Katherine Manley grew up in abject poverty in Logan County, W. Va., but went on to teach in the same schools she attended.
Mountain State Press recently published her memoir, “Don’t Tell ‘Em You’re Cold” about her upbringing and how she overcame those challenges. The book's title refers to a time when she was begging on the streets of Logan with her father. He was afraid the authorities would take her away if she told anyone she was cold.
Manley explained that the book covers her life from approximately 6 to 19 years old. Her father was disabled from a train accident and the family scraped by on welfare and begging on the streets. As a teen, Manley’s mother abandoned the family.
But Manley said family is supportive of the book.
“I have a brother in Pennsylvania. He was glad that I told the story because it helped him see what we went through. He was much younger than I was. And my three children, they said that I'm giving them a look into my life that they probably never would have known about,” Manley said.
She added that she thinks of those days as “just a way of life” and that the family was “very resourceful.”
Not uncommon to memoirs, Manley said writing the book was an emotional journey.
“I cried a lot. I cried and I'd have to push the keyboard back. And some of the chapters I laughed about. I learned that I was probably stronger than what I thought I was,” she said.
Manley tells the story of her childhood, but to address the emotions she was feeling at the time, she included “letters” to God and her mother, among other people.
“I remember those evenings when things were difficult. I would lay in bed at night and I would just, I would talk to God,” she said. “I would just look out the window, part the curtains and say ‘God, I know you're up there somewhere.’ And I would just start talking. So I thought, ‘What about a letter?’”
Manley explained that she hopes readers are strengthened by the book. She said she wants them to realize they can make it out of poverty; that it will inspire them.
“If there's anyone going through a challenging situation right now, just realize that nothing is permanent. I mean, whatever you're going through today, you can wake up in the morning and it's a new day. There's a way you can make it out. Never give up hope,” she said.
After overcoming those challenges, Manley said she has learned a lot about poverty.
“The thought that poor people will never matter is so wrong. I've actually heard someone say to me, ‘Oh, they don't matter.’ But yes they do. If we don't do something to reverse the cycle of poverty, then this is just going to be another chapter written in history,” she said. “And so that's my platform as I travel around the state and other places, to get children to realize they are important, but they must dream. They must set a goal for themselves and as adults, we must help them.”
This interview is part of a series of occasional interviews with our in-house author Eric Douglas. He talks to writers from, or writing about, Appalachia. You can find more of these interviews on our website under “Appalachian Author Interviews.”