No mere novelist, Asheville-born writer John Ehle is considered “a master of the American language.” Among his 17 books, including both fiction and nonfiction, seven works of historical fiction were set in the Appalachian mountains. From that collection, The Winter People was made into a film of the same name, staring Kurt Russell and Lloyd Bridges.
That was not Ehle’s only foray into film, and the connection to the big screen runs to his wife (Rosemary Harris) and daughter (Jennifer Ehle), both actresses. The Winter People is also not Ehle’s best-known work. That title is reserved for The Land Breakers, originally published in 1964. That book, recently reprinted by New York Review Books, tells the story of Scots-Irish couple Mooney and Imy Wright who struggle to make a life for themselves in the wilderness of Western N.C. during the late 1700s.
Ehle, who still maintains a residence in Penland, N.C., “can trace his ancestors back to the area’s original settlers of the 18th century,” says a press release. The tale of the Wrights, recently freed from indentured servitude and hoping to buy land of their own, is penned in prose both crisp and picturesque, as much a story as it is a history lesson.
Ehle celebrates his 89th birthday on Saturday, Dec. 13. Commemorate the occasion by revisiting The Land Breakers or any of the author’s Appalachian series:
• The Journey of August King (1971)
• Time of Drums (1970)
• The Road (1967)
• The Winter People (1982)
• Lion on the Hearth (1961)
• Last One Home (1984)