Bertha Kaye Batts Gibbons, born on May 5, 1960, in the rural community of Bend of the River, Nash County, North Carolina, was the third child of Charles Batts, a tobacco farmer, and Alice, a housewife. Gibbons’s childhood came to an end in March, 1970, when her mother committed suicide. The nine-year-old girl then had to find a new home, first attempting to live with her abusive, alcoholic father, then shifting from the home of one relative to another. Eventually, she found comfort with her older sibling. Many of the experiences from Gibbons’s early life fueled Ellen Foster (1987), her first novel.
In 1978, Gibbons graduated from Rocky Mount High School and enrolled at North Carolina State University. While at North Carolina State, she became familiar with the work of Louis Rubin, a well-known professor of southern literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). She later transferred to UNC, where her dream of studying with Rubin became a reality; she enrolled in one of his courses in 1985. In Rubin, Gibbons found a mentor and an active supporter of her creative writing. The previous year, Batts had married Michael Gibbons. The chronic illness of their daughter, Mary, would cause Gibbons to leave UNC without taking a degree. Around that time, her manic-depressive disorder was diagnosed.
Ellen Foster, encouraged by Rubin and published by Algonquin Books, the company Rubin had founded, was met with...
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