First look: An excerpt from Keegan Lester’s book Perfect Dirt

Keegan Lester’s new book Perfect Dirt: And Other Things I’ve Gotten Wrong has just been released and ships now when ordered from West Virginia University Press. We’re pleased to share this excerpt, called “A Snapshot.” You can hear Keegan read from the book here.

In the city I grew up in, there was no glimpse of West Virginia. There was no place to eat the food that my father was raised on. There was no one who spoke like my grandma or grandpa or believed in magic or the improbable. There were no trains whistling at night or woods that whispered their secrets.

My father would wake me up at seven in the morning Saturdays in the fall from the time I was eight or so and we’d call all the bars in our city and neighboring cities to see if anyone had the West Virginia University football game on through a satellite feed. Then he’d take me to a bar and we’d eat chicken wings at nine in the morning. While all the surfers were out surfing and the people who brunched weren’t even awake yet, and while skaters dreamed their ethereal dreams, we watched our giants run into other giants through a grainy television screen and my dad would get choked up on beer and tell me a little bit about being a boy in Morgantown.

My father is my father but once he was only Joseph. Then he was Joe, then Fatty, then he grew into a redwood of a man and was renamed Bigs. Then he grew into all these other people and one day he turned thirty-two and a month and some change, and he became my father and now he’s my father and Big Joe because I know his secrets.

My mother was born Kathleen and grew up Kathy in South Florida. Stunningly beautiful her whole life. She was a class president and a prom queen and once someone took a picture of her while she was jogging and they put it on billboards. Then she became a nurse and took care of babies who were born too small during the crack epidemic, babies who were too sick to live on and, despite everything dying does to the body, she’d tell these babies you must continue on, you must live on, you’re meant to live on and she would hold these babies in her reed basket arms, telling them she loved them, long after everyone else had gone to sleep. You are loved and you are loved and you are loved. And sometimes she named the babies. And some nights I imagine her sitting up in bed looking out at the night sky recalling names of these babies she named until running out of stars in the Western Hemisphere. And one day she drove across America until she arrived on a beach shouldering the Pacific. And a few years later she became Mom.

And then I was one of the babies born too small.

And so I was raised by these people in a place that was like neither of the places they came from, and I never took to the language of the place where I was raised.

Sometimes I like to imagine my father moving from West Virginia to Colorado to California. I imagine everyone telling him forget. And I imagine him closing his eyes, trying to forget. I imagine him taking his clothes off, putting new clothes on, and then opening his eyes as someone whispers to him Forget everything you’ve ever known if you want to be one of us.Read More »

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

 

IMG_7906

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 »

AWP flash sale!

Screen Shot 2020-03-02 at 4.00.18 PM.png

With health concerns keeping some from the annual meeting of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) this week in Texas, we’re extending our conference discount to the general public. Save 30% on new works of fiction and literary nonfiction using code WVUAWP at checkout on our site. Full list of discounted titles below.Read More »

Montana, 1973: An excerpt from Cassandra Kircher’s Far Flung

Foreword Reviews calls Cassandra Kircher’s Far Flung—the latest title in WVU Press’s series In Place—a set of “intimate and moving essays on nature, family, and adventures in the wild,” noting that “Kircher, who was the first woman to patrol the remote, isolated backcountry of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, writes about how love for the earth’s wild places is intimately tied up with who we are.” We’re pleased to share an excerpt from this perfect summer read, and encourage you to see the author on tour this July and August.

I’m eighteen. My dad, my mom, my brothers, and I are on vacation driving across Nebraska and Wyoming in our Ford LTD before making a right-hand turn at Colter Bay and heading up to Glacier National Park. Behind the Ford, we’re pulling a wooden pop-up camper, one that is hand built and swerves in the wake of our exhaust like a water-skier. My father has picked it up from the want ads.

My father has picked up a lot of new equipment for this trip: five down sleeping bags, five foam air mattresses, five rectangular backpacks, and a whole fleet of plastic containers recommended—according to my father—by camping experts: a tube for peanut butter, another for mayonnaise, a carton molded to nest half a dozen medium-sized eggs. He buys everything one afternoon from The Backwoods, the only mountaineering store in Omaha. He also purchases an expedition tent in which my youngest brother and I will sleep. The tent features a snow tunnel and a little half-moon panel that can be zipped out of the floor in case you want to light a stove indoors and brew a cup of tea during a blizzard.

“I think,” my brother says with a maturity way beyond his twelve years, “that Dad might be feeling his midlife.”Read More »

“I’ve thought about writing directly about white racism for a long time”: An interview with Greg Bottoms

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 »