A weird quirk of fate inspired Zachariah Claypole White’s flash fiction, Books from Keida. In the summer of 2017, a local man passed away. He was an avid collector of poetry. On his deathbed, he asked his wife to give his collection to someone who would appreciate it. As a poet, Zach’s name came to her through a mutual friend. She called and offered him the collection, which he thought was the equivalent of several boxes of books. It turned out to be fourteen boxes guarded by a dog who wasn’t eager to see him take possession of his master’s property! He spent the summer sorting through the boxes, and in doing so, discovered these beautiful letters from a woman who was clearly a close friend of the man, although the two hadn’t seen each other in many years. He imagined their relationship, and his story was born.
When he heard about the project, he’d already completed a rough first draft of his piece. However, he’d put it aside to focus on other projects, because he wasn’t sure how the story wanted to progress. Hearing about the anthology reignited his interest in his characters—Keida and Alexander—and he realized they were older than he had originally thought. Once he figured that out, they began to speak to him.
In recent years, he’s also watched two of his grandparents struggle with memory loss. He wanted to write something that would not only be accessible to them but might pay homage—in some small way—to the support they have given him.
Using grief as a prism, Books from Keida explores how two people, who only met once, built a life-long relationship through the exchange of letters and literature. His story also suggests how love of the written word can connect two individuals in a unique way. It’s a story about grief, but it centers on how someone manages the physical reminders of loss—in this case, a massive collection of letters and books. There is also an element of what-if in the story. Those haunting questions: What could we have been? What if we lived near each other? Keida and Alexander met only once but formed a deep connection that transcended distance. They never developed a romantic love, they never met again in person, and yet they cultivated something powerful that sustained them over the years.
One of Zach’s most meaningful accomplishments happened recently when Scalawag published his poem, ‘Dogwood Holy’. It was his first piece to be accepted after college, and he got paid! Realizing that one of his favorite journals valued his writing enough to pay him was incredibly empowering. Another contender would be from high school, when he won a national medal in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and attended the recognition ceremony at Carnegie Hall. The Empire State Building was light silver and gold in honor of the winners. The whole trip was surreal.
More recently, Zach’s been editing his first book of poetry entitled Roads I Know, which examines the politics of home. After four years away, he re-encountered North Carolina and its history of violence. Roads I Know is his attempt to make peace with a series of questions: What does it mean to call North Carolina home? How do we define a place? How do we locate ourselves within a landscape saturated with racialized hatred and violence?
Following in the footsteps of C.D. Wright’s One with Others and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, he decided that such questions demanded more than lyric poetry; they demanded research and interpretation. A beta reader of the manuscript coined a term for his poem calling it ‘a docu-poem.’ Combining interviews, archival investigations, and autobiographical reflections, it explores local history, contemporary politics, the 2016 election, the aftermath of Hurricane Fran in 1996, and the 1898 Wilmington insurrection—the only coup in U.S. history. Roads I Know is Zach’s attempt to reconcile the love of his home with the violence that permeates not only the language of the state, but its very geography.
Zach also shared that he has fought OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) for most of his life. He also deals with depression. His struggles with mental illness—the victories and the defeats—have shaped who he is as a person and as a writer. Writing, he says, has literally saved his life: the simple act of telling his story, whether through the lens of fiction or poetry, is how he processes his world. Furthermore, as national dialogues focus on mental illness, it is more important than ever that those who are able to talk about their personal experiences publicly do so. The stigma of mental illness must end, and that will only happen if passionate, informed voices are added to the debate. So many people live with mental illness in silence and isolation. He hopes his writing speaks to them and reminds them that no one should be ashamed of who they are, the illnesses they carry, or the struggles they face.
To read more of Zach’s story, check out the anthology here: bit.ly/READFLASH
To stay in touch with Zach and his artistic life like his Facebook page.
Note: This spotlight was written by Zachariah.
Photograph © Ron Puchala.
Anchala Studios, LLC is a micro press based in Chapel Hill, NC which selects projects appealing to broad audiences and which enrich the community. The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory is its first publication.