By Ken Zurski
Breece D’J Pancake never had a book published in his lifetime. He died at the official age of 26, just shy of his 27th birthday. But four years after his death, The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake was released to critical acclaim. In fact, it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
“A young writer of such extraordinary gifts that one is tempted to compare his debut to Hemingway,” praised a fellow author, Joyce Carol Oates.
Born in 1952, the name Pancake is a surname of German origin. The odd apostrophe in D’J was a printer’s error, which stuck.
Pancake wrote about hardships of rural life in the Appalachian Territories where he grew up and rarely strayed. Most of his stories fly by in time, examining just hours of a character’s life, but packed with personal and social struggles both past and present.
When I was a young punk, I tried to run away from home. I was walking through the meadow on the other side of the Hill, and this shadow passed over me. I honest to god thought it was a pterodactyl. It was a dammed airplane. I was so damn mad. I came home. (“Trilobytes” Breece D’J Pancake)
The stories appeared in Atlantic magazine and Pancake submitted them only after he composed four long-hand drafts and ten more on the typewriter.
Ultimately, he struggled with alcoholism, but his untimely death by self-inflicted gunshot in 1979 may have been a tragic accident, some believe, due to a bout of sleepwalking.
It all adds to his lore.
One book, however, remains.