"Steeped in side-show tradition, and addressing issues of race, gender, self-concept, and creative expression, your book is beautifully written."
—Lisa Mangels Schaefer, curator, Coney Island Museum
"Step right up, get your ticket and enter the tent of the Leopard Lady. Each poem is a story, each story is a song, and page after page you'll find yourself inside a novel, wondering, What happens next? But you won't be in a hurry to find out—you'll linger on each page, swept away, seized by the dazzling, ecstatic language of Valerie Niemen’s mysterious narrator."
—Richard Garcia, winner of the American Poetry Journal Book Prize and author of Porridge
"The Leopard Lady, as she says, is 'half one thing and half another,' and so is her book: poetry and story, mystery and earth, told in two parts and two voices—but all one remarkable thing you may want to read in one sitting."
—Sarah Lindsay, Lannan Literary Fellow, author of Debt to the Bone-Eating Snotflower
Valerie Nieman's third poetry collection, Leopard Lady: A Life in Verse, will be featured in October at the Coney Island Museum.
Leopard Lady tells the story of Dinah, an orphan child of Appalachia who runs away to a carnival, and the emotional, physical, and spiritual journey she embraces.
Born in the depths of the Depression, the biracial child is “given” to the childless Gastons to raise. She eventually finds her way out of exploitation into a life on the road as a hootchie-kootchie dancer and fortune-teller. Self-educated with the King James Bible and a volume of Shakespeare, her voice blends Elizabethan phrasings with Appalachian and carnival speech. When Dinah is afflicted with vitiligo, she adds a turn as a “freak” called the Leopard Lady as the show travels back roads from the Carolinas to Pennsylvania. A dropout from divinity school joins the show, and they begin a debate over the nature of God and man–each seeking an understanding of their place in the universe–that becomes a close friendship.
Poems in this collection have appeared in The Missouri Review, Chautauqua, The Southern Poetry Review, and work on the book was supported by a North Carolina Arts Council fellowship and residencies at the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities.
Valerie Nieman is a poet and novelist living in Greensboro. Her writing has appeared in numerous journals, and recently in the anthologies Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods and Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology. She has held state and National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowships. A graduate of West Virginia University and Queens University of Charlotte and a former journalist, she teaches creative writing at NC A&T State University: www.valnieman.com.