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 libro.fm’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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“Tenacity and persistence are requirements in writing”: Kelley Shinn talks with Kristine Langley Mahler

Kelley Shinn’s The Wounds That Bind Us—the improbable true story of an orphan at birth who loses her legs, becomes an avid off-road racer and, as a single mother, attempts to drive around the globe in a Land Rover—will be published by West Virginia University Press on June 1. Here Shinn talks with Kristine Langley Mahler, author of Curing Season, also published by WVU Press.

Mahler: Could you talk about the importance of disability representation in literature and also the pressures that might come along with it?

Shinn: I’m a nonfiction writer, so representing the fullest scope of a human experience is an obvious goal. If what the reader reads is true about how a character thinks, reacts, is propelled through a situation, then there is an opportunity for connection.

I read The Color Purple when I was twelve. I have no obvious similarities with the protagonist, Celie, who is a traumatized slave in the American south. However, her drive and tenacity and hope under such cruel conditions were riveting to me as an adolescent. I felt her heart within my own. I thought then that if I ever had a daughter, I would name her after the brave, vulnerable, and triumphant Celie; now, decades later, my daughter, Celie, is part of the heartbeat of my debut, The Wounds that Bind Us.

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

In Book Riot, Kendra Winchester holds up West Virginia University Press as one of the “wonderful university and indie presses” that “provide a place for a lot of books big publishing doesn’t want to take a risk on.” Her piece (subtitled “supporting small presses supports communities”) quotes WVU Press staff alongside publishing professionals from Feminist Press and Hub City Press. Thanks, Kendra!

Neema Avashia’s Another Appalachia is named a finalist for the Lambda Literary “Lammies” Award, with winners to be announced June 9 in New York. Avashia’s book is judged “astute and beautifully crafted” in the Southern Literary Review. She talks with the Read Appalachia podcast.

In Other Lifetimes All I’ve Lost Comes Back to Me is praised as “a deep and howling portrait of longing and loneliness” in the Boston Globe and “brilliantly aching and haunting” in Lilith. Author Courtney Sender appears in Slate with an essay on family, citizenship, and the difficult history of Jews in Europe.

At the website for the Today Show, Jessica George, author of the latest “Read with Jenna” pick, recommends Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies. “I think short stories are notoriously difficult to write because you have so much to pack into such a small word count, but I think Deesha did this effortlessly.” Philyaw also makes another (!) appearance in the New York Times, where she talks with Gina Cherelus for the “Third Wheel” column.

Davon Loeb’s The In-Betweens is positively reviewed in Library Journal, which finds it “ideal for those interested in descriptive, insightful stories about what it is like to not quite fit in anywhere.” The book also earns a mention in Vol. 1 Brooklyn.Read More »

“A societal petri dish to create mental health challenges”: Read an excerpt from Improving Learning and Mental Health in the College Classroom, a new book in our higher education series

We’re pleased to share an excerpt from Improving Learning and Mental Health in the College Classroom, a new book by Robert Eaton, Steven V. Hunsaker, and Bonnie Moon. The latest title in West Virginia’s series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, edited by James Lang and Michelle Miller, it ships now when ordered from our site.

If a group of malicious social scientists were designing a societal petri dish to create mental health challenges, they would be hard pressed to come up with anything more effective than the US higher education system. For starters, consider the timing: students traditionally embark on their college experience during the very period in life when most mental health challenges initially manifest themselves, with nearly 75 percent of lifelong mental health challenges emerging by the midtwenties.

On top of that, many college students leave home and their established networks of support, often for the first time. Such disruption might unsettle the most emotionally seasoned among us, let alone eighteen-year-olds. “The college years are a period of often intense anxiety about belonging: Do I fit in?” observes Paul Tough in The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us. “Can people like me feel at home here?”Read More »