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Emerging Author Erin Ann Thomas Receives Handcart Award

Thursday, Oct. 03, 2013

Erin Ann Thomas

Utah author Erin Ann Thomas with the Evans Handcart Award at USU

Emerging author Erin Ann Thomas was presented the Evans Handcart Award Sept. 20 at Utah State University for her book Coal in Our Veins: A Personal Journey, a homage to her Welsh ancestors who worked underground in coal mines so that she could earn her living in the light.

“My ancestors worked in the Scofield mine when it blew,” Thomas told the audience referring to a dust explosion that killed 200 Utah miners in 1900.

“My great-great grandfather was a Welshman with a famous temper who moved his family to Scofield, he and his four boys started working there. On the day of the explosion, he went to work and got into an argument with the foreman and stormed off back home with his youngest son, my grandfather Zephaniah. The two oldest boys went to work the mine and were killed in the explosion. I went to Scofield many times to retrace their paths.”

The Evans Handcart Award is a $2,500 prize for excellence in biographical writing about people who have shaped the character of the Intermountain West or “Mormon Country” as award progenitors David Woolley Evans and Beatrice Cannon Evans called it — a region historically influenced by Mormon institutions and social practices. David Evans, founder of a Salt Lake City advertising and public relations agency, and Beatrice Cannon Evans, a historian and family genealogist, established the award in 1983. A regional jury selects the winner of the Evans Handcart Award out of works published in the prior year.

Thomas’ book weaves historical research with her family’s personal account of the industry and opens with a description of a vintage, 4-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 wrote. “The various threads are woven together in a way that makes it an enjoyable and an important book for Utah and the Interior West.”

Thomas grew up in Orem, Utah, and received a bachelor’s of fine arts and a master’s certificate in Teaching English Speakers of Other Languages from Brigham Young University. She received her master’s of fine arts in creative nonfiction from George Mason University. She taught ESL at Carlos Rosasario Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., and later taught ESL, English and creative writing at Northern Virginia Community College. After eight years she returned to the West, working for IBM as a technical editor.

Coal in Our Veins: A Personal Journey is her first book publication. She has published poetry in Calliope and an essay in Dialogue magazine.

The awards ceremony was held at the David B. Haight Alumni Center of the Utah State University and was presented by the Mountain West Center for Regional Studies, a department of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Related links:

USU’s Mountain West Center for Regional Studies

USU College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Contact: Barbara Warnes, program assistant, (435) 797-0299,

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