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Emma Copley Eisenberg Books In Order

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Publication Order of Non-Fiction Books

The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia (2020)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Emma Copley Eisenberg is the author of The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia. That was her first book and it was named as a New York Times Notable Book of 2020. The story follows the true story of a decades old double murder and its legacy.

Copley Eisenberg has written fiction and non-fiction for years with her work appearing in many publications including McSweeney’s, The New York Times, Granta, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Tin House, Guernica, The New Republic, The Washington Post Magazine, and Esquire. In addition to her work as an author and writer, she is the director of Blue Stoop, a hub for the literary arts. Blue Stoop aims to nurture an inclusive literary community by creating pathways to access writing education, inspiration, and professional support, and celebrating Philadelphia’s rich writing tradition. Emma earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Virginia.

The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia is not a book that it is easy to categorize. Nor is it a book that is always easy to read as it touches on some serious subjects, but it is definitely book worth reading. The book tells a true crime story of a crime that was committed in Pocahontas County West Virginia in 1980. The crimes were known as the Rainbow murders and involved two women, Vicky Durian and Nancy Santomero, who were found dead from gunshot wounds. The murders were called the Rainbow Murders because the two girls had hitchhiked to Pocahontas County to attend the Rainbow Gathering. The Rainbow Gathering is an annual meeting that celebrates peace and harmony.

The girls had a friend, Elizabeth Johndrow, who was originally going to go with them, but backed out at the last second. There was a lot of narratives at the time about how the town was violent and unfriendly to outsiders, with most suspecting a local of having committed the crime. One man, Jacob Beard, was charged and imprisoned for murder. This was despite the fact that a serial killer, Joseph Paul Franklin, confessed to the murders.

Emma intersected with the crime when she moved to Pocahontas County years later. She headed there to take a job with AmeriCorps VISTA as a volunteer at a nonprofit designed to empower girls. She really loved her time here as she would spending her days working with the girls and her nights drinking and playing bluegrass with the local men. It was a time in her life that she realized would ruin her because no place would ever be that good again. However, much like the book itself, there is much more to the story and Copley Eisenberg felt as if she had harmed others with her weakness, her silence, and her actions.

She decided to join a writing group while in Pocahontas County and that is where she first head about the Rainbow Murders. The story really stuck with her and she found that her own story and the story of the crimes were intertwined. She set out to write this story and unpack the complete history of the region and how the history of that region ended up affecting the crimes and how they were treated.

Copley Eisenberg came into writing The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia with the idea that the past can be painful, but it should be better now. However, with this story and the events that took place that is not true. The pain hasn’t gotten lessened, but instead passed down through the generations. There is such a thing as intergenerational trauma which could be at play here. The book shows how the events of the books haven’t been satisfyingly process by the people of West Virginia and how history can still hurt even after all these years.

One surprising aspect that Emma found while writing is the trauma around sine of the the guys who were accused of these crimes. These are men who confessed and recanted or for whatever reason became a part of the story. The whole ordeal did a lot of damage to their reputations, to their bodies, to their health, to their families. It shows how a story can continue to inflict damage over time on all of those involved. There are some who think that Emma’s book is a part of this and is making it painful again for those involved, which is not completely untrue.

It was while she was working on her MFA in fiction at the University of Virginia that she started to think about writing this book. One day while she was going through her journals from when she lived in Pocahontas County and came across the mention of the murders from the 1980s. She realized that this was a great way to lean into learning about the county and what happened with this crimes. She started by googling the story and found that was she found online was wrong and offensive. It made her mad and she didn’t feel like the things that she was reading were matching her experience at all. This inspired her to write the story and tell the true feelings of those involved. One of these people was Liz Johndrow, the girls friend who didn’t go with them, who admitted that wasn’t physically hurt, but she was harmed by the experience.

One short story that Emma has written that has gotten a lot of acclaim is Forty-Four Thousand Pounds. The story was originally published in The Common’s Issue 15. The story is told in multiple parts and handles time and memory in a unique way. There are three main branches of the story. There is Kendra with her father as he drives across the country, then there is Kendra telling her friend Carla of her plans to leave their hometown, and then there is Kendra biking around Philadelphia. Emma felt that the further that we get from something beautiful and complicated that happened to us, that it can hurt more because it is gone and we will never have it again.

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