In “The Women of the Copper Country,” Lyndhurst author Mary Doria Russell’s triumphant new historical novel, it is a photographer named Michael Sweeney who gives Annie Clements the title of “America’s Joan of Arc.” Though Sweeney wasn’t a real figure, Annie was the spark and soul of a 1913 strike against the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company in the “Copper Country” of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
To an outsider, the town of Calumet appeared to be a model community, aside from the remote location and harsh winters. The company built a library for its employees, and a beautiful theater; the streets are lit with electricity and the homes are well built. Mining is a dangerous occupation, but the brutality and injustice in Calumet will be familiar to any reader with roots in Appalachian coal country.
The men — and boys — labor from dawn to dusk in miserable conditions for insufficient pay. The company has introduced a new kind of drill that can be operated by one man instead of a team, which reduces employment and increases danger. When a miner using a one-man drill dies after a cave-in, Annie knows it is time to act.
A union representative comes to town and is astonished by her ferocity: Nine thousand miners have voted to strike, and Annie, as president of the union local’s Women’s Auxiliary, has galvanized them. On an August morning, she leads a huge parade of women and children bearing signs. Only Big Annie, at six-feet-two inches, can carry the gigantic American flag.
The union organizer thinks it is too soon. Calumet and Hecla owns the entire town and can evict striking miners from their homes. The general manager, James MacNaughton, is a “wicked, selfish, cold-hearted bastard,” accurately described by the housemaid whose name he does not know. When his assistant comes to notify him that a miner has been hurt and that the injuries will be fatal, the despicable McNaughton instructs his assistant to retrieve the deed on the man’s house, so his family can be cleared out to make room for another.
Some characters are invented or amalgams, but most are historical figures. The union activists Mother Jones and Ella Bloor did aid the cause. The deadly blizzard of November and an unspeakable tragedy the following month are rendered with great sensitivity.
Apart from its cumbersome title, “The Women of the Copper Country” is a rousing tale of determination. This is storytelling at its best.
“The Women of the Copper Country” (352 pages, hardcover) costs $27 from Atria Books. Mary Doria Russell will talk about her book from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Rocky River Public Library, 1600 Hampton Road, and from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Morley Library, 184 Phelps Street, Painesville.
University of Akron professor Mary Biddinger, editor of the Akron Series in Poetry, is a recipient of a 2019 Cleveland Arts Prize. The $10,000 prize will be awarded in September at the Cleveland Museum of Art. See clevelandartsprize.org for tickets and the other winners.
Loganberry Books (13015 Larchmere Boulevard, Shaker Heights): Rudolf Ruder signs “The Long Journey to Cleveland,” the story of his parents: his mother, who was in the Hitler Youth, and his father, a Jewish concentration camp survivor, 1 p.m. Sunday.
Cuyahoga County Public Library (Parma-Snow branch, 2121 Snow Road): Former Beacon Journal writer Chuck Klosterman reads from his story collection “Raised in Captivity: Fictional Nonfiction,” featured in July 28th’s Book Talk, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Monday; Robert Crais talks about “A Dangerous Man, eighteenth in the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series about a pair of Los Angeles private eyes, 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday. Register at 216-661-4240.
Cuyahoga County Public Library (Middleburg Heights branch, 16699 Bagley Road): Jason Prufer talks about “Small Town, Big Music: The Outsized Influence of Kent, Ohio, on the History of Rock and Roll,” 7 to 8:30 p.m. Monday; Jonathan Knight signs “The Making of Major League: A Juuuust a Bit Inside Look at the Classic Baseball Comedy,” 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Register at 440-234-3600.
Stark County Public Library (Lake Community branch, 565 Market Avenue Southwest, Uniontown): Photographer Ian Adams discusses his work and signs “Ohio in Photographs: A Portrait of the Buckeye State,” 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Rocky River Public Library (1600 Hampton Road): Jill Grunenwald (“Running with a Police Escort”) signs “Reading Behind Bars: A Memoir of Literature, Law and Life as a Prison Librarian,” 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday; Mary Doria Russell signs “The Women of the Copper Country,” 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Hudson Library & Historical Society (96 Library Street): Edgar Award-winning author C.J. Box, who has written twenty books in the Joe Pickett series about a Wyoming game warden, will sign his new mystery “The Bitterroots” at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Register at 330-653-6658. The library has released its lineup for the Fall Author Series, including D.M. Pulley, Linwood Barclay, Helen Prejean, J.A. Jance and Nelson DeMille. The postponed June appearance by Matt McCarthy (“Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic”) has been rescheduled for December 4. See the list at hudsonlibrary.org.
Cuyahoga County Public Library (Strongsville branch, 18700 Westwood Drive): Diane Weinmann of Parma, author of “A Tail of Hope’s Faith,” about animal telepathy, speaks after the Friends of the Library annual meeting, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Register at 440-238-5530.
Mac’s Backs (1820 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights): Poets Nicole Hennessy (“Gypsy Queen”) and Tim Joyce read from their work, 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Geauga County Public Library (Chardon branch, 110 East Park Street): Tim Carroll signs “World War II Akron,” 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Cuyahoga County Public Library (Parma branch, 6996 Powers Boulevard): Kristan Higgins (“Good Luck with That”) signs “Life and Other Inconveniences,” about the complicated relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Register at 440-885-5362.
Visible Voice Books (2258 Professor Avenue, Cleveland): Co-author Carlo Wolff talks about “Designing Victory: A Memoir,” which he wrote with 96-year-old Robert P. Madison, a former Buffalo Soldier and the first African American licensed architect in Ohio, 7:30 p.m. Friday; Peter BD, Pilot Gosh, Andrew Duncan Worthington, Mallory Whitten, M; Margo and Tim Leonido read from their work, 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Akron-Summit County Public Library (Fairlawn-Bath branch, 3101 Smith Road): Fairlawn native Elizabeth Mowers talks about her Harlequin romance novel “A Promise Remembered,” 2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Barnes & Noble (28801 Chagrin Boulevard, Woodmere): Duke University economics professor Lori Leachman signs her memoir “The King of Halloween & Miss Firecracker Queen: A Daughter’s Tale of Family and Football,” about life with her father, a football coach who developed chronic traumatic encephalopathy caused by brain trauma, 2 p.m. Saturday.
Mustard Seed Market & Café (6025 Kruse Drive, Solon): J. Ryan Stradal, author of “The Lager Queen of Minnesota,” hosts “A Cook and a Book,” 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday. Register at cuyahogalibrary.org.
The Cleveland Public Library’s Writers & Readers series returns on September 24 with journalist Soledad O’Brien (“The Next Big Story: My Journey Through the Land of Possibilities”) and rapper and activist “Killer Mike” Render. The event, at the Maltz Performing Arts Center at Case Western Reserve University, is free, but registration is required at case.edu/maltzcenter.