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Margaret Verble on falling for literature through Hardy and Austen

Margaret Verble.Greg Reynolds

In Margaret Verble’s newest, “When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky,” a young Cherokee woman makes her way in 1920s Nashville as a horse diver, sitting astride the animal as they plunge into a pool in a side show at a zoo. As fanciful as that sounds, Verble’s novel is rooted in truth, which makes it all the stranger. Verble’s first novel, “Maud’s Line,” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She is an enrolled citizen in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and lives in Lexington, Ky.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

VERBLE: I’m reading Tiya Miles’s “All That She Carried.” I had read her previous book, “The House on Diamond Hill,” which is about the James Vann, a Cherokee chief and plantation owner in Georgia. I thought it was so enlightening. Her new book is history but it also has a lot of imagination. I like to read a lot of nonfiction and a lot on the Cherokees, such as “The Payne-Butrick Papers” from the 1830s, which I’m reading currently. A lot of these original sources are very expensive but I love reading them.

BOOKS: Do you read about other topics in nonfiction?


VERBLE: I have this shameful little habit of reading true crime. One that is wonderful is Hallie Rubenhold’s “The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper.” I enjoyed Casey Cep’s “Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee.” It’s about an Alabama case Lee researched but also about why she didn’t write more books. It combines true crime with literary biography.

BOOKS: What have you liked for fiction recently?

VERBLE: I just finished Louise Erdrich’s newest, “The Sentence.” I enjoyed that as much as anything she’s written in the past. I’m a big fan of Sarah Waters, the British novelist, who’s well known in the UK but not as much here. Her last one was “The Paying Guests.” I tend toward British authors because I worked and lived there for 12 years. I like Ian McEwan and Hilary Mantel. I’ll read anything she writes.


BOOKS: Are there authors you think have done a good job of reflecting Native American experience?

VERBLE: I think Louise does. So does Thomas King but he’s controversial. He claims to be Cherokee but people who are not enrolled (in a tribe) are not held in high favor. Still I enjoy his work. He’s been able to catch a lot of Native American humor. It’s different. Louise does that very well too. But I don’t read a lot of Native American literature. It’s just so painful. I can barely deal with what the US government did to the Cherokees, never mind what they did to everyone else.

BOOKS: What kind of reader were you as a kid?

VERBLE: I was not a deep reader as a kid. If someone would have asked who in my senior class would become a novelist I would have been the last in line. I went to the University of Kentucky because it was a party school. I wanted to be a lawyer, but my father said lawyers don’t always make a good living and wanted me to get a teaching degree to fall back on. English was a major that could prepare me for both. Then I found out I had a weakness for literature. I fell for Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen. Once you read them, you read anything else you think: “Well golly, this is crap.”


BOOKS: Is there a favorite book of yours that nobody’s heard of?

VERBLE: “A Summons to Memphis” by Peter Taylor. I like all of his work. He won the Pulitzer Prize several years ago but if you aren’t from the South you probably don’t know who he is.

BOOKS: What’s on your to-read pile?

VERBLE: Joshua Rothman’s “The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America,” Francine Prose’s “The Vixen,” and Brooks Blevins’s “A History of the Ozark Mountains, Volume Two, The Conflicted Ozarks.”

BOOKS: Where do you keep your to-read pile?

VERBLE: I buy books and then stack them by my bed. Like a lot of us, I would do nothing but buy books. I have to have some discipline so I have a system. I study what I want to buy ahead of time. Then I buy 10 or 12 books all at once. I’ll dump some money on books. I don’t mind it at all.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane” and she can be reached at