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 »

Pandemic publishing: A view from WVU Magazine

Diana Mazzella, one of many publishing professionals at our university who works for units other than WVU Press, is editor at West Virginia University Magazine. In this guest post, she describes the impact of the global health emergency on her work.

In 2014 when I became managing editor of West Virginia University Magazine, I didn’t really know what we’d achieve. I just knew we needed to make goals, meet targets, and advance, advance, advance.

When the pandemic struck, the magazine was as ready as it was going to be to meet this challenge after years of our staff making plans for an online future.

We hadn’t prepared for all of this, of course, and it affected us like everyone else: cuts and losses and uncertainty. We had been preparing for years to meet our digital-native audience where they were. And now we were all-digital much sooner than we had imagined.Read More »

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

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies receives two glowing endorsements from major newspapers. “These are stories about Black women that haven’t been told with this level of depth, wit, or insight before,” says Tony Norman in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “so it will not shock me if Oprah gets around to selecting it before the end of the year.” And in an equally enthusiastic review, Marion Winik writes for the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “In this year of constriction and pain, juicy goodness bursts from every page of Deesha Philyaw’s debut short story collection. . . . This collection marks the emergence of a bona fide literary treasure.”

Previously the recipient of a starred review in Kirkus, Philyaw’s book makes another appearance in the magazine as one of four “must-read” story collections highlighted in its fall preview issue. It is also recommended on the Kirkus podcast, and called “cheeky, insightful, and irresistible” in Ms. Magazine. The free weekly Pittsburgh City Paper has two pieces on Philyaw’s “incredibly moving” book, which is excerpted in Electric Lit.

Library Journal‘s list of “35 Standout Summer/Fall 2020 Debut Novels” includes Lana Austin’s Like Light, Like Music.

Radical Hope is lauded in AEJMC: “Startlingly succinct, yet resonant with raw emotion,” it is “required reading for those of us struggling to figure out how to adjust and balance our work this fall.” Author Kevin Gannon is featured in an Inside Higher Ed piece about faculty responses to the Jacob Blake shooting.Read More »

I had played not house, but farmer: An excerpt from Joanna Eleftheriou’s This Way Back

 

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Praised by Kirkus for its “impassioned and hard-fought sense of self and place,” Joanna Eleftheriou’s This Way Back—a highly anticipated memoir-in-essays from West Virginia’s series In Placewill be published October 1. 

If you live, as I do, in a world where an overabundance of food is more a plague than hunger, you might be given to scrutinizing ingredient lists, and so have seen the words carob bean gum before tearing the plastic wrapper from, say, an ice cream sandwich, or the foil from a tub of cream cheese. Small quantities of carob bean gum do the trick, and so this natural stabilizer appears at the ingredient list’s end, the part that even serious health food nuts expect to find uninterpretable (for me, it’s a list of plants I can’t quite place, and words I remember from high school chemistry). Carob bean gum sounds harmless, natural, salubrious, even—beans healthier than meat, carobs healthier than sweets—and, indeed, harmless the carob bean is. Such harmlessness is all most of us want to ascertain when we venture into the ingredient list’s largely chemical tail. I have never made the effort to learn what lecithin is, though I often see the word—ditto for guar gum, potassium sorbate, xanthan, and xylitol. There is a limit to how much thought we can devote to the origin of our foods, to their ingredients’ history.Read More »

“Writing characters who break all sorts of rules”: An interview with Deesha Philyaw

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Hailed by Electric Lit as one of “24 New and Forthcoming Books That Celebrate Black Lives,” The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is Deesha Philyaw’s “tender, fierce, proudly black and beautiful” (Kirkus, starred review) debut collection. Here Philyaw talks with Holly Mitchell of Vesto PR.

When did you start writing this book?

The first story I completed was “Eula,” and I started it in 2014. But at that time, I didn’t think of it as the start of a collection. There were other stories, like “Jael,” that started with just a name or an idea or a line of dialogue that I sat with for a few years before developing them as stories.

At what point did you know your focus would be on church ladies?

In 2007, I started working on a novel in which the main character is a church lady, a pastor’s wife. I worked on the novel off and on for the next eight or nine years, but I just kept stalling. From time to time, I’d turn my attention to short stories, and they all featured a church lady or someone who is what I call church lady adjacent, meaning there’s someone she’s close to who is heavily influenced by the church. I grew up in the church, and these were the women who informed my understanding of womanhood and how to be (or not be) in the world. Although I wasn’t surprised that they showed up on the page, it wasn’t intentional, at that point.Read More »

July roundup: Reviews, media attention, and author events

Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is named to Library Journal‘s list “Black Voices Matter 2020” and called one of “12 Must-Read Books by Black Authors” in Amazon Book Review, which says: “The stories of these women and their friendships come alive, beating with tenderness and imperfection, and build upon one another to create a beautiful melody of female determination.”

Philyaw is profiled in a cover story in Pittsburgh Current, where her book is called “full of lived-in humanity, warmth, and compassion.” She’ll launch The Secret Lives of Church Ladies as part of the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures series, cohosted with the Carnegie Library and White Whale Books, on September 3.

Foreword Reviews praises Joanna Eleftheriou’s “heartfelt and heartrending” This Way Back, saying “the essays entice every sense.”Read More »