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May 2006
Lonesome Road
by Martha Bennett Stiles

About the Author

Martha Bennett Stiles was born in the Philippine Islands, but grew up smoking beehives, shearing sheep, dressing squabs, and milking goats around a bend in the river from Jamestown, Virginia, where her first American grandsire arrived as a cabin boy in 1608. Her first book, One Among the Indians (German edition, Allein Unter Indianern), is the story of that teenager’s two years as a hostage to Powhatan.

Martha worked one year as a telephone operator in Smithfield, VA before enrolling at the College of William and Mary. There she worked on the editorial board of the campus literary magazine and received the James Bryan Hope Award for contributions to that magazine.

Transferring to the University of Michigan, she majored in chemistry, winning Gomberg and Merck awards for chemistry and Avery Hopwood Prizes for essays. After graduation, she worked for Dupont in Richmond, VA, until her marriage to Martin Stiles. She has published two dozen short stories in The Virginia Quarterly Review, TriQuarterly, Georgia Review, Seventeen, etc.; three dozen articles in Esquire, the New York Times, the Michigan Quarterly Review, the Thoroughbred Record, etc.; ten books for young people; and Lonesome Road.

In 1967 the Stileses bought a farm in Bourbon County, KY, where they breed thoroughbred horses. Martha mentions every chance she gets that she is grateful to the Kentucky Arts Council for a Professional Assistance Grant and two Al Smith Fellowships and to the Frankfort Arts Foundation for two short fiction prizes and consequent chapbooks, beautifully printed by Gray Zeitz.

Martha’s second book for young readers, The Strange House at Newburyport (German translation, Das Seltsame Haus von Newburyport), concerns the Massachusetts Underground Railroad. Newburyport was chosen for its setting in remembrance of another grandsire who took refuge there from the New Hampshire town which kept hauling him into court and fining him for “picking pease on the Sabbath.”

Thanks to a Guggenheim Fellowship awarded her husband, Martha was able to spend a year in Munich doing research for book 3, the ALA Notable Darkness Over the Land (French translation, La Rose Blanche de Munich). The story of a German Catholic boy during World War II, this book explores the moral dilemma facing Germans in the Hitler era.

Novel 4, Tana and the Useless Monkey, grew out of stories Martha was told by a Dresden friend who had spent the war summers in the Black Forest. Castro Cuba, the book’s site, turns out to bear certain chilling resemblances to Nazi Germany.

Novel 5, The Star in the Forest, is set in 6th-century France.

Her next two books reflected Martha’s move to Kentucky. Sarah the Dragon Lady is the story of a New York fashion designer’s daughter who must spend a school year in Bourbon County when her parents’ marriage hits a rough patch, while Kate of Still Waters, which won the Society of Children’s Book Writers/Judy Blume contemporary novel award, is an exploration of a farm girl’s situation as drought worsens the farm crisis.

Martha’s picture books are Dougal Looks for Birds and Island Magic, both derived from the Stileses’ birdwatching haps and mishaps, and James the Vine Puller, an Afro-Brazilian folktale about conflict resolution.

Martha has taught creative writing at the Universities of Louisville and Kentucky and in residencies at Danville’s Bate Middle School, Estill County Middle School, and the Louisville Collegiate Schools.

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