Dyer, Joyce 1947–
Dyer, Joyce 1947–
Born July 20, 1947, in Akron, OH; daughter of Thomas William (a factory supervisor) and Edna Annabelle (a clerk) Coyne; married Daniel Osborn Dyer (a teacher and writer), December 20, 1969; children: Stephen Osborn. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: Wittenberg University, B.A., 1969; Kent State University, Ph.D., 1977. Politics: Democrat.
Home—Hudson, OH. Office—Hinsdale Hall, Hiram College, Hiram, OH 44234; fax: 330-342-9952. E-mail—[email protected].
Teacher at a private school in Hudson, OH, 1979-90; Hiram College, Hiram, OH, associate professor of English and director of writing, 1991-2006, John S. Kenyon Professor of English and director of Lindsay-Crane Center for Writing and Literature, 2007—. Wittenberg University, visiting writer, 1998; Mount Union College, Eleanor Mincks Wolf Lecturer, 2005; workshop presenter; speaker at festivals and other venues; guest on media programs. Radford University, writer in residence, summer, 2000; NEOMFA (consortium of Kent State University, Youngstown State University, University of Akron, and Cleveland State University), visiting writer, 2007; resident at Appalachian Writers Workshop, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, Highland Summer Conference, 2000, Wright State Institute on Writing and Teaching, 2002, 2003, 2004, and Antioch Writers' Workshop, 2005, 2006.
Association of Writers and Writing Programs, National Council of Teachers of English, American Association of University Professors, Appalachian Studies Association, Ohioana Library Association, Hudson Library and Historical Society, Friends of the Hiram College Library.
National Endowment for the Humanities, fellow, 1987 and 1988, grant, 1990-91; The Awakening was named one of the best academic books of the year by Choice, 1993; Ohio Arts Council grant, 1997; Book of the Year Award, Appalachian Writers Association, 1999, for Bloodroot: Reflections on Place by Appalachian Women Writers; first place award, Best of Ohio Writers writing contest, 2005; Susan B. Koppelman Award, Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association; local teaching awards.
The Awakening: A Novel of Beginnings (nonfiction), Twayne (New York, NY), 1993.
In a Tangled Wood: An Alzheimer's Journey (memoir), introduction by Ian Frazier, Southern Methodist University Press (Dallas, TX), 1996.
(Editor) Bloodroot: Reflections on Place by Appalachian Women Writers, University Press of Kentucky (Lexington, KY), 1998.
Gum-Dipped: A Daughter Remembers Rubber Town, University of Akron Press (Akron, OH), 2003.
Work represented in anthologies, including What's Normal: Narratives of Mental and Emotional Disorders, Kent State University Press (Kent, OH), 2000; Body Outlaws: Rewriting the Rules of Beauty and Body Image, Seal Press, 2004; and After the Bell: Contemporary American Prose about School, University of Iowa Press, 2007. Contributor of more than 100 articles to magazines and newspapers, including Cleveland Plain Dealer, Southern Literary Journal, High Plains Literary Review, Iron Mountain Review, and North American Review.
Joyce Dyer once told CA: "My roots are in coal (the Coyne side of my family migrated from the anthracite mines of the northern Appalachians in Pennsylvania) and rubber (my grandfather and father gave a total of sixty-seven years service to the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio). For a long while, I fought hard not to admit that I had grown up in South Akron, in an industrial subdivision—a company town—created in 1915 by Harvey S. Firestone for his rubber workers. It took me quite a few years to realize that familiar (and family) ground is the richest ground available to a writer. For over thirty years I hadn't even known that the sixteen-acre city park at the center of Firestone Park was designed by Firestone's landscape architect in the shape of the Firestone company shield. If you look at an aerial map, you see this instantly. The park is as perfect as a patch on a blazer. That shield may as well have been my family crest (everything was Firestone), but I never knew it was there until I left—and then returned to survey the land again, using memory and research as the lenses in my transit.
"Writing my way to the center of familiar experience has taken many circuitous routes, but they have all been important. They have all permitted me to bore closer to the center of mystery I know is there—the mystery of family history, of American vision gone wrong, of class arrogance, of illness and disease, of brave and frugal parents, of six generations of Haberkosts who a million times had walked Grant Street—the street that connects Goosetown and Firestone Park.
"In 1996 my writing excursions took me inside my mother's Alzheimer's unit, one of the strangest and most miraculous places I have ever known. Through literary nonfiction, my favorite genre, I recorded what I saw there, and what I learned. The book, In a Tangled Wood: An Alzheimer's Journey, began with an invitation to write from two mute swans that suddenly appeared in the pond that bordered my mother's unit. It ended, months later, in a manuscript that I'd like to say I wrote for my mother, but I know was really a gift from her. I was merely her scrivener.
"I am currently completing a memoir about my growing-up years in Firestone Park and have found, as I often do when I write, that I have been forced to go to odd and difficult places—such as, the Firestone Memorial where I slept in the arms of a huge bronze statue of Harvey Firestone, and the rubber plant where my father rose for a while in management but finally ended his career on clock as a janitor.
"I also enjoy editing collections. My Appalachian roots—both through my grandfather Coyne's experience in northern mines and the experiences of many uncles from West Virginia who came to Akron to work in the rubber plants (then married my aunts)—are important to me. It was probably this personal connection that led me to the literature of Appalachia over twenty years ago. I have come to realize that Appalachian letters have suffered serious neglect—like the region itself. I have also come to realize that Appalachian literature is at the heart of America's most recent literary renaissance—a powerful and diverse literature of enormous importance. I have tried to do the little I can to celebrate the achievement of Appalachian letters and draw attention to Appalachian art. Bloodroot: Reflections on Place by Appalachian Women Writers, for example, is a collection of original essays by contemporary Appalachian women writers about the influence of place on their work. The writers I asked to contribute were insiders who knew the mountains, not outsiders just traveling through.
"I continue to believe that writers must be susceptible to metaphor, unafraid to see those invisible strands that hold the whole world together. It's that task, primarily, that calls us to this profession, rather than some other."
Later Dyer Added: "I thought I was done with Akron when I finished my memoir, Gum-Dipped: A Daughter Remembers Rubber Town. I'd told the story of growing up in Firestone Park. What more was there to say? But I was wrong. Shortly after that book appeared, I received a letter from an Akron policeman who told me a story that changed my writing plans. He wrote to me about the Burkhardt Brewery in Goosetown. Goosetown is the name for the old section of Akron that ran on either side of Grant Street from Exchange to South. It was settled by German immigrants in the nineteenth century and pretty much demolished by urban renewal during the 1960s and 1970s. It was where my grandparents lived their entire lives, where my mother grew up, where I was born and learned to walk and talk. The policeman said my book had gotten him thinking about his own Akron experiences. He said that he had a lot of Goosetown stories to tell but didn't have time to share them all with me. So he chose the one he thought was best.
"A short while back, the policeman said, someone exploring the inside of the old Burkhardt Brewery late at night had called the police department to request that an officer be sent to the vacant building. For everyone's safety, the caller had said, there was something the police really needed to see. Burkhardt Brewery used the water from Wolf Creek to make their beer all the years they manufactured it. The stream ran right by the building, and brewers collected its waters in holding tanks. No beer had been manufactured there for forty years, so everyone assumed the water had simply turned in another direction when it found it wasn't needed anymore. I'd never seen any trace of Wolf Creek when I was a girl, though everyone knew the story of the creek's former role in making beer.
"The man who placed the call had been roaming through the building with a flashlight. He was about to enter a small interior room when he realized that what he had believed was a slick floor was really spill from an old holding tank. The tank was full—even now—after all these years—above the brim. The water had filled as high as the floor he was standing on, and had begun to flood out. It was twenty feet deep, he told the officer, cold and very clear. It didn't take the officer long to reach a conclusion. He realized that Wolf Creek was still whirling quietly underground in a steady flow. Long after the brewery stopped collecting it, it was there. Stone culverts had been built to house it, but they had failed to keep it from bubbling up into the holding tank.
"I can put no price on that letter, because it took me back to Goosetown and made me realize how much of my past is still below the ground—literally and figuratively. I need to find out more about my geology, because that's where the surprises are, and the things that last. If I don't keep my eyes on this ground, I might mistake a holding tank of water for a floor and drown.
"I was educated to believe that regional literature was inferior to other sorts. But I fully understand now how wrong that lesson was, and how wrong those anthologies were that created such a category for me. Regional writing is not inferior writing, but the only kind there is. Henry David Thoreau probes Concord; James Joyce, Dublin; William Faulkner, Oxford, Mississippi; Willa Cather the Nebraska prairie; Mark Twain, Hannibal, Missouri. Zora Neal Hurston excavates Eatonville, Florida; Lee Smith, Grundy, Virginia; Henry Louis Gates, Piedmont, West Virginia.
"I know now that the soil of the place I come from is so rich and intricate that I will never be able to sort out all its traits. I will probably spend the rest of my life writing about it—and about the people who have lived here with me. I hope I will travel thousands of miles before my life ends, and move across continents, but I know that south Akron is where I will most often rest in my writing. It is my chosen ground, the ground that has chosen me, and writing must be vertical to be any good, not just horizontal. I must never forget that Wolf Creek is flowing deep below, invisible to the eye, just waiting in a holding tank."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dyer, Joyce, In a Tangled Wood: An Alzheimer's Journey, Southern Methodist University Press (Dallas, TX), 1996.
Dyer, Joyce, Gum-Dipped: A Daughter Remembers Rubber Town, University of Akron Press (Akron, OH), 2003.
Hiram College English Department Web site, http://home.hiram.edu/www/english/faculty.htm/ (December 1, 2007).