A year-end message from WVU Press

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At West Virginia University Press we’re wrapping up a year of firsts – our first time in the New York Times, the AtlanticNo Depression, and PBS NewsHour online; our first time winning the Weatherford Award and landing finalists for the Southern Book Prize and the Lambda Literary Award. And while we’ve been reviewed in Publishers Weekly many times, we’ve never before had one of our titles held up in PW as evidence of the value of university press publishing.

More firsts: our director in the Chronicle of Higher Education, our marketing manager named a 40 under 40, and our art director chosen for a committee that judges the country’s best book covers. We hired a new managing editor who has a master’s in professional writing and editing from WVU – our first full-time colleague from that nationally renowned program.

We exhibited our titles at conferences in seven states and one Canadian province. Our authors toured all 120 counties in Kentucky, presided over pepperoni roll contests, and held readings everywhere from the International Center for Photography in New York to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. We published books by scholars from the United States, Canada, and Europe; from big universities like Virginia Tech and Indiana University and smaller ones like Samford and West Virginia Wesleyan; and, of course, from WVU. In one book alone we published work by more than 60 West Virginians.

It was our first time sharing exhibit space with WVU’s Department of Geography and our first time granting free digital access to a classic backlist book. Our titles were spotted in bookstores across the country and also (likely a first) at MoMA, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Met.

Amid all the firsts, we’ve also enjoyed continuity, especially in our dynamic collaborations with partners across the university, the state, and the world, from the Cheat River Review to the West Virginia Humanities Council to the Association of American University Presses. Those relationships – with you, our supporters, authors, readers, and friends – help make us the largest publisher in the state of West Virginia and a vital intellectual, cultural, and literary resource. We’re enormously grateful and wish you all the best this holiday season.

– Derek, Abby, Than, Sara, Floann, Kat, and Andrew

Shallow learning? The promises and perils of the literature survey course

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James M. Lang edits WVU Press’s series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and is also coeditor of the latest series book, Teaching the Literature Survey CourseWith a new semester and the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association both on the near horizon, Jim agreed to share a version of the book’s introduction.

When I was an undergraduate in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I took the three literature survey courses that were required of all English majors at my university, and that remain a staple feature of English majors today: two surveys of British literature, divided somewhere between the Restoration and Romantic periods, and one survey of American literature. All proceeded as usual throughout the American and early British surveys, but early in the semester some tragedy befell the professor of the second half of the British literature survey, and the university had to scramble to find a replacement for him to allow the course to continue. The faculty member who took over the course was a political scientist. As an undergraduate, I had no glimpse into whatever internal processes led to this outcome, which now strikes me as exceedingly strange, especially given that this was a moderate-sized research university, which likely had plenty of graduate students and adjuncts on the English Department roster already.Read More »

Some notes on book titles

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Andrew Berzanskis is an editor-at-large for the press. Here, he offers an inside look at the acquisitions process. Find him on Twitter: @aberzanskis

If you can’t remember the name of your book without seeing it in writing, the title is too long.

When you explain the pun in your proposed book title, you have already made two mistakes.

Your book’s audience will only be as broad as the most narrow word in the title. Read More »

“Documents like this are objects of resistance”: Emily Hilliard on Folk Songs from the West Virginia Hills, by Patrick Ward Gainer

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Patrick Ward Gainer taught in WVU’s English department for many years. His Witches, Ghosts, and Signs has long been an important part of our publishing program and is now joined by a new edition of Folk Songs from the West Virginia Hills, a major work of folklore poised to reach a new generation of readers. Our edition – part of the Sounding Appalachia series, edited by Travis Stimeling – is introduced by Emily Hilliard, West Virginia’s state folklorist. Here we share an enhanced digital version of her foreword to the book.

When I first interviewed 89-year-old ballad singer Phyllis Marks at her Gilmer County home, I asked her how she started performing her songs and stories. She told me about the first time she met Dr. Patrick Gainer, when he was looking for local performers for the first West Virginia State Folk Festival:Read More »

524 words about 120 counties: Notes from Jesse Donaldson’s book tour for On Homesickness

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Jesse Donaldson was born in Kentucky, educated in Texas, and now lives in Oregon. His book On Homesickness was published by WVU Press in September.

You could fit all I know about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity into a thimble and yet that’s what comes to mind when I reflect on my tour to promote On Homesickness.

These are the space-and-time “facts” of the tour: 28 days. 5400 miles. 120 counties.Read More »

Hillbilly identity and the WVU Mountaineer

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Rosemary Hathaway is associate professor of English at West Virginia University. She’s writing a book about the idea of the Mountaineer in West Virginia history and folklore, which will be published by WVU Press. Here’s an early look at her work-in-progress.

Although a number of students had informally dressed up as the Mountaineer for sporting events as early as 1927, when Clay Crouse volunteered for the position, the first “official” Mountaineer, selected by Mountain Honorary – as it still is today – was Lawson Hill, in 1934. Notably, this was the same year that witnessed the advent of comic strip characters L’il Abner, The Mountain Boys, and Snuffy Smith. Kentucky Moonshine, the big-screen vehicle for the comic-strip Mountain Boys, would come out in 1938, a year after Mountain formalized its selection process for the Mountaineer, choosing “Slim” Arnold for the position, a role he would perform for three years.Read More »

“Just as people make their own history, they also make their own memory-practices”: A conversation about Marked, Unmarked, Remembered

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West Virginia University Press’s Marked, Unmarked, Remembered, about the commemoration of challenging episodes from the nation’s past, is one of the most talked-about books of the fall. It’s a collaboration between award-winning photographer Andrew Lichtenstein and his brother Alex, a historian at Indiana University and editor of the American Historical Review. Andrew and Alex talked with Jeremy Wang-Iverson about their book.Read More »