“The Gone Dead” by author Chanelle Benz is this year’s One Book Read at West Kentucky Community and Technical College.
Benz’s debut, award-winning novel delves into race, justice and memory, revealing buried old wounds of a family, a community and country. Main character Billie James is a young woman who learns her past is not what it seems, and she must uncover what really happened.
The book begins with Billie’s inheritance, which brings her to back to her hometown in the Mississippi Delta for the first time in 30 years. She is left a small amount of money and a rundown shack that once belonged to her father, a well-known black poet who died unexpectedly when she was 4 years old.
Billie finds the house unnervingly secluded with only one family as her neighbors — the McGees, whose family has been intertwined with hers since the days of slavery. As she meets some the people in town, Billie hears a disturbing rumor that she had gone missing on the day her father died — but she has no memory of it. As the mystery of her childhood deepens, Billie discovers remembering this forgotten time in her life could put her in danger.
“The One Book Selection Committee was drawn to ‘The Gone Dead’s’ complex portrayal of race relations, family and culture in American history. With multiple voices and time periods, Benz allow readers to see the intricate ways these things affect her characters, and ultimately us, as readers,” said Britton Shurley, selection committee co-chair. “We thought this novel would provide both students and community members with avenues for discussing, and better understanding, these important issues in society.”
Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy, said “The greatest novels in my world are nearly all placed in Mississippi. The Gone Dead is one of the greatest novels ever placed in Mississippi. The southern novel will never be the same after this book.”
“The Gone Dead” was a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice and a Tonight Show Summer Reads Finalist. The book was longlisted for the 2020 PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel and the 2019 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. Benz has published work in Guernica, Granta.com, The New York Times, Electric Literature, The American Reader, Fence and others, and is the recipient of an O. Henry Prize. Benz lives in Memphis where she teaches at Rhodes College.
The One Book Read project is a communitywide effort to promotes literacy and discussion of culturally relevant issues. The project encourages the community, area school districts, and colleges to read the same book and discuss it in a variety of settings. In recent years, the One Book Read has shifted focus to spotlight upcoming regional authors, such as Benz.
A schedule of ways to promote the One Book Read of The Gone Dead is being planned for this fall and spring 2021. Benz is scheduled to visit WKCTC as the finale of the One Book Read March 30-31, 2021. For more information, visit onebookread.com.