"I'm going to come back to West Virginia when this is over. There's something ancient and deeply-rooted in my soul. I like to think that I have left my ghost up one of those hollows, and I'll never really be able to leave for good until I find it. And I don't want to look for it, because I might find it and have to leave."|
- Pancake's letter written to his mother while studying writing in Charlottesville VA, before his suicide
By Bob Weaver
Breece D'J Pancake was a Kanawha County writer, one of most read and admired by writer types around America.
After his suicide in 1976 at age 26, he had but one book published.
"The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake" features a cast of hardscrabble laborers whose lives are circumscribed by failing farms, diminishing economic prospects, and the environmental blight caused by the harvesting of fossil fuels," according to a recent New Yorker article.
Pancake's book is a dark, depressive portrait of personal and societal wreckage left behind by mass industrialization in West Virginia.
I met Pancake briefly in Charleston during my drinking years. An acquaintance introduced me to the quiet, sullen, soft spoken man, whose countenance was riddled with gloominess, appearing older than his years.
I remember telling him some stories about being at the Buffalo Creek coal dam disaster in Logan County in 1972 that killed 125, his reaction being a blank stare into the distance.
My friend told me Pancake liked to write.
We parted company, likely to go to a Willie Nelson concert or some other event at the Charleston Civic Center.
In 1983 his writings were published in his only book, and I bought it.
After his death, author Kurt Vonnegut wrote in a letter to John Casey, "I give you my word of honor that he is merely the best writer, the most sincere writer I've ever read. What I suspect is that it hurt too much, was no fun at all to be that good. You and I will never know."
Pancake is recalled in a recent New Yorker article about his life and singular literary accomplishment.
See New Yorker Magazine article Unearthing Breeze DJ Pancake