Rediscover: John Ehle

Appalachian author, government adviser and founder of the North Carolina School of the Arts John Ehle died last Saturday at age 92. Born in Asheville, N.C., Ehle served as a rifleman in World War II, earned his Masters degree in dramatic arts and wrote for radio before publishing his first novel, Move Over Mountain, in 1957, followed by a biography, The Survivor: The Story of Eddy Hukov, in 1958. His second--and best-known--novel, The Land Breakers (1964), follows the first white people to settle the mountains of western North Carolina during the late 18th century. It became the first in a seven-part series set in the same region of Appalachia through the 1930s, two of which, The Winter People and The Journey of August King, were adapted into films. The Free Men, published in 1965, is a first-person account of the civil rights movement in Chapel Hill.

Besides writing 11 novels and six works of nonfiction, Ehle served as a special assistant to North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford in the early '60s, where he helped establish the North Carolina Governors School and the North Carolina School of Arts. Sanford called Ehle a "one man think tank," and said that "if I were to write a guidebook for new governors, one of my main suggestions would be to find a novelist and put him on his staff." Ehle was also a member of the U.S. National Committee for UNESCO and served on the National Council for Humanities. Many of Ehle's works have been reprinted in the past decade by Press 53, a small imprint in North Carolina. In 2014, New York Review Books Classics republished The Land Breakers with an introduction by Linda Spalding ($17.95, 9781590177631). --Tobias Mutter

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