St. Dale is taught in colleges and secondary schools in many states, usually in conjunction with the study of The Canterbury Tales. Among those organizations recently teaching St. Dale: The University of South Carolina- Beaufort; Caldwell Community College, Lenoir NC; Virginia High School, Bristol VA; Alleghany High School, Covington VA; Greenbrier East High School, Lewisburg WV.
In 2006 St. Dale was the One Community~One Book selection for Southport, North Carolina.
Winner of the 2006 People's Choice Award in Fiction by the Library of Virginia and the James River Writers Association.
Winner of the 2006 Book of the Year Award from the Appalachian Writers Association.
“A wild ride! Sharyn McCrumb has done it again.”
--Ward Burton, NASCAR Nextel Cup driver
Winner of the 2002 Daytona 500
|Sharyn McCrumb's modern-day version of "Canterbury Tales," begins on a chartered tour bus with former NASCAR driver Harley Claymore, who has signed up to lead a guided tour of Southern speedways. To his horror, he learns that the speedway tour is actually a memorial pilgrimage in honor of the late Dale Earnhardt.
"When we studied The Canterbury Tales in graduate school at Virginia Tech, I was struck with the idea of grassroots canonization," says Sharyn McCrumb. "Thomas Becket had been a Saxon in Norman England — in other words, a redneck. And as Archbishop of Canterbury, he had stood up to Henry II, opposing the Crown's infringing on the powers of the Church. That made Becket the first Intimidator.
"I was sure that the common people of England viewed Becket as a homeboy saint — their man in heaven. Within decades he had become the most popular saint in England. I thought that lately the people's saints were being popularly elected, rather than appointed by the Church. Like Elvis and Princess Diana. I toyed with that idea for years, but I never really felt moved to write the book, until Dale Earnhardt died. Earnhardt was from my state and my generation, and even though I wasn't a NASCAR fan, I thought I could understand his world and the reasons for his secular sainthood.
"Although Dale Earnhardt dropped out of the ninth grade, he died the #40 person on the Forbes List of 100 Richest Americans. Despite his wealth and fame, he continued to live a few miles from his birthplace, and to live and act as unpretentiously as ever. He is a 21st century St. Thomas a Becket: a poor boy who made good in a system stacked against him, and who retained his humility to the last.
By the end of the book, everyone on the tour has been given a miracle, even the unbelievers.
Although St. Dale seems far removed from McCrumb's previous works, the award-winning Ballad novels, she sees a common theme.
"In my novels, I try to explain Southern traditions and combat unthinking stereotypes about the South," McCrumb says. "There is no sport more maligned than NASCAR racing."
Many of the St. Dale pilgrims are patterned on characters from "The Canterbury Tales" For example, the exuberant Earnhardt fan Justine is modeled on the Wife of Bath. In The Canterbury Tales, the Wife was married to a fellow called Jankin. (Note that he turns up in the novel.) Other items cached in the narrative include: Chaucer's guide/host from the Tabard Inn, Harry Bailey; the Squire's Tale; the Franklin's Tale, and The Canon Priest and his Yeoman.
"I won't tell you specifically who or where," McCrumb says, "because I don't believe in spoon-feeding readers. St. Dale works on its own; the Chaucer connection is just a bonus." (Note: if you know anything about medieval pilgrimages, you'll find quite a few parallels there, too. I was especially pleased at being able to spot the connection between rituals at Celtic Holy Wells and NASCAR Victory Laps.)
For Sharyn McCrumb the publication of St. Dale was a wonderful adventure. She met the Earnhardt family, who liked the novel, and she became friends with a number of race car drivers, including one who gave her a ridealong in a race car at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
"After spending my adolescence writing term papers and avoiding any and all proms, I am now jumping hills at 100 mph with a race car driver on Virginia backroads, and it is glorious. You can imagine how frightened my teenage children are to contemplate what I might do next."
"I hear wonderful stories about teaching St. Dale," McCrumb says. "Teachers write to tell me about quiet students, who suddenly lead the class discussions because this is a subject on which they are experts. Or students who had never finished a book before, and who fall in love with St. Dale, because it talks about something they're passionate about."
2006 National Book Festival
St. Dale was a featured title at the 2006 National Book Festival in Washington, DC. The festival is sponsored by The Library of Congress and First Lady Laura Bush. Sharyn attended a gala dinner at the Library of Congress on Friday evening and had breakfast at the White House, hosted by Laura Bush on Saturday morning. Sharyn also signed books at the Festival.
February 2005 Alternate Selection for four book clubs including The Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club.
Large Print Edition, Thorndike Press, Spring 2005.
Audio Book, BBC Audio Books America, February 2005.
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