The shimmer of camaraderie: A conversation between novelists Lana K. W. Austin and Karen Salyer McElmurray

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In this guest post, Lana K. W. Austin, author of our Like Light, Like Music, talks with Karen Salyer McElmurray, author of Wanting Radiance, new from the University of Kentucky Press.

LA: Congratulations on the publication of Wanting Radiance! From the opening line where Miracelle described her mother Ruby’s hands as magic, I knew your novel was magical, too. It’s a lyrical powerhouse, pure poetry in prose. Please tell us about this ebullient story’s origin.

KSM: If I think about that phrase—“pure poetry in prose”—then I suppose Wanting Radiance began when I was twelve years old and listening to Vicky, the girl across the road from my granny’s house, play a twelve-string guitar and sing songs she’d written. Those songs settled inside my heart with a kind of longing I’ve felt all my life. It’s a longing that belongs to Miracelle Loving, this novel’s main character. The novel also began as a short story, one I wrote when I was an MFA student at the University of Virginia. The story was called “The Black Cat,” and it was set in a diner and gas station a great-aunt of mine owned. And the novel, of course, had its origins in fortune-telling. When I lived in Asheville, North Carolina, a long-term relationship ended, and I was devastated. I’d always loved Tarot cards and the I-Ching, so my visit to a local fortune teller became a way to assuage my grief.  I heard about a woman who told fortunes via reading the shadows in photographs and I went to see her. She lived in a trailer in a stretch of woods outside of Asheville, and I parked my truck and climbed a little hill to the trailer. I knocked and knocked until I heard her voice, calling me inside. Not a soul was in the living room, and the voice led me back to her bedroom. She was a gigantic woman. Huge. And she was laid up in a big bed with a velvet headboard. She’d been shot years ago by her lover, at which point she took up fortunes. My own fortune, she said as she studied the photographs I’d brought, was complicated. Look at this shadow, she said as her fingers traced my lover’s face and the tree branches behind him.  There’s a lot you don’t know. I allowed that this was true. Years later, I picked “The Black Cat” story back up again and found that it opened up like a magic box. Inside there was a woman who didn’t trust love who was looking for her past. There was a fortune teller who’d been shot.  There was a mystery that needed to be solved.Read More »

Too explicit to name: An excerpt from Storytelling in Queer Appalachia

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One of the first collections of scholarship at the intersection of LGBTQ studies and Appalachian studies, Storytelling in Queer Appalachia, edited by Hillery Glasby, Sherrie Gradin, and Rachael Ryerson, amplifies voices from the region’s valleys, hollers, mountains, and campuses. It blends personal stories with scholarly and creative examinations of living and surviving as queers in Appalachia. We’re pleased to share an excerpt from the collection, available now and shipping from our site, by contributor Matthew Thomas-Reid, collaborating with Michael Jeffries and Logan Land.

Down in the holler, I am a boy who is good to his momma: an eccentric who listens to classical music and brings a delicacy to every potluck. Being a boy good to his momma, I come from a tradition of the queer [phonetically kwar] in Appalachia. There is a rich history of the queer [kwar] in my community, from my lifelong bachelor great uncle to my father’s “rebel younger brother,” who died under unknown circumstances at the height of the AIDS crisis. Schooled in the southern Appalachian Brushy Mountains of North Carolina, queer [kwar] identity narratives abounded while queer [kwir] identities were marginal, simply too explicit to name in anything louder than a whisper.Read More »

Conference preview: Appalachian Studies Association 2020

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Update: We’ve decided, after much deliberation, not to exhibit at the meeting. The press is offering 30% off, with free shipping, on all books that would have been exhibited with code WVUASA20 on our website.

West Virginia University Press will exhibit at the annual meeting of the Appalachian Studies Association from March 12–15 in Lexington, KY. Find us in the exhibit hall, and if you can’t make it to Lexington, have a look at our new offerings in Appalachian studies below.

Championed as “an important addition to our region’s literature” by Ron Rash, Mountains Piled upon Mountains features nearly fifty writers from across Appalachia sharing their place-based fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry. Much of the work collected here engages current issues facing the region and the planet (such as hydraulic fracturing, water contamination, mountaintop removal, and deforestation), and provides readers with insights on the human-nature relationship in an era of rapid environmental change. Contributors to the volume will read at the conference on Saturday at 10AM.Read More »

“The high points and the imperfections”: An interview with Wesley Browne, author of Hillbilly Hustle

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Wesley Browne talks with Sarah Munroe, WVU Press’s marketing manager and acquisitions editor, about his new novel Hillbilly Hustle, now available on our site.

SM: By only reading a synopsis and your brief biography, it’s immediately clear that you are 1. very busy, and 2. at least in some ways “writing what you know.” How did you come to the idea of the novel (I assume you are not selling weed out of your pizza shop, but perhaps you’re a poker player?), and how did you translate aspects of your life, people, and places onto the page? (And if you are a poker player, what’s your tell?)

WB: My family co-owns Apollo Pizza in Richmond, Kentucky. Under previous ownership you could buy marijuana there. It was kind of an open secret in town. The local police told stories about it, but they never went out of their way to bust it. It struck me that as a novel premise there was a lot I could do with it. I took a novel class with Amy Greene at the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop and started developing the idea there. Nothing about the marijuana operation at the fictional Porthos Pizza in the novel is drawn from real life except the use of “spinach special” as code for a pot order, and the location of the shop, which is on South Second Street in Richmond, just like Apollo.Read More »

Forest Disturbance: An excerpt from Katie Fallon’s essay in Mountains Piled upon Mountains

West Virginia University Press’s new book Mountains Piled upon Mountains: Appalachian Nature Writing in the Anthropocene features nearly fifty writers from across Appalachia sharing their place-based fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry. The excerpt below is from the essay “Forest Disturbance” by Katie Fallon, who is the author of several books, has taught at West Virginia University, and now teaches in low-residency programs at West Virginia Wesleyan College and Chatham UniversityMountains Piled upon Mountains, edited by Jessica Cory, is available now on our website.

Isabelle stands directly on top of the running buffalo clover (Trifolium stoloniferum), a federally endangered species. Her silver Nikes crush some of the three-leafed plants, while other sprouts tangle between her feet. The US Forest Service scientist leading our small group assures us that this clover likes disturbance—in fact, it requires disturbance to flourish—but we are nervous about obliging.Read More »

LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia: A conversation between editors

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.

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Conference preview: Appalachian Studies Association, 2019

With the annual meeting of the Appalachian Studies Association coming up March 14–17 in Asheville, NC, we wanted to provide an overview of talks and events of interest to friends of West Virginia University Press. If you can’t be in Asheville, follow along with the hashtag #AppalachAville, and have a look at our titles in Appalachian studies here.

Book exhibit: Visit us in the exhibit hall (Highsmith Student Union’s Alumni Hall) on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to meet press staff and see all our latest books. If you’re pitching a project, feel free to contact Derek Krissoff (for nonfiction) or Abby Freeland (for fiction) ahead of the conference to ask about meeting. Email addresses are on the WVU Press website.

Appalachian Reckoning event: Volume editors and contributors to Appalachian Reckoning, our new set of responses to Hillbilly Elegy, will read at Malaprop’s Bookstore in downtown Asheville on Saturday, March 16, at 7PM. More info here.Read More »

Appalachia North: A conversation with Matthew Ferrence

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.

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In memoriam: The 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster

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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.

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