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Valerie Nieman, award-winning novelist and poet, returns to Press 53 with a dramatic poetic narrative that draws on both genres. Leopard Lady: A Life in Verse will be featured at the Coney Island Museum, which said of the book, “Steeped in sideshow tradition, and addressing issues of race, gender, self-concept, and creative expression, your book is beautifully written.”
It follows the story of Dinah, a biracial orphan born in Appalachia in the 1930s and “given” to the childless Gastons to raise. She is gifted with psychic ability and eventually finds her way out of exploitation into a life on the road as a carnival hootchie-kootchie dancer and fortune-teller. When afflicted with vitiligo, she adds a turn as a “freak” called the Leopard Lady. Self-educated with the King James Bible and a volume of Shakespeare, her voice blends Elizabethan phrasings with Appalachian and carnival speech. When a dropout from divinity school joins the show, they begin a debate over the nature of God and man–each seeking an understanding of their place in the universe–that becomes a close friendship.
Poems in this collection have appeared in The Missouri Review, The Southern Poetry Review, and other journals, and work on the book has been supported by a North Carolina Arts Council fellowship. Nieman’s writing has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods and Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology. She has held state and NEA creative writing fellowships, and her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and cited in Best Small Fictions 2016. Her fourth novel, To the Bones, will be published in 2019 by West Virginia University Press. A graduate of West Virginia University and Queens University of Charlotte and a former journalist, she teaches creative writing in North Carolina.
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