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Novelist Kate Manning kept a photo of 100 men wearing funny hats in her office for years. The panorama is a group photo of the 1915 National Retail Monument Dealers convention in Marble, and Manning’s great-grandfather was among the attendees. According to family tradition, JF Manning, armed with a pickaxe, helped dig marble for the Lincoln Memorial. This was all the author knew of his ancestor until, shortly before his father’s death, he encouraged him to find out the whole story. The investigation would lead to Manning’s latest novel, golden mountainreleased on November 1, while forcing the writer to consider his family’s past.
In the early 1900s, Marble in Gunnison County provided some of the nation’s most pristine slabs for a host of major projects, including the Equitable Building in New York. Nearby, wealthy coal baron John C. Osgood, who married a Swedish countess and is said to have entertained King Leopold of Belgium in his 42-room castle, founded the town of Redstone. But early 20th-century Colorado wasn’t all champagne and caviar. Harsh working conditions in the marble mines led to labor disputes, and the 1914 Ludlow Massacre, a battle between authorities and striking miners in the downstate, left at least 19 people dead. “I was a union member,” Manning says, “and I understand the history of that movement.”
golden mountain follows Sylvie Pelletier as she leaves her family’s cabin near fictional Moonstone, Colorado to work for the wealthy family who own the town’s marble mine. She is soon swept up in the latent labor feud fueled by Irish union organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones (and her handsome young colleague). Tensions are about to explode into conflict just as a European aristocrat is expected to visit. “That’s the great thing about being a novelist, as opposed to a journalist,” Manning says. “You can change names and condense time and stretch time and say, What if King Leopold was really there?”
A character who does not make an appearance is JF Manning. Turns out Kate’s great-grandfather didn’t break the rock: he was an executive at the marble company who worked to break strikes. “I think a lot of Americans [are] struggle with that kind of past,” says Manning, whose previous novel, 2013’s My Notorious Life, is about a Victorian midwife who performs abortions. “The way I struggled with that is writing about it in fiction.”
Explore more Colorado history with these reads, picked by Brian Trembath of the Denver Public Library.
by James A. Michener
This famous historian-author traces the lineage of Centennial, a fictional town in eastern Colorado (i.e. not suburban Denver), beginning with its inhabitants from the Mesozoic era through the presidency. of Nixon.
by Katherine Anne Porter
The title story of this collection of three short novels follows the tragic romance of two young Denver residents during the 1918 flu epidemic, when Porter was a reporter at the Rocky Mountain News.
by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Fajardo-Anstine’s short story collection — most of which revolves around Latinas in Denver, where the author grew up — was nominated for a National Book Award in 2019.