Book Clubs

SEARCHING FOR VIRGINIA DARE:
ON THE TRAIL OF THE LOST COLONY OF ROANOKE ISLAND

A new edition of a North Carolina classic.

“Old legends shine like newly-minted gold.”— Doris Betts, author of Beasts of the Southern Wild

What’s new in this new edition?

This latest edition of Searching for Virginia Dare: On the Trail of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island, from Press 53, features 33 additional pages detailing Hudson’s continued fascination with the subject.In an essay entitled “The Search Continues: New Journeys, New Explorations,” Hudson revisits Roanoke Island on Virginia Dare’s 425th birthday, August 18, 2012.

As she travels, she spins tales of her ongoing obsession with the White Doe legend, the story of the Virginia Dare Venus, the kudzu-wrapped landscape of Eastern Carolina, the hidden world of the Lumbee Indians, and some discounted theories about what became of the colony that are now finding traction with historians.

Seeking an update about the fight for Lumbee tribal recognition, Hudson discovers comedians and filmmakers Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal known as Rhett and Link, whose comic documentary follows their search for a first grade English teacher “who looks like an Indian princess.” She also uncovers a lively East Coast Native American identity movement, including pow-wows, small museums and websites.

The author reports on her travels to Rome, digging deeper into the life of American artist Louisa Lander, sculptor of the ill-fated 1859 Virginia Dare Venus, and the inspiration for a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel.At Brenau University, Hudson visits the controversial “Dare stones,” carved with messages that seem to be from Virginia Dare’s mother, and discusses a new study by a Wilmington scholar.

In Elizabeth City, Hudson finally tracks down “Rosebud” Fearing, who reveals his own lifelong passion for proving the “Beechlander” theory.At the British Museum in London, England, Hudson studies John White’s original drawings, then learns that a North Carolina scholar studying a John White map has found the location of a hidden English fort on the banks of the Chowan River.

The first edition of Searching for Virginia Dare gained many accolades, including honors as a North Carolina Arts Council Notable book and as a featured selection of BookWomen Readers-on-the-Road. Reviewed and recommended by NC Libraries Journal, Our State, NC Literary Review and the Roanoke Colonies Research Office, the book has been featured in creative nonfiction writing curricula from University of Alaska-Anchorage’s MFA Program to East Carolina University’s Masters in Writing Program. It has become a favorite read for newcomers to the South and visitors to the Outer Banks.

Readers Group Guide

1. Author Sheri Holman described Searching for Virginia Dare in this way: “Marjorie Hudson has beautifully united the personal and the poetic in her quest for the elusive Virginia Dare. By making this as much an autobiographical odyssey as a historical narrative, she challenges us to plumb our own dark interiors and seek out new shores of self.”

o Find passages of Hudson’s poetic narrative. What makes these sections “poetic”? How do these sections add to the narrative? Find a few personal passages. How do they work with the themes in Virginia Dare’s historic story?

2. Many people in the mid-Atlantic and Southern states grew up hearing the story of Virginia Dare and the Lost Colony. Some people have grown up knowing very little or nothing about it.

What did you learn as a child? Did you know there was a colony before Jamestown and Plymouth?  Were you fascinated by the story? Why or why not?

3. Native Americans feature prominently in the story of Virginia Dare. The author was intrigued by the history of the Lumbee people.

Do you know the history of a tribal people near where you live? Does your family or anyone you know claim Native heritage? Had you heard of the Lumbee before?

4. There are three solar eclipses described in the book. Did you catch them all? Look for the “darkened sun” mentioned in the Thomas Hariot/John White scene in Chapter 2. Then in a memoir section, at grandmother’s house (Chapter 6), there is a brief image of tree leaves’ shadows during an eclipse in the author’s childhood. The third eclipse takes place in Chapter 10, in a brief section in which the author attempts to view the sun’s shape using a pin hole in a piece of tin foil.

Read those three sections aloud. How does the idea of an eclipse relate to the themes in the book? How does the idea of an eclipse relate to the story of Virginia Dare?

5. Prayer figures occasionally in the themes and musings of the book.  John White reads from the Book of Common Prayer for the baptism ritual. Hudson makes a prayer of thanksgiving for finding her way in Greenville. An Iroquoian prayer for the souls of dead children is invoked.

o How would prayer have been important to the colonists? How did Christian conversion affect the Lumbee Indians’ fate and identity?

Hudson speculates that the images in Sallie Southall Cotten’s epic poem were meant to be Christian symbols.

Do you see Christian themes in Cotten’s life and poetry?

6. “One of the best things about writing this book,” Hudson says, “is sharing it with people and hearing the stories they tell back to me— about Virginia Dare, about grandmothers, gardens, growing up, hitchhiking, just about anything.”

Did Hudson’s experiences strike a chord in your life?

The book explores universal themes of missing people, losses, and times
of upheaval.

Can you point to a time in your life of upheaval and change?

7. Hudson explores the relationship between facts and myth in the book.

Did you learn any new facts that surprised you? Which Virginia Dare myth is your favorite? Do you think the Eleanor Dare Stones were a hoax? Why or why not?

8. The author describes Virginia Dare’s story as a family story, and as an American story. Families move, separate, and forget to pass information along. Children are lost, parents are lost. Those who remain, make things up. As a nation made up of people who come from somewhere else—or
who as Natives found their families and cultures devastated by European invasions—our collective memory is rooted in a pattern of loss and memory.

How does American history figure in to your family story? Are there any stories in the book—about Indians, for example, or immigration, that remind you of your own life or family?

9. Hudson also claims that in America family stories are often lost or missing, yet they seem to remain alive inside the descendants.

Do you agree? If so, how might this be true in your own life?

Author Comments

I WAS BORN IN 1953, in a small town in northern Illinois, the part with rolling hills and trees near the Wisconsin border. Our parsonage was next to the church on one side, the barber shop on the other, across from the courthouse and catty corner from the Piggly Wiggly. My life took a hard right turn when my family moved east to Washington, D.C., so my father, a minister, could study International Relations and peace. Eight years old, I missed my old life terribly. I remember tracing the highway on the map over my bed each night, following the route west with my finger, touching the places I once knew, lost and far from home. In Washington we grew up face to face with Cuban missile crisis scares, Kennedy assassinations, riots and anti-war demonstrations. My father took me to meet Martin Luther King in 1968; two days later he was assassinated. A sense of yearning for home, a sense of violent disconnection, a sense of the very personal pace of history—all these things had a great effect on me.

Some of this personal history is reflected in Searching for Virginia Dare, a mosaic of history, fiction and memoir that turns on the story of first English child born in North America, who disappeared with her family shortly after birth. The book tracks Virginia’s imagined steps through the coastal swamps and bays, following legends, tracking down weather studies and scholars, finding “lost tribes” and fanatics, and taking side trips and tangents into the 19th and 20th centuries.

Searching for Virginia Dare is my first book, and it is a love letter to North Carolina—my adopted home for more than 20 years. I live on a farm in the rolling hills of the center of the state, not far from a small town with a courthouse and a church and a Piggly Wiggly (now defunct). I have worked most of my adult life as an editor and freelance writer, writing for nature magazines and editing everything from Southern fiction to law books. Something about the water here led me in the direction of creative writing. I recently published my first short story collection, Accidental Birds of the Carolinas, and it won attention as a PEN/Hemingway Honorable Mention and Novello Award Finalist. Currently I’m working on a big shaggy novel that follows some of the same characters from the story collection, and it’s also set in a mythical rural county in North Carolina.

ACCIDENTAL BIRDS OF THE CAROLINAS

Readers Group Guide

The Stories

Assign each story to a group member to study and lead. Read the first page of the story aloud, to get the group oriented. Then offer some questions to get story discussions started.

The Clearing

Liz Enfield falls in love with the web of life on her new farm, detailing the natural phenomena that amaze and charm her. Find four phenomena and read the passages that describe them. Invite your group to add natural phenomena they have noticed from their own lives.

  1. How is the theme of betrayal played out in this story? How does Elizabeth betray her own heart and feelings?
  2. How does the land’s rebirth teach Elizabeth about her own life? How does Sarton Lee? Whiskey?
  3. There is a kind of baptism in “special water” in the story, and a “Judas kiss.” How are themes of betrayal and forgiveness played out here?
  4. How is the title of the story related to the themes: for example, there is a clearing in a woods, the distilling of clear liquor, seeking and finding clear water, a sense of clarity in a life?

Rapture

Sarton Lee, a minor character in The Clearing,  re-emerges in this story, telling of a time ten years previous to Elizabeth’s arrival. Did you notice a connection between the stories? Look for Irma’s apron, and a bible verse found in the pocket, in The Clearing.

  1. Sarton believes his dog may be a visitor from another planet, to help him become a better person. Does his dog accomplish that? Have you ever felt that a pet or a visitor in your life did that for you? Have you ever felt a spiritual connection to an animal?
  2. Sarton faces the truth about his own complicity in the loss of his daughter, and he seems to see the loss of little Nancy as cruel punishment from a judging God. How does the loss begin to shape him? What do you think his life will be like after this? (If you read The Clearing, you already know some of the answer.)

The High Life

Royal is Dip’s father figure and mentor for a life as a carnie. What are some things Royal did when they first met that Dip found “cool”? What makes Dip begin to reject Royal’s life as a model for his own?

  1. Dip is looking for “something good” to give him hope of a life beyond the carnival. How does the tough young mother serve that purpose? Why do you think the author created a character like this for Dip’s attention, rather than a sweet and innocent young girl?
  2. Dip is caught in a dilemma between who he is and who he wants to be. What do you think will become of him? Is there hope for a better life?

Providence

Nina hears the voice of God telling her to get away from her violent Iraq War veteran husband. Do you think it’s really God speaking to her?

  1. How does Nina face her own fears and prejudices against the South?
  2. What do you think of Roger the three-legged dog?
  3. The Voice calls Nina to the river. What does she find there?
  4. What does Nina begin to find in her new home that she didn’t have before?

New World Testament

  1. How do the lives of John Lawson and Eno Will fit the theme of “Accidental Birds of the Carolinas”?  What scenes can you find that include birds?
  2. Though this is a fiction story, Lawson and Will are historical figures whose lives intersect much as described. Do you know the Native American history of the area where you live? Are there any rivers or other places named for Native people? Does your family have any connection to early settlers? Native people?
  3. The story includes a bird sacrifice. How is John Lawson also like a sacrifice?
  4. References to Native people show up in two other stories in the collection: Providence and The Outside World. How is Native American history still alive in the South? In the land?

Home

The only character in this story who has a name is Carter. The rest are identified by their place in the family—the boy, his mother, my mother—and  the narrator, whose identity and physical presence seem impressionable, like clay. Why did the author make these decisions? How do they serve the story?

  1. The story outlines a new stepmother’s discovery of her place in her new family. What is uncomfortable about that for her?
  2. Encounters with deer are symbolic of the mysterious intersections between the memory and life of a previous marriage and the newly emerging second marriage and family. How do deer show up to express this theme? Find and read aloud the  sections where deer show up.
  3. What do you make of the ending? Is there hope for this new family?

Accidental Birds of the Carolinas

Rand does not like his new retirement village, but his wife Anne adores it. How does this reflect their characters?

  1. What encounters between “Yankees” and Southerners make the Rand and his family uncomfortable? Find them and read a few out loud. What prejudices to the newcomers have for the people they encounter? Do you think this kind of thing happens where you live?
  2. What issues do people have to deal with after the death of a spouse? How do they “hold on” to a spouse? How do they let go?
  3. How does Rand change during the course of the story?
  4. What part do birds play in the story? Find a few places, read them aloud.

The Outside World

Jolene falls for John partly because of his dumb clothes. Why else does she fall for him?

  1. The sensuality of the rural countryside and Jolene and John’s love life seem connected. How does the author connect them? Read several love scenes.
  2. The “angel unawares” shows up in scripture and a childhood wish. Where else does it show up?
  3. How does the arrival of Bobo create a new world for John and Jolene?
  4. How does John betray Jolene? How does Jolene betray John?
  5. How does Jolene rely on Emily Dickinson to support her satisfaction with life? Does Emily let her down?
  6. What role does Reba play in the story?
  7. This story contains connections to Rand’s story. How are the two stories connected? Did you notice that Bobo shows up in Rand’s tale?
  8. What is the “Outside World” ? What several meanings does that phrase have for Jolene?

An Invitation to Share your Stories

These stories explore the following themes: people running away from their former lives; people making a new life in the South; people falling in love with communities and rural areas; people facing their own prejudices and passions about the South.

Here are some ways to discuss these themes in your own lives.

  • Take an informal poll: How many in your group were born and raised where they live now? How many moved to the area recently? Within 10 years? 20 years?
  • Go around the group and share your stories, each answering this question—what made you move to the area? Or, conversely, what makes you stay? What makes it a great place to live?
  • Some people move to a new place following love or work or family. Some move to find a whole new life. Some move to retire. Some fall in love with a new place. Some find the transition difficult. Where do you and your group members fall in this spectrum? Go around the room and share.
  • Fiction stories reveal the difficult moments in life and the deep complex motives and questions people must face during those moments. How are the characters in these stories “blown off course” by life, and how do they find a safe place to live? Have you ever felt like a bird blown off course by a storm?
  • The author was delighted to realize that the cover illustration contained five birds and three eggs, adding up to eight living things. The collection contains eight stories and main characters. Which characters are more like birds, which are more like eggs?
  • Birders love to make lists. Can you find all the places where birds are described or named in this collection? How do birds figure into the characters’ lives? Do you keep a Life List? What’s your favorite bird on the list?

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