A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Daily Yonder: Stories about what it takes to work underground moving from column form to new book

By Gary Bentley
Special to KyForward

Gary Bentley’s first column in the Daily Yonder was also the first time his writing appeared in public. After 60 weeks of funny, profane, and heartbreaking stories about working underground, Gary is taking a break to work on a book. (Also, see this Q&A interview with Gary about his experience writing the column.)

I write this letter to you, the reader, with a heavy heart and a smile. Thank you for the time you have given to my stories and the thoughts you have shared with me over the past 16 months.

I began writing these stories thinking I would make a self-published compilation of my experiences to share with my family at our annual reunion. In the beginning stages, my wife, Marcie Crim, encouraged and supported me when I doubted myself and the importance of my experiences. As she has been through the trials and troubles of moving forward in life, she was there to be the “boot in my ass” to keep me motivated to pursue my dream.

Other friends, most importantly, Isaac Boone Davis, assisted with writing and editing early on. They encouraged me to keep going. Shortly after Boone read some of my stories, I was speaking with Dee Davis and Tim Marema of the Daily Yonder. There I found immediate support and encouragement to write more and share my stories publicly.

The Daily Yonder published my first story in January of 2016. Through 15 months of weekly publication, I have grown as a writer and watched the readership and support for these pieces grow, as well. With the encouragement of Tim and the crew at Daily Yonder, I have been able to do more than share these stories. I was given a learning experience like no other.

Former coal miner Gary Bentley (Photo on by Steve Inskeep, NPR)

Along with that experience, I was able to build new friendships. I can never repay Tim, Dee, and Shawn Poynter for all of the life lessons and support they have given to me.

I am taking the next step in the process of sharing these stories with the world. I’m happy to announce that I am working on a book with the support of West Virginia University Press. It’s a continuation of the columns I’ve written for the Daily Yonder.

I’ll share more about my childhood and growing up in Southeastern Kentucky. There will be new stories about my life as a miner, and a more in -depth look at opioid abuse, poverty, and being a middle-class citizen in a region dominated by a single industry. I will be able to look back at the formative events of my childhood.

And I’ll tell readers about the painful process of being forced to leave my daughter and hometown to search for work as the coal industry collapsed.

You can expect to see this book on shelves sometime within the next 18-24 months.

I will continue to share the occasional story through the Yonder and will also provide updates on the book as they come in.

I owe everything to all of those who have to read these stories and supported me in this venture. I truly cannot thank you enough.

I can’t make a complete list of everyone I want to thank. But there are a few special people I would like to extend e-hug to before signing off.

My lovely wife, Marcie Crim
Isaac Boone Davis
Tim Marema, Shawn Poynter, and Dee Davis of the Daily Yonder
Alison Petrash
Crystal Wilkinson and Ron “Dirt” Davis at Wild Fig
Jessica Lily and Roxy Todd of “Inside Appalachia” radio
Kelli Hansel Haywood of WMMT-FM in Whitesburg, Kentucky

Special thanks to Bianca Spriggs, without you this would have never been possible

And most importantly my family, the miners, and old King Coal for giving me the experiences that I am sharing with everyone.

Gary Bentley is a former underground coal miner from Eastern Kentucky who now lives in Lexington. He is writing a series of columns for The Daily Yonder, and it is reprinted with permission. The entire series can be found here.

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One Comment

  1. Marv Dunn says:

    Gary: Best of luck with your new book. Maybe you will be the next J. D. Vance! I have really enjoyed reading your stories on this website. I have a degree in geology and know just enough about coal mining to appreciate those that go underground and do such a hard and dangerous job. I also have enough claustrophobia that I would never be able to do what underground miners have to do every day. My biggest surprise was the drug problem with some of the miners you wrote about. Again, good luck with your new venture.

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