Midwinter roundup: Reviews, media attention, and author events

The screen deal bringing Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies to HBO Max is widely reported, with Deadline Hollywood, Poets and Writers, Kirkus, LitHub, Pittsburgh Current, and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette spreading the word. Kirkus reports the good news that Philyaw has been longlisted for the PEN/Faulkner Award, and her status as one of three finalists for the $20,000 Story Prize is noted in Publishers Weekly and LitHub. The author and her book also appear on the Black in Appalachia podcast, in Next City, and in the Boston Globe, where novelist Robert Jones, Jr., says: “This is the kind of book I needed at this moment.”

In the New York Times, Chuck Keeney and his book The Road to Blair Mountain are featured in “The Real Meaning of Hillbilly,” an op-ed piece by Abby Lee Hood.

Foreword Reviews has a pre-publication review of Ghosts of New York: “In Jim Lewis’s wondrous novel Ghosts of New York, encounters among strangers result in unexpected relationships and a montage that celebrates a city of manifold graces. . . A subtle, dexterous novel.”

Renée Nicholson’s “lyrical and fascinating” book Fierce and Delicate is anticipated in Buzzfeed‘s preview of “18 Books That Will Help You Better Understand Disability and Chronic Illness.” Nicholson talks with Shaun Slifer, author of our forthcoming So Much to Be Angry About, in the inaugural episode of the “Short Talks” series from the WVU Humanities Center.Read More »

Celebrating Black History Month in Appalachia: An early look at William Turner’s Harlan Renaissance

William H. Turner’s The Harlan Renaissance: A Memoir of Black Life in Appalachian Coal Towns is coming from West Virginia University Press in fall 2021, and will be announced officially in our next catalog. In this preview from the manuscript, Turner—a sociologist and recipient of the lifetime of service award from the Appalachian Studies Association—reflects on Black life in his hometown of Lynch, Kentucky.

Lynch was a model company town, among the first planned communities in the mountains of the South. The engineers estimated that there was enough coal to stay in business for a century, so they, by design, constructed the business, mining, recreational, health care, and residential structures of the most durable materials. All municipal services were first-rate. By mid-September 1917, the year of my father’s birth, 300 cars of materials had been unloaded and the building of the town began. A mine was opened, and rail tracks were extended from Benham, which was owned by International Harvester, another of J. P. Morgan’s companies. The new town was named after Thomas Lynch, the president of US Steel, who had passed on three years earlier.

Within the blink of an industrial eye, between 1917 and 1920, the population of Lynch increased dramatically, to 7,200. The first nonnative residents in Lynch were Italian and Hungarian stonemasons brought directly from Ellis Island by the company; these robust souls were the first line of laborers who carved out what became a colossal coal camp, carved into the wilderness. By 1940, Harlan County’s population (75,275) was exceeded in Kentucky only by the counties of Jefferson (Louisville) and Fayette (Lexington).

Lynch and towns like Harlan, Hazard, Jenkins, and Wheelwright (in eastern Kentucky); Big Stone Gap, Grundy, and Stonega (in southwest Virginia); and Gary, Keystone, and Beckley (in southern West Virginia) were as racially and ethnically diverse—each group living in their neighborhoods and with traditions openly displayed—and as booming and blooming as New York City. Harlan County was to Kentucky Black coal mining families in the 1920s through the 1940s what Harlem was to Black New Yorkers in the same period. It was the cultural and social epicenter of the region for Blacks; and, as “the blackest town for mountains around,” Lynch was equivalent to 125th Street in Harlem—the school was our Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Pool Room was our Apollo Theater.Read More »

“Everything feels like it’s at once past, present, and to come”: An interview with Jim Lewis, author of Ghosts of New York

Jim Lewis’s Ghosts of New York (WVU, April 1) has been called “a marvelous novel” by Rabih Alameddine and “masterful” by Richard Price. Lewis—the author of previous books with Knopf and Graywolf—talked with Claudia Acevedo of Vesto PR for our blog. You can hear him read from his new book here.

Was there a particular event that made you set out to write Ghosts of New York?

There was a series of them, not all of which are manifest, or even hidden, in the book itself: a reporting trip I took to the eastern Congo 15 years ago; the deaths of some old and dear friends and exes, and the regrets that they induced in me; my sense that it was time I wrote a novel set in my hometown, now that I no longer live there, and to write something about being an artist, in particular about being a photographer, since I write so much about photography in my other life.

What draws you to the idea of ghosts?

Well, they’re everywhere, aren’t they?  Even if they don’t exist at all, they’re everywhere.

A lot of the book feels like a memorial. The most obvious example of this is the “Ghosts of New York: A Partial Account” chapter, which is basically an obituary for dozens of people with nothing in common except for the city they lived in. Who were they, and how did you learn/find their stories?

Oh, I made them all up. A few of the background events are real, of course: the Happy Land Disco fire, the AIDS horror, 9/11, the 1918 flu, but the others just came to me, and all of the specific characters and deaths are fictional. It was great fun to write, and I could have come up a hundred more, but I had to stop or they would have overwhelmed the living population of the book.Read More »

WVU Press welcomes Charlotte Velloso

This month Charlotte Velloso joins West Virginia University Press in the new role of office manager and operations associate, an expanded version of Floann Downey’s longtime office manager position. We wish Floann all the best in retirement, and are excited to welcome Charlotte to our growing team—now, for the first time, with a full-time staff of five!

A Morgantown native, Charlotte is a graduate of McGill University in Montreal and WVU’s MA program in public history. She worked with WVU Press as a graduate assistant for two years, developing skills in project management, intellectual property, and professional communication that she’ll apply in her new job. Please join us in both welcoming Charlotte and in congratulating Floann on her superlative career with West Virginia University. And thank you for your support as we continue to grow!

New Year’s roundup: Reviews, media attention, and author events

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies continues to play a prominent role in end-of-year book coverage, earning mentions in the New York Times critics’ roundup of 2020 (“I keep loaning out copies of Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies and having to order replacements”) and on NPR’s Code Switch episode on the year in books. It lands on best-of-the-year lists from the Paris Review, Buzzfeed, Ms. Magazine, Electric Lit, the Undefeated, Writer’s Bone, Stacks, Religion News Service, Hour Detroit, and the Chicago Review of Books (which calls it “a new classic”), and is judged “charming and entertaining” in the Kenyon Review. Philyaw appears on WTAE television in Pittsburgh, in a PEN America Q&A, at the Rumpus, and in LitHub, where she’s interviewed by Mitchell Kaplan of Miami’s Books & Books. She is named literary Person of the Year by Pittsburgh City Paper.

In the first published review of Jim Lewis’s Ghosts of New York, Kirkus Reviews finds the novel “reads like a striking literary version of the movie My Dinner with Andre,” with writing that is “beautiful, crisp, and keen-eyed.”

Larry Thacker’s Working It off in Labor County is called “a rollicking portrayal of small-town Kentucky life,” in Publishers Weekly, which says it is “unified by strong narrative drive and well-crafted prose.”Read More »

Read West Virginia’s spring books today with NetGalley and Edelweiss

With wintry days of reading on the horizon, West Virginia University Press is pleased to make it easy to get complimentary access to two of our highly anticipated spring books. Use your free NetGalley account to read Shaun Slifer’s So Much to Be Angry About: Appalachian Movement Press and Radical DIY Publishing and Jim Lewis’s novel Ghosts of New York. Like what you’ve read? Then consider reviewing it on a site like Goodreads—authors will appreciate the positive word-of-mouth, and so will we.

And if you’re a bookseller, librarian, or reviewer with access to the Edelweiss platform, you can also read Larry D. Thacker’s Working It Off in Labor County and Charles B. Keeney’s The Road to Blair Mountain. We add general-interest titles to Edelweiss on a regular basis, so check back for forthcoming books by Renée K. Nicholson, Geoff Hilsabeck, and more. And happy reading!

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

While The Secret Lives of Church Ladies didn’t win the National Book Award (congratulations, Charles Yu!), its status as a finalist is reported in coverage of the November 18 awards ceremony from the New York Times, NBC, the Guardian, and elsewhere. Deesha Philyaw’s book lands on the cover of the best-of-2020 issue from Kirkus, and also makes the year-end best-of lists from the New York Public Library and the Chicago Public Library. It is reviewed in the Los Angeles Review of Books (“compelling”), the Observer (“stunning”), and the Charleston Gazette-Mail (“absolutely wonderful”), while Vox takes particular note of its publisher. “One of the reasons we cover the National Book Awards,” Vox says, is that the awards “recognize books like The Secret Lives of Church Ladies . . . a short story collection about Southern Black women from a debut author, published by a small university press.” Philyaw is interviewed on the podcasts from LitHub and Late Night with Seth Meyers.

Publishers Weekly and Pittsburgh Current run reported feature stories about Secret Lives, which also appears on a number of holiday gift guides, including those from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Essence, and the bookstores Malaprop’s (Asheville), City of Asylum (Pittsburgh), and Downbound Books (Cincinnati).

TIME magazine includes Appalachian Reckoning in a roundup of responses to Hillbilly Elegy keyed to the release of the film adaptation. Coeditor Meredith McCarroll talks with the podcast Appodlachia, and the book earns a mention in Los Angeles Magazine.

As part of its story “The Battle of Blair Mountain Was the Largest Labor Uprising in US History,” Teen Vogue profiles Charles B. Keeney, author of The Road to Blair Mountain. Keeney’s book is excerpted in 100 Days in Appalachia.

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Celebrate the National Book Awards with West Virginia: A message from our director

Dear friends,

My colleagues and I are excited to share the news that West Virginia University Press’s book The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is one of five finalists for the National Book Award in fiction. Author Deesha Philyaw will be part of the finalists’ reading hosted by the New School on November 10, and the awards ceremony itself—referred to by former emcee Mika Brzezinski and others as “the Oscars without money”—will be held on November 18. Both events will be livestreamed, and I hope you’ll consider joining the remote festivities.

I don’t think it overstates things to say that this is the biggest development in our press’s history, and the wider world has taken notice. As a headline from the Washington Post puts it, the “finalists are a strikingly fresh group,” and Vox goes further, noting that “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies comes from West Virginia University Press, meaning we get the unusual sight of a small university press book in the fiction finals.” I was fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with Publishers Weekly about publishing a finalist, and about how Deesha’s book—a widely praised work by one of the region’s most highly regarded Black writers—fits into our broader publishing program at WVU. News of our book’s inclusion in the awards cohort is also reported by the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere—all signs, I think, of WVU Press’s wide-reaching public engagement on behalf of our university and state.

I’m deeply grateful to Deesha, to the press’s board and small staff, and to all of you for your support as we continue to grow.

Thanks and all best wishes,

Derek

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

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies has been named one of five finalists for the National Book Award in fiction, as reported in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Public Radio, and elsewhere. The inclusion of a title from a smaller publisher is notable, with Vox reporting “we get the unusual sight of a small university press book in the fiction finals.”

Deesha Philyaw’s book is also covered in Vanity Fair (where it’s recommended by Roxane Gay) and public radio stations WESA in Pittsburgh and WYPR in Baltimore. It makes the Buzzfeed list “38 Great Books to Read This Fall,” and is called “an unforgettable look inside the hearts of Black women” in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Congratulations to author Deesha Philyaw!

Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll’s Appalachian Reckoning is winner of the Walter and Lillian Lowenfels Criticism Award from the American Book Awards, as reported in LitHub and elsewhere. The release of the Hillbilly Elegy movie trailer sparks attention for our book in Columbus Alive and the Hill.

And rounding out awards news, the Wisconsin Library Association names Krista Eastman’s book The Painted Forest winner of their Outstanding Achievement Award.Read More »