Valerie Nieman is a professor of English at North Carolina A&T State University. A former journalist and farmer in West Virginia, she is the author of three novels, as well as collections of poetry and short fiction. She is a graduate of West Virginia University, and she received an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. To the Bones, her latest novel, is now available.
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time digging: century-old crockery pulled up from dumps behind fallen-in houses, jack-in-the-pulpit and native azalea dug out of the woods and toted home, stones pried out of hillsides. (That last led to a broken ankle, when I stepped in the hole I’d created earlier.) My bedroom was adorned with trilobites, the skulls of wild creatures, slab-sided patent medicine bottles.
In the newly published LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia, editors Jeff Mann and Julia Watts have collected works “that give Appalachian queer voices—members of a double minority—an opportunity to be heard at a time when many people in power would prefer to silence or ignore them.” This collection, the first of its kind, gathers original and previously published fiction and poetry from lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer authors from Appalachia. In this conversation, Mann and Watts take a closer look at what growing up queer in Appalachia was like for them and how their identities influenced their reading and writing.
Matthew Ferrence is department chair and associate professor of English at Allegheny College, and the author of the memoir Appalachia North(WVU Press, 2019) and All-American Redneck: Variations on an Icon, from James Fenimore Cooper to the Dixie Chicks. He talked with Margo Orlando Littell, author of the Appalachian novel Each Vagabond by Name, about his memoir. The following is an edited selection of the conversation.
Bonnie Stewart, an award-winning journalist and former professor of journalism at West Virginia University, is the editorial adviser for Daily Titan, California State University, Fullerton’s student newspaper. While at WVU, she spent five years researching and writing No.9: The 1968 Farmington Coal Mine Disaster, an investigative book about the mining disaster that killed seventy-eight men at a Consolidation Coal Company mine on November 20, 1968. In 2014, the miners’ families sued the coal company, which subpoenaed Stewart for unpublished interviews. Claiming reporter’s privilege under the First Amendment, she fought the subpoena in federal court and won.
Fifty years have passed since seventy-eight coal miners died underground in the Consolidation Coal No. 9 mine in Farmington, West Virginia. Some good came from that tragedy. The deaths moved Congress to pass the 1969 Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, which is credited with saving untold numbers of miners. Although that has given the families of the seventy-eight dead some comfort, it has not erased what happened that cold November day in 1968 or why it happened.
Natalie Sypolt is an assistant professor at Pierpont Community & Technical College. She coordinates the high school workshop for the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop at West Virginia University and has served as a literary editor for the Anthology of Appalachian Writers. Her work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Appalachian Heritage, Kenyon Review Online, and Willow Springs. She is the winner of the Glimmer Train new writers contest, the Betty Gabehart Prize, the West Virginia Fiction Award, and the Still fiction contest. West Virginia University Press will publish The Sound of Holding Your Breath, her first book, this November. Learn more at nataliesypolt.com.
The summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I attended the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop for the first time. I was shy, pretty awkward, and more than a little scared of the workshop leader I’d been placed with—West Virginia writer Pinckney Benedict. Now, looking back at my 19-year-old self, I’m still surprised that I actually did it. I can’t help but feel proud.
Chuck Kinder is the author of four novels—Snakehunter, The Silver Ghost, Honeymooners, and Last Mountain Dancer—and three collections of poetry—Imagination Motel, All That Yellow, and Hot Jewels. West Virginia University Press has just published new editions of Snakehunter, his first novel, and The Last Mountain Dancer: Hard-Earned Lessons in Love, Loss, and Honky-Tonk Outlaw Life, his latest novel. Here, Donna Meredith, associate editor of the Southern Literary Review and award-winning author of The Glass Madonna, The Color of Lies, Wet Work, Fraccidental Death and Magic in the Mountains, explores Kinder’s remarkable career.
A dozen Chuck Kinder personas are sitting in a honky tonk. Would the real one please stand up?
At times, Kinder seems like your basic outlaw author, the “Jerry Lee Lewis of American Letters” he aspires to be (Last Mountain Dancer, 452). The man who ran wild at Stanford with short-story giant Raymond Carver and befriended fellow writers Scott Turow, Tobias Wolf, and Larry McMurtry. Later in his career, Kinder and Lee Maynard even embarked on a book tour under the Outlaw Author banner.
Meredith Sue Willis teaches novel writing at New York University’s School of Professional Studies. She is the author of twenty-two books, including A Space Apart, Love Palace, Out of the Mountains: Appalachian Stories, and Oradell at Sea (West Virginia University Press). She has received literary fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and has won awards such as the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award, the West Virginia Library Association Literary Merit Award, and the Appalachian Heritage Denny C. Plattner Prize for both fiction and nonfiction.Their Houses, her latest novel, is now available to preorder.
Long before I moved to New York City, at my first college in rural Pennsylvania, I became accustomed to a lot of nonsense from otherwise intelligent people who thought it was okay to make hillbilly jokes. To this day, decades later, people will still openly make remarks about Appalachians that they would never openly make about other groups. I think this is probably less about malice and more about deep, appalling ignorance. It is an ignorance, however, that contributes to making West Virginians and others feel marginalized.
Nancy L. Abrams began her journalism career in Terra Alta, West Virginia, where she was managing editor of The Preston County News, a job she held for a decade. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Nancy trained as a photojournalist. She holds an MFA in creative writing-nonfiction from The New School. Out now, The Climb from Salt Lick: A Memoir of Appalachia recounts her time as a small-town reporter in West Virginia.
I remember my first trip to see Earl Groves. I had been told about his sawmill, powered by a steam engine. A relic from the past located in a place called Deep Hollow. The narrow gravel road curled along a creek colored bright orange by acid mine drainage. Great heaps of coal waste–gob piles–loomed overhead. Sunlight could barely breach the sharp cleft between the hills. The sawmill was a brown skeleton in the ruined landscape.
Abby Freeland is the sales and marketing director at West Virginia University Press, where she also acquires fiction. She recently represented WVU Press at AWP’s annual conference, where she was an exhibitor at the bookfair.
Laura Leigh Morris is an assistant professor at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, where she teaches creative writing and literature. Before that, she spent three years as the National Endowment for the Arts/Bureau of Prisons Artist-in-Residence at Bryan Federal Prison Camp in Bryan, Texas. She’s previously published short fiction in Appalachian Heritage, the Louisville Review, the Notre Dame Review, and other journals. She is originally from north central West Virginia.Jaws of Life, now available, is her debut book.
I sat in the backseat of my parents’ car, my eyes on the road, an attempt to stave off motion sickness on the winding roads between Wetzel and Marion Counties. We were on our way back from visiting my great-aunt and -uncle in Rymer. We rounded the hundredth curve only to be blinded by lights—1000+ watt industrial lights that allowed hydraulic fracturing to continue 24 hours/day.