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 »
Sadie Hoagland is the author of American Grief in Four Stages, a new collection of stories from West Virginia University Press. Here she talks with Tessa Fontaine, the author of The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts, a New York Times pick, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers choice, and an Amazon Editors’ Best of the Month featured debut.
Tessa Fontaine: Many of your stories are written in the first person, with characters who must reckon with a crisis. Though they may be surrounded by other people, they mostly wade through grief alone. Do you think the short story form lends itself particularly well to these kinds of stories?
Sadie Hoagland: I think the intense grief that is the subject of many of the stories does fit the short story form well. For one, the reader doesn’t necessarily want to be in that space longer than a short story. But in addition, the short story allows for a kind of reading that asks us to consider emotional territory and space over plot investments; we can’t know the characters as well as we can in a novel, but the glimpse we are given into their lives is incredibly intimate. I think the brevity makes it all more poignant.Read More »
Krista Eastman’s new bookThe Painted Forest—described by Publishers Weekly as “thoughtful and elegant”—is now available in West Virginia University Press’s series In Place. Here the author talks with series coeditor Jeremy Jones.
Jeremy: “What strangeness, I asked, is this?” This is the question you pose to yourself walking around the Painted Forest—the fraternal society hall covered in murals of, among other images, a man riding a goat. It’s a good question. So good, I’m pointing it back at you. There’s so much beautiful strangeness in your book. Were you looking for strangeness when you found places and experiences to write about? Was that a central criterion for these essays?
Krista: I hadn’t thought about it that way but the attraction to strangeness is definitely there. I do thrill to weird things. I look at something as deeply strange and antiquated as fraternal societies and I can’t look away, but mostly because I see in all of it this arresting proof of our collective strangeness, as well as proof of how bizarre and byzantine we will all look one day, how wrong we’ll have been, how obviously conflicted we all were (are). Read More »
Greg Bottoms is “one of the most innovative and intriguing nonfiction writers at work,” according to Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. Bottoms’s latest book, Lowest White Boy—a study of growing up white and working class in Tidewater, Virginia, during school desegregation in the 1970s—is new in WVU Press’s In Place series. Here Bottoms talks with Jeremy Wang-Iverson.
What inspired you to write about racism from your boyhood experience?
I’ve written a lot about the South and Virginia, and I’ve touched on racism many times and in different ways in other books, both fiction and nonfiction. I’ve thought about writing directly about white racism for a long time because it was so prominent in my childhood personal geography. But it is our political climate of rising racism and the pushing back on civil rights of all kinds that really made this feel urgent to me. Jeff Sessions was AG. Steve Bannon developed core ideas for the Republican candidate, now president. Stephen Miller is in the White House. Racism is the subtext and often the text of Trump’s words. These men are white supremacist, first and foremost, and a solid minority of our country supports their ideas with votes. White ethno-nationalism is now a fundamental pillar of one of our two major American political parties and has a powerful media ecosystem that magnifies these views. I’m describing an objective, factual reality.Read More »
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.
Travis Stimeling is associate professor of music history at West Virginia University and a series editor and author with WVU Press. Here he talks with Jacob Kopcienski, a lecturer in the WVU School of Music. Don’t miss Travis and musical guests at Taylor Books in Charleston, WV, on December 19.
JK: What inspired your interest and scholarly engagement with Appalachian music and culture?
TS: I grew up in Buckhannon, West Virginia, in Upshur County, about an hour and change south of Morgantown. Toward the end of elementary school, we started going to a Methodist church. In our neighborhood you were either down in the holler or up on the ridge, and church was up on the ridge. We shared the minister with three other churches, so we only got a preacher on the first and third Sundays of the month. Second and fourth Sundays were lay speakers and, in months with five Sundays, the preacher got the last Sunday off. On those fifth Sundays, all four churches got together in the evening for a big sing-in. So, from the time I was nine to eleven years old, I was singing gospel music with my mom, and singing in the church choir. Mom and I were a little duo that was a lot of fun. I would sing the harmony and she would sing the lead. When my voice changed, we flipped parts.Read More »
Carey: I’ve always been interested in the roles local newspapers play in communities, especially rural communities. A lot of people who write about journalism tend to focus their attention on large national news organizations in big cities, because they’re seen as more glamorous institutions. But people in small towns and underserved communities have news needs as well, and I wanted to write about the organizations that work to fill those needs.Read More »
West Virginia University Press’s Marked, Unmarked, Remembered, about the commemoration of challenging episodes from the nation’s past, is one of the most talked-about books of the fall. It’s a collaboration between award-winning photographer Andrew Lichtenstein and his brother Alex, a historian at Indiana University and editor of the American Historical Review. Andrew and Alex talked with Jeremy Wang-Iverson about their book.Read More »