January 1994

Dori Sanders

Farmer and Writer

Dori Sanders

As a child, Dorinda Sanders, better known as “Dori,” recalls telling stories at a place known as the “storytelling rock.” Dori and her sisters and brother would gather there for hours sharing all sorts of stories. Those sessions at the rock led to the formal creation of her own stories and today she is a noted author who has clung to her farming roots. The best-selling author was born in Filbert, a community in York County. The eighth of 10 children, she grew up working on her family’s peach farm. The produce was sold at an open-air market on US 321 in Filbert. Working diligently in the orchards of her family’s peach farm has had a lasting impact. During the off-season from farming, Sanders traveled north and worked odd jobs. Once she worked in a banquet hall where she began writing on small pieces of paper, napkins and the backs of menus. The owner of the hotel read samples of her writings and encouraged her to continue. “I guess I started writing because I wanted to leave something for my nieces and nephews, as way to tell them what life was like on the farm, because I know when my generation passes, this farm will pass out of our family.” Sanders says, “None of the young people these days want to farm. You see, they want things and farming doesn’t afford you things.” After returning home to South Carolina, she completed a manuscript and submitted it to a publisher. Although her manuscript was rejected, the publisher informed her that her work showed promise and that she should not be discouraged. Without sermons, without pronouncements, Sanders tells stories about ordinary, everyday people, black and white. In 1990, she submitted a second manuscript entitle Clover to Algonquin Press, a publishing company in North Carolina. This story of a relationship between a 10-year-old black girl, Clover, and her white stepmother is beautifully told through the eyes of the young girl. The setting is rural South Carolina following the death of the girl’s father. The novel received rave reviews and became a surprise best seller. Clover has been printed in five foreign languages and Disney purchased the movie right to the book. Sanders received the Lillian Smith Award for Clover. Three years later, Sanders’ latest novel Her Own Place was published to widespread critical acclaim. Her Own Place is about a woman named Mae Lee Barnes who buys a farm, works it, raises a family and moves to town. Taking things as they come, Sanders’ protagonist finds she is equal to any occasion. “Mae Lee represents all women who struggled after World War II.” says Sanders. “And you see, unlike Mae Lee, I have no children, but in this novel gave myself five. In a way it makes me feel fulfilled.” Sanders has remained committed to farming, despite the fact that she has become a renowned author. She does most of her writing during the off-seasons. She also speaks at schools and libraries. “I encourage the children, telling them to do like I do and write what they know,” she says. “Farming is who I am. If someone asks me what I do, I say, ‘I’m a farmer.’ And only later do I say, ‘Oh, and I also do some writing.’ I grew up in a place and a time, and I’ll never be able to get myself out of where I am. I’ll never write about anything else.”