We are pleased to publish Erik Reece’s latest book Clear Creek: Toward a Natural Philosophy this week. This wide-ranging and boundary-defying work calls us out of our frenzied, digitized world to a slower, more contemplative way of being. Joe Wilkins called Clear Creek, “A wise, rambling book that is equal parts memoir, natural history, and philosophical investigation. . . . Readers of Barry Lopez and Wendell Berry will find much to admire here.” In this Q&A below, Reece talks with Caitlin Solano of Vesto PR.
The book takes place over the course of a year. Did your journals and notebooks come together naturally, or did you have to revise certain aspects?
The journaling down by the creek occurred pretty organically. But though the book takes the form of “a year in the life,” I actually spent ten years writing it! Not continuously, but rather when some observation or idea came to me. So there was time for some pretty extensive revision, editing, shaping.
You’ve written about your religious upbringing and thoughts on Christianity before in your book, An American Gospel. What was different about your approach for writing about it this time?
In American Gospel, I was settling scores, in a way, with family ghosts. Which I don’t really recommend. But I was also working through some mental anguish that I’d carried around for a long time. There’s really none of that in Clear Creek. Though I’m always, in some sense, writing about religion (I guess I’m a God-drunk agnostic, as someone said about Spinoza), I now very much think of Clear Creek as an unroofed church, where I’m a congregation of one.Read More »
Matthieu Chapman’sShattered: Fragments of a Black Life—stories from the life of a black man that offer a riveting and heart-wrenching examination of how antiblackness infiltrates every aspect of black life in America—will be published by West Virginia University Press on August 1. (Available now through our website!) Here Chapman talked with his editor at the press, Sarah Munroe.
I’m going to say up front that Shattered is not an easy read. The prose itself is fluid and accessible, but many of the experiences you relate are difficult and even traumatic, and the slivers of social and structural history and analysis you include, particularly your lens of Afropessimism, will be challenging for some (though your book helped me understand it much better). Some may consider the memoir polemical or too political, and one of the absences quotes a white editor—in an email two days after the murder of George Floyd—calling it “an angry book” that places too much import on “rage and resentment.” What is your response to that? Has it changed over the past three years? Do you see your writing, the telling of your own story, in the context of our nation, as being angry, rageful, resentful? Why is your telling necessary?
My initial response to that email was laughter. I mean, what else can you do? I don’t think the book is angry. I think it’s honest. I think it’s funny at times. I think it’s painful at times. I think it’s happy at times. But I also think it engages with topics and perspectives that white people never have to engage with unless they choose to. So when I got this comment from this white woman editor, I couldn’t help but laugh. Why did she focus on anger?Read More »
Kelley Shinn’s The Wounds That Bind Us—the improbable true story of an orphan at birth who loses her legs, becomes an avid off-road racer and, as a single mother, attempts to drive around the globe in a Land Rover—will be published by West Virginia University Press on June 1. Here Shinn talks with Kristine Langley Mahler, author of Curing Season, also published by WVU Press.
Mahler: Could you talk about the importance of disability representation in literature and also the pressures that might come along with it?
Shinn: I’m a nonfiction writer, so representing the fullest scope of a human experience is an obvious goal. If what the reader reads is true about how a character thinks, reacts, is propelled through a situation, then there is an opportunity for connection.
I read The Color Purple when I was twelve. I have no obvious similarities with the protagonist, Celie, who is a traumatized slave in the American south. However, her drive and tenacity and hope under such cruel conditions were riveting to me as an adolescent. I felt her heart within my own. I thought then that if I ever had a daughter, I would name her after the brave, vulnerable, and triumphant Celie; now, decades later, my daughter, Celie, is part of the heartbeat of my debut, The Wounds that Bind Us.
Courtney Sender’s braided story collection In Other Lifetimes All I’ve Lost Comes Back to Me—described as “fierce” by Danielle Evans, “a stunner” by Deesha Philyaw, and a book that “upends . . . what it means to tell a love story” by Alice McDermott—is available now. Sender talked with Vesto PR for the blog.
When did you start writing the stories in this book?
I am a structuralist at heart—or at least, my instinct is to look at structure second only to voice—so I wanted to create a collection that reads like individual stories at first and like a novel by the end.
So this is a braided collection that becomes one story by the final word. Characters recur and offer refractions against each other. One set of characters shows one outcome when a lost lover comes back, and another set shows a very different outcome.
Most of all I view the book as existing in three parts: “In other lifetimes,” which is the longing and the recourse to magic and the spiritual; “All I’ve lost,” which is that deep loneliness that I know so well from being single throughout my twenties; “Comes back to me,” which is the longed-for thing. And the question is whether, after all those longing and loss, the longed-for thing is even what we want or can accept anymore.
The stories have changed so much as I’ve shaped them into a unit for a book project. To me, they all feel new in the terms of the words on the page. That’s a testament to the work and vision of my editor, Sarah Munroe, who helped me think about the relationships of one story to another. I went through and matched last lines to first lines, and created an emotional arc from story to story by drawing a thread from one to the next.Read More »
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.
Gorby: West Virginia Statehood is such an intriguing story. What new perspectives do you hope to bring to this popular narrative?
MacKenzie: My goal was to un-intrigue the history of West Virginia’s formation. For 160 years, every book on the subject has explained the event in only one way. Inherent cultural, economic, social, and political differences, it goes, led the free labor-oriented counties of northwestern Virginia to separate from the slave plantation-based east at the start of the Civil War. This thesis has two flaws. First, it underestimates how much the region’s white population supported slavery. Given that the ‘peculiar institution’ caused the conflict, it is impossible that it played little or no role in the state’s genesis. Second, it focuses too closely on intra-state relations while neglecting possible broader contexts. Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware also believed that the remaining within the Union better protected slavery than seceding from it. I think that West Virginia formed for the same reason, differing from the others only in not being a state yet. My approach should prompt serious rethinking about the subject within the state and in the wider academic field.
Most people think slavery did not play much of a role in Western Virginia before the Civil War, but your book shows this general assumption is not correct. What role did the institution of slavery play here?Read More »
This fall, West Virginia University Press will publish Rachel King’s first collection of short stories, Bratwurst Haven. Over the course of these twelve interrelated stories, King gives life to diverse, complex, and authentic characters who are linked through work at a Colorado sausage factory. Rajia Hassib, author of A Pure Heart, said about the book: “These all-too-relatable struggles make the stories not only engrossing but also an intriguing and tenderly rendered study of this flawed world we call home.” Here King talks with Vesto PR’s Caitlin Solano for our blog.
When did you start writing this collection of interrelated short stories? What inspired you to center the stories on low-wage workers at a sausage factory?
I wrote the first story in this collection in the summer of 2016, a few months after I moved back to my hometown of Portland, Oregon. My spouse has worked at a sausage factory, so many of the physical details of the space came from there. Each story’s main character and plot came to me in a different way, however—a composite of all I’ve imagined, observed, heard, and experienced. I didn’t admit I’d written a linked collection until I was done; I just wrote one story, then hoped I could write another one.Read More »
This summer, West Virginia University Press is pleased to publish Tom Bredehoft’s Foote: A Mystery Novel. (While the official pub date is August 1, the book ships now when ordered from our site.) It’s a tale of a private investigator in Morgantown who has a secret he dares not reveal: he is a bigfoot living in plain sight, charged with keeping his people in the surrounding hills from being discovered. Jordan Farmer said of the novel: “Part mystery, part fable but all original, Jim Foote is sure to be one of your favorite literary detectives—cryptid or otherwise.” Here Bredehoft talks with Vesto PR’s Caitlin Solano for our blog.
What inspired the story about a bigfoot private investigator?
My wife and I came up with the idea on a walk along the Mon River Trail in Morgantown, looking up at some of the rock formations and idly thinking that they might make a good hiding place for a cryptid. Neither one of us remembers clearly who said the actual phrase “bigfoot PI,” but as soon as it was out there, I knew I could have fun with it. She says that she’s had lots of conversations when someone has said “That could be a novel!” but I think she was surprised when I actually wrote it.
What kind of research did you do for this novel? Were you able to find a comprehensive history of bigfoot sightings in West Virginia and the greater Appalachia region?
I don’t think I did any research on bigfoot at all! I have often heard the old advice to “Write what you know,” and so I just told myself at the very start that no one could know any more about my bigfoot (and their history and place in the world) than me, so I pretty much felt free to go my own way. I did do some small bits of research on West Virginia history here and there to make the setting seem right.Read More »
In March, West Virginia University Press will publish Neema Avashia’s Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place, which examines the roots and the resonance of Avashia’s identity as a queer Asian American teacher and writer from Appalachia. It’s hailed by New York Times-bestselling author Morgan Jerkins as a book that “subverts the mainstream’s hyperfocus on white male-dominated narratives from rural America and commands your attention from the first page to the last word.” Here Avashia talks with Vesto PR’s Holly Mitchell for our blog.
What inspired you to center Appalachia in this collection?
There’s no way I could have written this collection without Appalachia at the center, because Appalachia is at the center of who I am. I can’t write about my identity and experiences without also considering the ways in which place shaped who I am, and how I live. I think that might be one of the hallmarks of Appalachian writing—place is a character in our work as much as people are. And certainly, there was also a second factor, which is that in 2016 a book that shall not be named here came out. That book got held up as definitive in its descriptions of Appalachia, and yet the descriptions in the book didn’t resonate for me as a person from Appalachia at all. I didn’t see myself or my family or my friends or my neighbors in that book. I didn’t agree with its core premises about why Appalachia is in its current state. I felt like there was a need to expand the definition of Appalachia, and Appalachian people, being presented to the world. And I thought that potentially, telling the story of growing up queer and Indian in Appalachia would be a way to complicate the mainstream narrative around Appalachia.
When did you know the essays would not just stand alone but come together in a book?
In 2017 I went to the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, and had the opportunity to share some of my writing with an amazing writer, teacher, and educator named Geeta Kothari. She is such a skilled reader of work, and was able to start identifying themes in my writing that I wasn’t totally seeing yet. And the more those themes got articulated, the more I realized that the essays hung together in a way that could lead to a collection.Read More »
The holiday season’s approaching, and supply-chain concerns make it a good idea to shop early. In that spirit, we’re excited to introduce the blog’s readership to some of the region’s indie booksellers, highlighting the important work they do with authors, publishers, readers, and communities. Second in the series is Ian from Ghost Palace Books in Thomas, WV.
How did Ghost Palace come to be? What’s your role there?
Ghost Palace started out as four people, incidental friends, unhappy in their work, meeting behind the backs of their employers to plot an escape. They soon realized they all shared a deep, abiding love (or a mild habit, at least) of reading and, utterly ignorant of the matter, figured owning and operating a bookstore together would be just the answer to their troubles. How right and how wrong. Not long after making this decision, a global pandemic came along and slammed the door shut on the whole “economy” thing. Perfect! A sign. They all left their stupid jobs to convert half an old duplex into a retail space and, presto, a few months later Ghost Palace was open for business.
From the start we tried to organize ourselves, loosely, as a collective, and decided we would share all operational tasks equally, so my own role, really, is basically the same as everyone else’s. In practice this works out as a rotation. One week I’ll be responsible for placing and receiving book orders; another week I’ll be on janitor duty, scrubbing the toilet. I have to say, it’s nice to change things up—regularly.Read More »