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Erin Ann Thomas

Handcart Award

Winners of the 2012 Evans Biography and Handcart Awards were announced this month by Utah State University’s Mountain West Center for Regional Studies. The literary prizes highlight the best new biographies with a focus on the Interior West.

Handcart Award winner Erin Ann Thomas wrote Coal in our Veins: A Personal Journey as homage to her Welsh ancestors who worked underground in coal mines so that she could earn her living in the light. The book weaves historical research with her family’s personal account of the industry and opens with a description of a vintage four inch tall, cylindrical Justrite carbide lamp that rests on the author’s bookshelf. The lamp is one a miner in the 1930s would have used and serves to remind Thomas of the country’s longstanding relationship with coal—including her own. She grew up in Orem, Utah, the daughter* of Welsh coal miners.

“I was always conscious that my surname had been passed down through generations of strong-backed and rough-handed men,” Thomas writes. “I have always been proud of this fact, preferring my ancestry of Welsh coal miners over a lineage of kings.”

Thomas describes walking though O’Hare Airport during a layover in 2006 and being confronted by a news story that would alter her path. Television screens showed the families of 13 miners trapped below the surface of the Earth in West Virginia. In Thomas’s luggage was a Christmas gift—a binder containing the genealogy of her family. She spent the next four years delving into the history of coal.

“This is a well-written book with a huge scope of research that weaves together and unfolds a family history throughout Wales, the coal region of Utah, and even connects to where the author lives now,” the five-member jury said. “The various threads are woven together in a way that makes it an enjoyable and an important book for Utah and the Interior West.”

The public is welcome to attend an awards ceremony where the winning authors will discuss their process on Friday, September 20, 2013. The event will be held at the David B. Haight Alumni House on the campus of Utah State University.  It will begin at 1:30 p.m., followed by a book signing and a chance to meet these award winning authors.

*correction by author: granddaughter

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