Growing up, I lived mainly in places engulfed in concrete, asphalt. I had no clue about the location of the nearest river, and the only body of water of any familiarity was Lake Hartwell, rumored to have so much old chemical runoff that the fish had three eyes. My father wasn’t around much in my formative years. The few times he took me out to nature, it wasn’t to go fishing—it was to don headphones hooked to a metal detector as he waved the odd contraption back and forth over the dirt for the moment a metallic thing would set off the bing-bing-bing, signaling a potential fortune some poor soul had misplaced or lost. (To my knowledge, he never found anything of real worth in that dirt.)   

No one ever taught me how to fish. Somehow, here in the heart of the South, I’d spent an entire childhood without once casting a line or wading in the river. As a Southern writer, this absence angers me, leaves me reeling in regret. How can my nature-less childhood translate to good Southern writing, which often revolves around one’s transcendent experience with nature? And furthermore, why would I be interested in reading any literature where fishing is a predominant theme?

But just like that, North Carolina novelist David Joy calms my frustrations: “Good fishing writing often uses fishing merely as an avenue to talk about life,” he says at a recent event at M. Judson Booksellers. Joy is here to promote the publication of an anthology that he and novelist Eric Rickstad edited: Gather at the River: 25 Authors on Fishing (Hub City Press).

Photo by Jason Massey

In this moving compilation of fishing essays featuring seven New York Times best-selling and otherwise acclaimed and awarding-winning authors, lurk stories of motherhood, fatherhood, friendship, marriage, and family memories. Readers get life’s ups and downs, regrets, and promise—all through the avenue of fishing.

Poet Ray McManus admits that he “hadn’t really thought about fishing in 25 years,” yet his writing conveys life truths he learned from spending time on the water with an old friend. Novelist J.C. Sasser spent “two weeks writing about the wrong thing,” until she sat by her sons’ beds as they slept and wrote a sort of prayer to them. What coalesced was “a gift—immortalizing something sacred and true to my heart.” Greenville’s own Scott Gould recalls getting “THE talk” from his father while fishing. Writer William Boyle, who describes a time in his adult life he tried to go fishing and failed, reminiscences on what makes a good father. Like me, he’d never been taught to fish.

One day, incidentally while fishing, Joy decided he wanted to do something meaningful for charity. Realizing he had more writer friends than money, Joy solicited their contributions for this collection.

“We were thrilled when David approached Hub City. With writers like Ron Rash, Natalie Baszile, Silas House, and Jill McCorkle, the caliber of the writing is so high. We were, to use a bad pun, totally hooked,” said Meg Reid, Hub City Press director.

Collectively, the writers selected C.A.S.T. for Kids to receive a share of the proceeds from every book sale, fulfilling Joy’s intent. C.A.S.T. connects volunteers who love to fish with children who have special needs and disadvantages for a day of fishing. The first print run of the book sold out within its first week. But no worries: just like fish return to a good fishing hole, more are coming.

Purchase a copy of Gather at the River from independent bookstores like Greenville’s M. Judson Booksellers, or directly from its publisher, Spartanburg’s Hub City Press, at hubcity.org.