Midwinter roundup: Reviews, media attention, and author events

Kirkus Reviews has an early rave for Courtney Sender’s “compelling” In Other Lifetimes All I’ve Lost Comes Back to Me, which is hailed as “a distinctive debut from a promising author.” Also sharing praise is Foreword Reviews, where Sender’s “brooding, poignant” book is commended for its “sharp humor and imagination.” And Booklist, in a third pre-publication review, credits the title with “bringing to life emotions and connections too unwieldy to define or restrain.” Courtney Sender will launch In Other Lifetimes All I’ve Lost Comes Back to Me at events this spring in Boston and other cities.

Davon Loeb talks with Daily Kos about his “rich, evocative, and surprising” memoir The In-Betweens. It’s named one of 2023’s most-anticipated titles by the News International in Pakistan and by Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum Books. The Jewish Book Council has an excerpt.

Another Appalachia continues to earn best-of-2022 recognition. Neema Avashia’s book is included on the list “The Top 100 Lesbian, Bi, Trans, and Queer Moments of 2022” from GO Magazine, and named one of the year’s bestsellers at Riverstone Books in Pittsburgh and Read Spotted Newt Bookstore in Hazard, KY. Neema Avashia and Davon Loeb will both serve as featured authors at the April writers’ conference from Barrelhouse; registration is now open.

Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, writes in Food & Wine as part of the feature “6 Valuable Lessons Learned around the Dinner Table, According to Award-Winning Food Writers.”

Mark Powell’s “fantastic” Lioness is praised as “a helluva page turner” in Reckon Review.Read More »

John Sayles’s Matewan and Appalachian history: An excerpt from American Energy Cinema

This spring, West Virginia University Press will publish the collection American Energy Cinema, edited by Robert Lifset, Raechel Lutz, and Sarah Stanford-McIntyre. A volume that explores how Hollywood movies have portrayed energy from the early film era to the present, it’s been praised by Michael E. Webber at the University of Texas as “captivating and informative for movie lovers, energy enthusiasts, and historians alike.” Here, we share an excerpt from one of the book’s essays—a study of the movie Matewan by historian James R. Allison, III.

Matewan’s focus on the fine-grained interactions of a diverse community coming together can be traced to John Sayles’s own intellectual journey to this historical subject. In Thinking in Pictures, the filmmaker explains how his path to the Matewan Massacre traveled through the work of new labor historians, who by the 1970s were dismantling their field’s dominant “institutional” approach, which focused on labor’s most visible components: trade unions, labor leaders, and strikes. In contrast, these new labor historians were interested in better understanding workers, and they did so by exploring the intricate social relations forged within their workplaces and communities. This turn reflected the discipline’s broader interest in the social history of everyday folk, and it produced significant insights into the long-term, multigenerational process of class development. As E. P. Thompson, a leading advocate of this new approach, explained, “We cannot understand class unless we see it as a social and cultural formation, arising from the process which can only be studied as [workers] work themselves out over a considerable historical period.” The new labor history, in other words, went to the ground to get to know the people, but then remained there over time to best explain the development of working-class culture.

Converted to the cause, Sayles’s film excels in the former but has no time for the latter. In Matewan, typically abstract institutions like “the company,” “the company town,” and “the union” get transformed into a collection of personal relationships worked out in this particular place. As such, the specifics of place matter quite a bit to understanding these interactions, as well as to the film’s success in portraying the workers’ world. So while John Sayles’s familiar Western narrative carries the audience along, Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler frames the narrow verticality of this Appalachian hollow in such a way as to make inescapable the intimate entwinement of workplace with homelife. In this tight space, there are few unfamiliar faces or single-layered relationships. Danny must share his rooming house with the hated Baldwins, Sid Hatfield regularly crosses paths with his adversaries as he patrols Main Street, and ethnically diverse communities are “segregated” by just a few hundred yards, if at all. This intimate and textured look at mining life is further enhanced by Matewan’s use of local actors, whose regional accents and dialects provide some stilted prose but also lend an air of authenticity to these Appalachian scenes. Even the largely amateur cast’s uneven performances somehow contribute to the film’s credibility, similar to a Coen Brothers’ production like Fargo (1996) or No Country for Old Men (2007). In other words, this is not some sweeping Hollywood epic, but a grainy, realistic depiction of life in an Appalachian coal town.Read More »

“Place is a character”: An interview with Davon Loeb, author of The In-Betweens

West Virginia University Press is pleased to publish Davon Loeb’s The In-Betweens, which tells the story of a biracial boy becoming a man, all the while trying to find himself, trying to come to terms with his white family, and trying to find his place in American society. (The official publication date is February 1, and it ships now when ordered from our site.) Kirkus Reviews calls the book “engagingly delivered, candid reflections on heritage and identity.” Here Loeb talks with Vesto PR’s Caitlin Solano for our blog.

This is a kind of second life for the book—you’re working with a new publisher, and you added a lot of new material and edited what had been published before. Can you talk about how the book has changed? 

The prefix re-, for “again” or “repeat,” can have a negative connotation, like the word “revision” can seem like “to do again” is a bad thing. I argue the opposite, that to revise and reproduce is a good thing, and the bodies of work we create are never fully complete. The first version of The In-Betweens was incomplete, lacking a narrative arc, one which I believe is now present in the new book. To republish a book feels rare, but I was given a second chance by West Virginia University Press, which shows their dedication to publishing great books no matter what shape they start off in.

What drew you to the lyrical essay form? Did you experiment with other styles of writing?

I was drawn into the lyrical essay form because so many of the chapters in my memoir were originally poems. When I entered my MFA, I was declared as a poet, but as I completed various craft and workshop courses in different genres, I gravitated towards memoir. Writing memoir felt like the perfect balance between binding narrative and lyrical storytelling.

Read More »

What we acquire: A conversation between WVU Press’s acquisitions editors

As the team at West Virginia University Press starts a new year, we wanted to share a quick sense of our acquisitions priorities for 2023 and beyond. The people who sign new books at WVU are Sarah Munroe (acquisitions editor and marketing manager) and Derek Krissoff (director). Here they talk a little about what they’re looking for. You can find contact info for both on the press’s website.

Derek: One of the things I like about working at a small press is the degree of back-and-forth, which includes our collaboration in acquisitions work. In fact some of our most successful titles in recent years have involved editorial contributions from both of us. How would you describe the distinctions in our areas and roles?

Sarah: A tricky question to start! It’s often fairly fluid between us, which I really enjoy and appreciate—we don’t have guarded territories and we talk about most projects together.

Generally I handle fiction and creative nonfiction (CNF) acquisitions, including our In Place series. You’ve given me a lot of freedom in those areas, particularly fiction (an initially alarming amount: “You’re really going to let me take a novel about a bigfoot PI?”), but when I like something or am unsure about a project, I’ll share it with you so we can discuss. Sometimes though, fiction or CNF submissions are emailed straight to you, and either because you have an established rapport with the author or because of workload, you’ve taken the lead on those.Read More »

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

In an essay for the New York Times, Margaret Renkl names two WVU Press books—The Secret Lives of Church Ladies and Appalachian Reckoning—as evidence in support of her thesis that “University Presses Are Keeping American Literature Alive.” Secret Lives also appears on the year-end gift-giving guide from NPR’s Here & Now and (with Neema Avashia’s Another Appalachia) on David Joy’s list of annual favorites in Garden & Gun.

In other best-of-2022 news, Another Appalachia is named one of the year’s best books by the New York Public Library (!), Writer’s Bone, Reckon South, and Newtonville Books in Newton, Massachusetts. It is (alongside The Secret Lives of Church Ladies) one of 2022’s bestselling titles at Pittsburgh’s White Whale Books, and it’s featured on the “Ask a Bookseller” segment from Minnesota Public Radio. Book Riot‘s roundup of “The Best LGBTQ+ Books of 2022” has it as the year’s top memoir.

William H. Turner’s The Harlan Renaissance is recommended by Jenisha Watts in the newsletter from the Atlantic: “What I love about this book is that it places Black people in Appalachian history.”

Davon Loeb, author of The In-Betweens, writes in the Los Angeles Times about “How I Learned to Embrace My Black and Jewish Heritage.” His book is named one of 2023’s most anticipated titles in the Chicago Review of Books, and it’s praised in Kirkus as “engagingly delivered, candid reflections on heritage and identity.”

Bratwurst Haven also earns a rave in Kirkus, where it’s called “an excellent collection that’s likely to appeal to fans of Alice Munro and Tobias Wolff—or to anybody with a taste for emotionally resonant short fiction.” Rachel King’s book is a staff pick at Powell’s in Portland, and it’s featured in both North American Review and the Colorado Review.

Courtney Sender’s forthcoming In Other Lifetimes All I’ve Lost Comes Back to Me is recommended as “a stunner from the very first page” in Deesha Philyaw’s “Year in Reading” feature from the Millions.Read More »

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

Deesha Philyaw’s remarkable run continues, with further attention for The Secret Lives of Church Ladies in the New York Times and in a feature from author Celeste Ng in Elle magazine. Philyaw is a source for PEN America’s report on Race, Equity, and Publishing, where she talks about publishing with West Virginia University Press. Her work with Freedom Reads, a program for the incarcerated, is written up in Poets & Writers.

Curing Season has a celebratory rollout, including a major review in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where Kristine Langley Mahler’s book is praised as “an exquisite, aching memoir of adolescent girlhood.” The title and its author also receive attention in the Chicago Review of Books (“elegant”), Longleaf Review, Brevity (“distinctive”), Atticus Review, the Southern Review of Books, Diagram (“thoroughly inventive”), and Hippocampus. On November 16, Mahler will participate in a panel celebrating University Press Week at the Raven bookstore in Lawrence, KS.

Neema Avashia’s Another Appalachia is called “a love letter to Appalachia from a queer perspective” in Book Riot and praised as “stunning” in Pittsburgh Magazine. The author is interviewed at Boston.com and in Appalachian Review.

Rachel King talks with both Portland television station KOIN and the “Reading With” feature at Shelf Awareness about her new book Bratwurst Haven. King’s tour comes to Morgantown, Baltimore, DC, and Raleigh the week of November 7.

The magazine Science reviews Picture a Professor, saying it “does a service to all who would prefer a different path, offering realistic strategies to engage students in undermining scholarly stereotypes.” Congratulations to Jessamyn Neuhaus and all of the volume’s essayists!Read More »

Catalog tour: A preview of West Virginia’s spring season

Our new catalog is now on its way to mailboxes, and you can see it online here. Some highlights:

—West Virginia’s spring 2023 season includes highly anticipated life-writing by Davon Loeb and Kelley Shinn, plus short fiction (described by Danielle Evans as “impossibly strange and mercifully familiar”) by Courtney Sender.

—The latest book in our successful higher education series is about the timely topic of student mental health, and we usher in the new series Borderless with a collection of artistic and creative responses to COVID-19.

—New titles in Appalachian studies and studies of the Black Atlantic roll out alongside two new books with humanities perspectives on energy, climate, and environment.

Our small-yet-fierce cohort of spring authors comes from seven US states (plus Puerto Rico) and two continents. These are teachers, scholars, social workers, and activists—but also, of course, writers. We’re excited to share their books in the coming year, and we’re grateful for the support of our many readers.


“What they want to know is whether we belong in the classroom”: An excerpt from Picture a Professor

West Virginia University Press is pleased to announce the publication of Picture a Professor, the latest book in our series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. This excerpt is from the introduction by volume editor Jessamyn Neuhaus.

Look! Up at the lectern!

Is it a teacher? Is it an educator? No, it’s . . . Super Professor!

More charismatic than a Hollywood heartthrob! Able to win over the most reluctant, resistant student with a single quip or impactful PowerPoint slide!

During class, Super Professor delivers Oscar-worthy performances, scribbling formulas theatrically on a chalkboard or eloquently reciting lyric poetry to entranced students agog at the expertise on display. Super Professor always lectures brilliantly and entertainingly, effortlessly elucidating the most obscure subject. Students hang on Super Professor’s every spellbinding word, laughing at each joke and painlessly absorbing difficult academic material simply by listening to Super Professor talk about it. Students are routinely so overcome by admiration for Super Professor’s lectures that they spontaneously burst into applause.

Super Professor appears over and over again on our TV and movie screens, quite wrongly depicting learning as a purely top-down activity whereby knowledge is simply poured into students’ heads by an irrefutable expert. He’s also usually an able-bodied, cisgendered, heterosexual White man. In this way, popular culture reflects and reinforces the myriad of political, social, and cultural discourses that gender intellectual authority as male and support what Resmaa Menakem terms “white-body supremacy” by racializing knowledge and expertise as White. Socialized and enculturated by this imagery, all too often, Super Professor is who we think of when we picture a professor.Read More »

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

Foreword Reviews has the first published review of Rachel King’s Bratwurst Haven, which is praised as “an endearing composite portrait of a working class community in transition.” This fall, King will read at a mix of in-person and virtual events in Portland, Pittsburgh, Morgantown, Baltimore, Washington (DC), and Raleigh.

Kristine Langley Mahler’s Curing Season is reviewed in Booklist. “Through careful excavation,” it finds, “Mahler manages to create a time machine harking back to the simplicity and complexity of adolescence in 1990s America.” The author—whose fall tour includes events with bookstores in Asheville, Pittsburgh, and Lawrence—appears in Electric Lit and on Friday Live from Nebraska Public Radio. Her book is recommended as “skillful” and “agile” at the Ploughshares blog.

New accolades continue to arrive for Neema Avashia’s Another Appalachia—in Book Riot (“I devoured this beautiful memoir in one day”) and Daily Yonder (“I cannot get enough of Neema Avashia’s collection of essays”). Speaking with the Asheville Mountain Xpress, David Joy praises work by Avashia and others, saying: “I think we’re at a really beautiful moment in literature . . . where we’re finally getting a more complex and fuller understanding of the lives that are lived in this place.” Avashia talks with the Louisville Courier Journal as part of its coverage of the Appalachian Big Ideas Festival.

Charles Dodd White’s A Year without Months lands on the Garden & Gun fall reading list: “Talk about a slim book with a powerful and emotional punch. White wrestles with unfathomable loss, difficult relationships, and the loss of Appalachia, yet somehow finds beauty and truth.” The Rivanna Review is equally supportive, saying: “White is good company, a worthy son of Appalachia.”Read More »