.A. from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1973 and an M. Div. in 1979 from the Virginia Theological Seminary. She is an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church.

In her first five novels, 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 and other environmental issues, particularly mountaintop removal coal mining. She highlighted such issues in her unsuccessful campaign for governor as the candidate of the Mountain Party in 2000.

Denise Giardina’s honors include the Weatherford Award of the Appalachian Studies Association 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 retired as writer in residence at West Virginia State University and lives in Charleston. Her most recent book, Emily’s Ghost (2009), is a novel based on the life of Emily Bronte.

In 2020, West Virginia University Press published Heeding the Call: A Study of Denise Giardina’s Novels, in which William Jolliff takes an in-depth look at her books.

This Article was written by Stephen D. Mooney

Last Revised on July 13, 2023

Related Articles


Ballard, Sandra. Political and Spiritual Dimensions of the Work of Denise Giardina. Carson-Newman Studies, 1997.

Denise Giardina Issue. Iron Mountain Review, 1999.

Cite This Article

Mooney, Stephen D. "Denise Giardina." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 13 July 2023. Web. 23 June 2024.


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