Craft at Home in the Mountain Forest: An excerpt from Jasper Waugh-Quasebarth’s Finding the Singing Spruce

Finding The Singing Spruce: Musical Instrument Makers and Appalachia’s Mountain Forests is the new book in the Sounding Appalachia series by Jasper Waugh-Quasebarth, who teaches folklore studies at the Ohio State University. Aaron Allen, coeditor of Current Directions in Ecomusicology: Music, Culture, Nature, calls the book “a nuanced academic contribution to both human and environmental Appalachian studies” that’s also “a collection of accessible stories about people, places, and instruments.”

As we sat in his shop escaping the summer heat in 2014, electric bass specialist Roger Morillo and I tacked back and forth from English to Spanish as we talked about the similarities between his home community in the mountains of Táchira State in Andean Venezuela and his more recent home in St. Albans, West Virginia. He drew on his experiences living in mountain environments and attributed the uniqueness of wood craft in the mountains to his impression of the freedom that mountaineers have to create and find meaning from their material environment. “It’s the environment and traditions that we have,” he said, leaning back into his steel folding chair. “Remember, in the past, these people used to get into the woods. They would build their own house, especially with woodworking. Then they’re thinking, ‘I’m going to build my own kitchen cabinet’ and after that say, ‘I’m going to build my own banjo because I want to be happy sitting in the house that I built, on the chair that I already built, playing the instrument that I already built. I made everything by myself.’ ” For Roger, this was an expression of an essential characteristic of every mountaineer all over the world: “They want to be free.”Read More »

Kristen Gentry discusses her new collection, inspiration, influences, and more

We are pleased to publish Kristen Gentry’s debut short story collection Mama Said this week. The linked stories in Mama Said are set in Louisville, Kentucky, a city with a rich history steeped in tobacco, bourbon, and gambling, indulgences that can quickly become gripping and destructive vices. Set amid the tail end of the crack epidemic and the rise of the opioid crisis, Mama Said evokes Black family life in all its complexity. Maggie Henriksen from Carmichael’s Bookstore said about the book, “The characters contain a depth not often seen in a collection of stories, and readers are sure to be thinking about their lives and relationships long after finishing the last (tear-jerking!) page.” In this Q&A below, Gentry talks with Holly Mitchell of Vesto PR.

 What drew you to short fiction?

I gained an appreciation for short fiction in undergrad creative writing classes where I was introduced to stories by ZZ Packer, Junot Diaz, Jamaica Kincaid. That appreciation grew during my graduate study at Indiana University. I love the way characters in a short story can be sharply drawn and feel known, but the form and its economy (of language, plot, setting) create just enough mystery to leave readers wondering about the characters, the motivation for and effect of their choices, and the world they inhabit long after the story ends.

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Portrait of Sol Gittleman with the cover of his book An Accidental Triumph

“Americans have become addicted to rankings.” An excerpt from Sol Gittleman’s new book

Our distribution partner Vesto Books published their first book earlier this month: Sol Gittleman’s An Accidental Triumph: The Improbable History of American Higher Education. An Accidental Triumph tells the engaging story of how American higher education evolved from a patchwork of seminaries in the early nineteenth century into the world’s leader in research by the middle of the twentieth. Gittleman – professor emeritus at Tufts University who served as the provost from 1981-2002 – writes with authority, frankness, and unfailing wry good humor.

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A conversation with Erik Reece

We are pleased to publish Erik Reece’s latest book Clear Creek: Toward a Natural Philosophy this week. This wide-ranging and boundary-defying work calls us out of our frenzied, digitized world to a slower, more contemplative way of being. Joe Wilkins called Clear Creek, “A wise, rambling book that is equal parts memoir, natural history, and philosophical investigation. . . . Readers of Barry Lopez and Wendell Berry will find much to admire here.” In this Q&A below, Reece talks with Caitlin Solano of Vesto PR.

The book takes place over the course of a year. Did your journals and notebooks come together naturally, or did you have to revise certain aspects?

The journaling down by the creek occurred pretty organically. But though the book takes the form of “a year in the life,” I actually spent ten years writing it! Not continuously, but rather when some observation or idea came to me. So there was time for some pretty extensive revision, editing, shaping.

You’ve written about your religious upbringing and thoughts on Christianity before in your book, An American Gospel. What was different about your approach for writing about it this time?

In American Gospel, I was settling scores, in a way, with family ghosts. Which I don’t really recommend. But I was also working through some mental anguish that I’d carried around for a long time. There’s really none of that in Clear Creek. Though I’m always, in some sense, writing about religion (I guess I’m a God-drunk agnostic, as someone said about Spinoza), I now very much think of Clear Creek as an unroofed church, where I’m a congregation of one.Read More »

An empty road lined with green leafy trees and bushes with a clear blue sky

Midsummer roundup: Reviews, media attention, and author events

We get to June, and the child in me still feels like we should all get a few months of summer vacation. We get to July and it seems like everyone else is out on vacation. But even while the pace of some things has slowed as the temperature rises, the literary interviews, reviews, and events carry on.

First up, congratulations are in order for Rachel King: Bratwurst Haven is the literary fiction winner of the 2023 Colorado Book Award! The Colorado Sun shows support through an interview with King and publication of a story from the collection, “Strangers.”

Congratulations also goes to Tom Bredehoft, whose debut Foote: A Mystery Novel is a finalist for the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America in the category of Best First PI Novel. Winners will be announced on September 1.

And another congratulations to Neema Avashia, whose Another Appalachia came in at #9 on’s audiobook nonfiction bestseller list for May. Neema also contributes to an Esquire article that explores the notion of writing as a hobby or as a career, and she features as one of GoMag‘s 100 Women We Love.

July is Disability Pride month, and the American Booksellers Association recommends The Wounds That Bind Us, the new memoir by Kelley Shinn (“that’s two Ns and no shins”) as a worthwhile read year-round. The book is hailed as “empowering” by the Southern Review of Books. You can find Kelley at bookstores around North Carolina this summer, including at Downtown Books in Manteo on July 25, in a Zoom book discussion on July 28 hosted by Jacar Press and the Regulator in Durham, and at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill on August 31 with Belle Boggs.

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ASLE 2023 sale: Save 30% on titles on display at the conference

To celebrate the biennial meeting of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, West Virginia University Press’s new and recent works on the environment are 30% off with free shipping through August 31, 2023. This discount applies to paperback and electronic editions.

Display copies are available at the ASLE meeting in the Scholar’s Choice booth, with all sales handled online at our website. Just use code WVUPASLE30 at checkout. This sale is open to all, regardless of whether you’re attending the conference.

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“I hope [readers] walk away with questions—about our world, about themselves”: A conversation with Matthieu Chapman

Matthieu Chapman’s Shattered: Fragments of a Black Life—stories from the life of a black man that offer a riveting and heart-wrenching examination of how antiblackness infiltrates every aspect of black life in America—will be published by West Virginia University Press on August 1. (Available now through our website!) Here Chapman talked with his editor at the press, Sarah Munroe.

I’m going to say up front that Shattered is not an easy read. The prose itself is fluid and accessible, but many of the experiences you relate are difficult and even traumatic, and the slivers of social and structural history and analysis you include, particularly your lens of Afropessimism, will be challenging for some (though your book helped me understand it much better). Some may consider the memoir polemical or too political, and one of the absences quotes a white editor—in an email two days after the murder of George Floyd—calling it “an angry book” that places too much import on “rage and resentment.” What is your response to that? Has it changed over the past three years? Do you see your writing, the telling of your own story, in the context of our nation, as being angry, rageful, resentful? Why is your telling necessary?

My initial response to that email was laughter. I mean, what else can you do? I don’t think the book is angry. I think it’s honest. I think it’s funny at times. I think it’s painful at times. I think it’s happy at times. But I also think it engages with topics and perspectives that white people never have to engage with unless they choose to. So when I got this comment from this white woman editor, I couldn’t help but laugh. Why did she focus on anger?Read More »

Late spring roundup: Reviews, media attention, and author events

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies makes its national television debut when it’s recommended on the Kelly Clarkson Show from NBC. Secret Lives is also included in a Mother’s Day feature from Electric Lit, which notes: “When this collection blazed onto the scene in 2020, it won every award possible, putting West Virginia University Press on the map.” Nearly three years after publication, the big book from a small press continues to drive national conversations. Congrats to author Deesha Philyaw!

Forbes magazine celebrates “20 Must-Read Asian American Authored Books For AAPI Month,” including Another Appalachia: “This book lives beautifully in the gray area of trying to navigate a divisive environment while growing up queer and Asian American.” Neema Avashia’s book receives additional attention in Well Read, the 19th News, and all over Book Riot, where it’s part of “An Alphabet of Queer Books“; recommended as a nonfiction accompaniment for those who liked Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead; cited (along with The Secret Lives of Church Ladies) as an example of the future of Appalachian literature; and discussed among three Appalachian memoirs worth a visit. Avashia will appear at Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum in June.

In North Carolina, the Ocracoke Observer profiles Kelley Shinn and her book The Wounds That Bind Us, previewing the title’s June launch event at Ocracoke’s Books to Be Red bookstore.

The In-Betweens is named one of the best books of 2023 (so far) by Style Caster and included on the Jewish Book Council’s reading list for Jewish American Heritage Month as a book that “highlights and speaks to the American Jewish experience throughout history.” On July 11, author Davon Loeb will appear as part of the Maven online event series from American Jewish University; register free at their site.

Kristine Langley Mahler’s Curing Season is lauded in Good Life Review as a book that “pushes boundaries on what a memoir and an essay collection can look like.”

Congratulations to Jason Kapcala, whose novel Hungry Town won a silver medal IPPY for Best Regional Fiction, Great Lakes.

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“I taught myself these things in the city, waiting for the day when I would finally abandon it”: An excerpt from Erik Reece’s Clear Creek

Clear Creek: Toward a Natural Philosophy is the newest book by Erik Reece, professor of English at the University of Kentucky and author of An American Gospel and Lost Mountain. Described by Amy Leach as “full of starry, grassy, fiery ideas,” Clear Creek will be published August 1 in WVU Press’s series In Place.

During the summer that I turned forty-five—middle-age by any conceivable standard—I moved to the woods and, with the woman I planned to marry, set up house on a ridge side covered in hickories, buckeyes, and chinquapin oaks—a slope that dropped off over a sheer rock wall, then opened up onto Clear Creek, a beautiful body of water where, along its banks, a small wedding party (bride, groom, preacher, photographer, and witness) could be squeezed onto one large platform of white limestone. The officiant was the pastor of a progressive church started right after the Civil War by the abolitionist minister John Fee. The photographer, Morris, was a friend from graduate school (we had once performed a disastrous scene from Hamlet in front of our Shakespeare seminar, a scene in which I, as Polonius, forgot my lines) and the witness was his wife, Anissa, who had baked an apple-caramel pound cake for the occasion. Melissa wore hiking boots beneath her wedding dress—her twin sister’s second grievance of the day, the first being that she wasn’t invited. After a ten-minute ceremony in which the minister riffed on the theme of our marriage to each other and to this land, we all hiked back up to the house to drink champagne, eat cake, and sign the marriage license. Since Melissa and I weren’t members of our officiant’s church, or of any church, I slipped him an envelope containing a few large bills. My life had just taken, I could plainly see, a serious turn in the right direction.

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Mid-spring roundup: Reviews, media attention, and author events

Kirkus has the first published review of Kelley Shinn’s “harrowing” The Wounds That Bind Us: “Readers may not want to follow in [Shinn’s] footsteps, but they will never be bored with her as a companion.” The author will be joined by Jaki Shelton Green, North Carolina’s poet laureate, for a launch event on June 1 in Ocracoke, NC.

Neema Avashia’s Another Appalachia is named a finalist for the Weatherford Award in Appalachian studies, joining the long list of recent winners and finalists from WVU Press. Avashia is interviewed in Barrelhouse, and her “stunning” book is recommended alongside William H. Turner’s The Harlan Renaissance in Book Riot‘s piece “Eight Books about Appalachian True Stories.” Avashia will be a featured speaker at the West Virginia Book Festival, as reported in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Also appearing in Book Riot is Deesha Philyaw’s “phenomenal” The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, which is included in the feature “The Best Books We Read, January–March, 2023.” Philyaw will appear with Tyriek White at Square Books in Oxford, MS, on May 16.

NPR’s reporting on the movement to “go gradeless” quotes Susan D. Blum, and mentions her book with WVU Press, Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead). Also participating in coverage of the ungrading movement is WVU Press author Joshua Eyler, who’s quoted in Inside Higher Ed.

In other higher education news, Kelly Hogan and Viji Sathy, coauthors of Inclusive Teaching, appear in the Chronicle of Higher Education with their essay “How Can ‘Inclusion’ Be a Bad Word?” And Inside Higher Ed quotes current and future WVU Press authors Thomas Tobin, Karen Costa, and Elizabeth Norell in an article on active learning.

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