Karen Spears Zacharias

Karen Spears Zacharias2018 Appalachian Heritage Writer in Residence

Karen Spears Zacharias grew up in a military family, but always considered Georgia as home though her parents were from the Rogersville and Greenville region of East Tennessee. Karen’s father David Paul Spears was a Vietnam soldier who was killed in the war in 1966 when she was nine. That experience and its impact on her family, particularly on her mother Shelby Mayes Spears, was a defining part of Karen’s life and prompted her to become a journalist and later a nonfiction writer and novelist. After graduation from Columbus High School in Columbus, Georgia, Zacharias attended for a short time Berry College in the Appalachian foothills of Georgia, and then followed her family who had migrated from Georgia and Tennessee to Oregon. In the Northwest, she earned her BA degree in Communications and Education from Oregon State University, marrying during her senior year Timothy Zacharias, a native Oregonian. Karen and Tim’s son Stephen was born in August 1979, followed by twin girls Ashley and Shelby and later Konnie.

Zacharias has worked at newspapers across the country, with her writing featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek, the Huffington Post, and on CNN and National Public Radio. Zacharias served on the advisory boards for the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Fund and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall Education Center. In 1997, she was asked to co-write the biography of Georgia family friend and Muscogee County’s first female Judge, Rufe McCombs. In 2006 Zacharias published After the Flag Has Been Folded: A Daughter Remembers the Father She Lost to War—and the Mother Who Held Her Family Together (titled in the Mercer edition Hero Mama). The book is a family memoir which tells a story oft-repeated among Appalachian families of the region’s contributions to the country’s armed conflicts and their personal struggles after the conflicts are over. A few years later, Zacharias was encouraged by crime writer Ann Rule to write the story of Karly Sheehan, A Silence of Mockingbirds (2012), the tragic tale of an abused and neglected child that inspired Oregon’s Karly’s Law, and this event compelled Karen to become involved in speaking on behalf of abused children and working to change Oregon’s family law system.

Zacharias has a story collection, Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide, that came out in 2010. However, her most acclaimed books have been the Christian Bend Trilogy: Mother of Rain (2013), a Weatherford Award winner, followed by Burdy (2015), and Christian Bend (2017). Mother of Rain was adapted for the stage by Paul Pierce, Producing Artistic Director of Georgia’s historic Springer Theater. Karen’s writing has been compared to the serious work of Fannie Flagg (Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café); and Dan Morris has said this about Zacharias: "At a time when authenticity seems to be in short supply, Karen provides a genuine voice for things that matter most. Faith, integrity, compassion, and thoughtful patriotism are themes she weaves into a tapestry of transforming . . . stories." Karen Spears Zacharias will be the 2019 NEH Artist-in-Residence for West Virginia’s Voices from the Misty Mountains and the Power of Storytelling NEH Summer Institute for Teachers at Shepherd University and which partners with the Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF). Zacharias will be the 2018-19 West Virginia One Book One West Virginia Common Read author. Karen Spears Zacharias writes and lives today with her family in Redmond, Oregon.