Finding John Parris

REDISCOVERY: Two Hoots Press re-released 'Roaming the Mountains with John Parris,' this past October. The original publication came out in 1955.
REDISCOVERY: Two Hoots Press re-released 'Roaming the Mountains with John Parris,' this past October. The original publication came out in 1955. Imagine courtesy of Two Hoots Press

It didn’t start out as a rescue mission, it began as a simple stroll down memory lane. Marty Keener Cherrix and her daughter Amy Cherrix were discussing family history. Amy had recently returned to Asheville, by way of Boston, Mass., where she had worked on the editorial team at Houghton Mifflin Books. “She brought up John Parris’ books,” says Marty. “Everyone in our family — my aunts and uncle and parents — they had all had various copies.”

Parris, who was born in Sylva in 1914, worked for a number of publications on three different continents, before returning to Western North Carolina in 1947. By 1955, he began writing a weekly column, “Roaming the Mountains,” for The Asheville Citizen-Times. The column’s popularity was immediate. Within that first year, the newspaper decided to assemble the best of Parris’ works into a collection, which was published as a book under the same title.

“It has great historical perspective on the area,” says Marty, “as well as cultural and social implications.”

It was because of this that Marty and Amy decided to see what became of this family treasure. After a series of back-and-forths with the Library of Congress, they discovered the book had fallen into public domain. This allowed the mother-and-daughter-team the opportunity to bring it back to life through their own publishing house.

Two Hoots Press, named after the farm Marty grew up on in Haywood County, re-released Roaming the Mountains with John Parris in October. As the title suggests, the stories center on Parris’ exploration of WNC. “He went out and talked to people,” says Marty. In one piece, Parris recaptures a conversation with a man old enough to remember the Whiskey Rebellion of 1883. In another, he tells accounts of branding irons, back when they were used as instruments of punishment for lawbreakers. In yet another piece, he writes of “rhododendron hells,” described by Parris as “veritable maze[s] of false paths and openings — in which men have been known to wander for days.”

In addition to Parris’ first collection, Two Hoots will re-release two of his other books: My Mountain, My People, scheduled for spring, and The Cherokee Story, set for summer. The press also intends to publish original works. Marty says the focus will be on regional non-fiction: “We’re going after unknown stories.”

For now, she and Amy are enjoying the response they have received from readers regarding Roaming the Mountains with John Parris. “People are so glad that we brought this book back,” she says. “They remember that their parents and grandparents had these books, and they want a copy now because the others have been lost to time.”

At its core, Marty notes, the project is a family tribute. “My grandparents and parents are all gone,” she says. “They would love it that my daughter and I are honoring not only John Parris, but their memory and their legacy by bringing this back into print.”

Copies of Romaing the Mountain with John Parris can be purchased at Malaprop’s, as well as Amazon.com. For more information, visit twohootspress.com

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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