‘Bearwallow:’ What it means to be ‘mountain folk’
In his first book, Jeremy Jones ’04 weaves together personal stories about growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains with 200 years worth of stories about his ancestors who lived on the same land.
By Kaitlin Dunn ’16
When Jeremy Jones ’04 was in third grade, his teacher told him he was going to become an author. More than two decades later, Jones fulfilled that prediction after publishing his first book, Bearwallow: A Personal History of a Mountain Homeland.
Bearwallow weaves together Jones’ personal narrative of growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, N.C., his decision to go back as an adult to teach at his former elementary school, and 200 years worth of stories about his ancestors who lived on the same land. The idea to write the book came to Jones in many moments that added up. One such moment, Jones recalls, is when he was at Elon and his car broke down. When a man stopped to help him, he identified him as “mountain folk,” just from the way Jones talked. This caused Jones to wonder, “What is mountain folk?”
As an English and religious studies double major, Jones wrote an essay about this event for an English class. He found that essay years later when he was packing up his house to move, which sparked the idea for a book that explores the concept of home and how it affects our identity. He does this by comparing his home in the mountains and the people who have lived there with the people of Gracias a Dios, Honduras, where he spent a year teaching.
After that experience, Jones and wife Sarah Massagee moved back home, where Jones spent another year teaching in the elementary school he attended as a child. He later attended the University of Iowa, where he began focusing on nonfiction writing. He spent several years working on his book, researching, collecting stories and fact-checking. “The hardest part for me was staying the course,” Jones says. “This book took so many different forms, and it was hard to wrap my head around how all of these pieces fit together. I kept a bulletin board with all these photos and clippings and lines connecting them all. It looked like something a spy would have in a movie.”
After finishing the manuscript, it took Jones a long time to finally get his book published. Between finding an agent and publisher and going through and revising it multiple times, it took two years before the book was finally released in June by John F. Blair. “You have to bridge the gap between doubt and belief,” Jones says. “You always have to believe your book can be better, but you have to believe that it’s good enough for someone to publish. You’re always especially worried about that first reaction from people, but no matter what it is, you can’t let it shut you down.”
Even a decade after graduation, he is thankful for his Elon professors in the English and religious studies departments who had an impact on his book. “Elon never really goes away from you,” he says, “and it’s really remarkable that I’m still in touch with professors that I had then when I was first working out the idea.”
Jones has now moved back to the mountains with his family and is teaching at Western Carolina University. “For me it’s always been weird being away from home,” Jones says. “Not that I necessarily wanted to be there, but because my family has always been there and there’s been that pull. I feel like I’m destined to be there and live there.”