Cleveland State University Poetry Center

Snaketown by Kathleen Wakefield



by Kathleen Wakefield

Winner, 2007 Ruthanne Wiley Memorial Novella Contest Selected by Steve Lattimore

Snaketown tells of a place that captivates and holds hostage, a place hermitic and congenital like the families that populate it. It tells the story of heredity and tragedy; how evil can magnetize as mightily as beauty, how a family, nostalgic for past times— devastating times—can revise damaging, damning memory; how the familiar should never be trusted.

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from Snaketown

They couldn’t find Buddy’s little girl, Caytas, and up over by the barn, silhouetted against the sun, Varla Sibel could see the dogs throwing something around, ripping and tearing at, and having a tug-ofwar with something limp and lifeless. She started running, hiking up her skirt, her sandals slapping at the heels of her feet. She ran through the junk pile and over the rocks and cactus, spider and pissant holes, over snakes, and beetles curled in the shade like larvae, ran hard and breathless in the 110 degree temperature, her heart pumping like it was inside her teeth, like her heart would explode and her teeth would spill all over the place.



“Kathleen Wakefield’s imagination constructed a minefield of malady when she wrote Snaketown. Snaketown’s soil has been raped by the mining industry and infected by a contagious soul sickness, which has spread to its inbred and insular community. Here is a morality tale of darkness and decline told in brilliant lyrical detail, biblically enchanting.”
—Martine Bellen

Snaketown is a shocking achievement. It’s a vision carved in jagged, searing, native prose from the bleak landscape of the American psyche. This story of a crumbling community clinging to a rock, its people flawed and haunted and kin to us all, is an experience so vivid, so terrifying, and so compelling that I fear part of me will be stuck there forever. A work of rare beauty, it’s art and storytelling of the highest order.”
—Steve Lattimore

“In venomous lyricism, Kathleen Wakefield captures the sweltering emptiness at the rim of the high desert in another, woebegone time, where the rustling behind you may be angels’ wings or diamondback scales. This scathing novella will remain with you long after you have put it away. A searing triumph. You must read this book!”
—Rita Williams

“There is music here, in Snaketown, a lyrical cadence—old ghosts playing guitars in a stirring and beautiful but killing terrain. This is a ballad of a lost child told with heartbreaking and unflinching clarity.”

—Darrell Brown, producer and songwriter

• • •

Kathleen Wakefield is a lyricist who began her songwriting career at Motown Records. She has worked in film and television with composers that include Academy Award winners Michel Colombier, Vangelis, and Gabriel Yared. Her stories have appeared in such journals as The Alaska Quarterly, Black River Review, The New Press, Salmagundi, Tabula Rasa, and West Branch. She lives in Los Angeles, and the Pacific Northwest, where she is working on another novella, and a play in two acts.

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