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

In the Los Angeles Review of Books, an essay on John B. Thompson’s Book Wars uses West Virginia University Press to make a point about the state of publishing in an era of corporate consolidation. “University and independent publishers, operating outside the New York–centric Big Five model, create opportunities for writers to get their work out,” writes Jennifer Howard. “For instance, West Virginia University Press published one of last year’s biggest literary successes, the story collection The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw.”

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is also one of two WVU Press titles lauded in Book Riot‘s “20 Must-Read Books from University Presses,” where it’s joined by LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia. And Secret Lives author Deesha Philyaw makes new appearances this month across media—in Ploughshares, the Bitter Southerner, and as part of NPR’s coverage of the Library of Congress National Book Festival. She’ll appear at the festival on September 23.

Foreword Reviews has the first published review of Keegan Lester’s Perfect Dirt, which is deemed “powerful and insightful.” Reviewer Ashley Holstrom finds: “Places are fleshed out alongside people, with West Virginia being the book’s star.”

Chuck Keeney and his book The Road to Blair Mountain are cited widely in reporting on the Blair Mountain Centennial events of Labor Day Weekend. He’s the focus of a segment with Melissa Harris-Perry on WNYC’s The Takeaway, and is featured in Smithsonian Magazine, Facing South, West Virginia Public Broadcasting‘s “Us and Them,” and the Charleston Gazette-Mail. A much-circulated AP piece featuring Keeney is picked up by media in San Francisco, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Winston-Salem, and elsewhere. The New York Times links to Keeney’s book in their coverage of the commemoration.

Also prominent in the Blair Mountain coverage is Anne Lawrence’s book On Dark and Bloody Ground, which is called “magnificent” on the Shabbat reading list from Jewish Currents, and is featured on West Virginia Public Broadcasting, in 100 Days in Appalachia, and in the West Virginia Observer, where it’s described as a “valuable tool to keep this history alive.”Read More »

Late summer roundup: Reviews, media attention, and author events

Anne T. Lawrence’s oral history of the Mine Wars, On Dark and Bloody Ground, is excerpted in Harper’s. Lawrence will join fellow WVU Press authors Chuck Keeney, Ginny Savage Ayers, and Catherine Venable Moore at the roundtable “New Books about the Mine Wars” on September 4. The event, which is previewed in the Charleston Gazette Mail, is hosted by Taylor Books as part of the Blair Mountain Centennial celebration. In other Mine Wars news, Chuck Keeney and his book The Road to Blair Mountain are the subjects of a profile from Pittsburgh’s WESA radio.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies has been named a nominee for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in the debut fiction category, with the winner to be announced at a ceremony on October 15. It is praised in Elle Magazine, where Jasmine Guillory writes: “I loved every single one of these short stories.” Deesha Philyaw and her book also receive attention at Boston.com and in Vineyard Gazette, Kirkus, Book Riot, and Revealer (“West Virginia University Press gave Philyaw a book contract and the autonomy to write boldly”). In Poets & Writers, Walton Muyumba connects Philyaw’s success to praise for university press publishing: “After the great success that Deesha Philyaw had publishing The Secret Lives of Church Ladies with West Virginia University Press, we all ought to give more attention and love to university presses.”

Geoffrey Hilsabeck’s American Vaudeville is excerpted in LitHub and reviewed in Broadway Direct, which finds: “Hilsabeck brings the seedy, magical world to life while unraveling its sudden death.”

Berea College Magazine talks with William H. Turner about his forthcoming The Harlan Renaissance: Stories of Black Life in Appalachian Coal Towns. “It’s a book only Turner could write,” they say, “and without it, this slice of American culture would be lost forever.” Turner also talks with the Appalachia Meets World podcast.

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Cyndi Kernahan—author of Teaching about Race and Racism in the College Classroom—provides perspective for anxious faculty preparing to teach about race in a politically charged environment.Read More »

Midsummer roundup: Reviews, media attention, and author events

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is featured on NPR’s All Things Considered (“Whatever we call the new American short story, I think Deesha Philyaw should name it”), in Book Riot, and in Mississippi Today. As part of the Buzzfeed guide “58 Great Books to Read This Summer,” bookseller Sydne Conant of Madison’s indie bookstore A Room of One’s Own recommends the title. Philyaw’s book is also among several topics addressed in the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s article “A Big Book from a Little Press,” which calls WVU Press “a new publishing heavyweight.”

Jim Lewis’s Ghosts of New York is reviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle, where it’s praised as “a collection of connected stories that is so imbued with the city in which it’s set that it could not possibly have taken place anywhere else.”

Chuck Keeney, author of The Road to Blair Mountain, is interviewed in Jacobin and (with Catherine Venable Moore, who introduced our edition of The Book of the Dead) on the podcast from the Smithsonian. Keeney and Moore will be joined by Anne T. Lawrence and Ginny Savage Ayers for the WVU Press showcase “New Books About the Mine Wars,” cohosted with the WVU Humanities Center and Taylor Books, on September 4.

William H. Turner’s forthcoming book is reviewed in Daily Yonder, which says: “One of the oldest and most enduring myths about the Appalachian Mountains is that they are now and always have been overwhelmingly populated by white Scots-Irish. Dr. William H. Turner has written a new book, The Harlan Renaissance: Stories of Black Life in Appalachian Coal Towns, that kills that myth about whiteness and, for good measure, buries several more myths as well.” The piece is picked up by 100 Days in Appalachia.Read More »

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

In Slate, Nadia Owusu reports on the publishing story behind Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, quoting the author, WVU Press staff, and others. She finds: “This is the kind of acclaim that most books—much less a short-story collection, much less a debut, much less a debut collection published by a university press—never receive.” John Warner comes to a similar conclusion in the Chicago Tribune, saying: “There is no better publishing story this year.” Philyaw appears in Sojourners, Bitter Southerner, West Virginia Public Broadcasting, and Left of Black from Duke University. She moderates a conversation among debut Black writers for Kirkus.

Ghosts of New York, previously reviewed in the New York Times Book Review, lands in the Memorial Day Weekend edition as one of “10 New Books We Recommend This Week.”

Renée Nicholson’s Fierce and Delicate is excerpted in Longreads, and receives a rave in Library Journal, which calls it “an elegant collection of essays from a dancer’s soul that will uplift all readers.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education provides teaching tips from Susan Hrach’s Minding Bodies, new in James Lang and Michelle D. Miller’s series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Hrach also appears on the Think UDL podcast, and her book is joined by others in West Virginia’s series by Jenae Cohn, Joshua Eyler, and Sarah Rose Cavanagh in Tophat‘s “Ultimate Summer 2021 Reading List for Professors.”Read More »

Mid-spring roundup: Reviews, media attention, and author events

In widely reported back-to-back wins, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies has received both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the LA Times Book Prize for first fiction. Author Deesha Philyaw is profiled in the Los Angeles Times, and her book receives mentions in the New York Times and Entertainment Weekly, as well as coverage in Electric Lit, LitHub, the Morgantown Dominion Post, and elsewhere. Publishers Weekly reports that the title is a pick from Goop, the book club from Gwyneth Paltrow. And the newsletter Notes from a Small Press holds up the “deliriously wonderful publishing story” of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies as an antidote to Big Publishing’s woes. Don’t miss the PEN/Faulkner awards ceremony, with sponsors including West Virginia University, on May 10.

Jim Lewis’s “exquisite” Ghosts of New York gets a rave in the New York Times Book Review, which calls it “a wondrous novel, with prose that sparkles like certain sidewalks after rain.” Lewis’s book is excerpted in LitHub, and he’s interviewed by Ruben Martinez on the podcast from Skylight Books in Los Angeles.

For the third consecutive year, a book from West Virginia University Press has received the Weatherford Award for outstanding nonfiction title in Appalachian studies. This year’s winner is I’m Afraid of That Water: A Collaborative Ethnography of a West Virginia Water Crisis, edited by Luke Eric Lassiter, Brian Hoey, and Elizabeth Campbell. It’s praised by the Weatherford judges for setting “a meaningful example from which community-engaged Appalachian studies scholars will draw much inspiration.” Read More »

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

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies has received the Story Prize—the first book from a university press (or small press of any kind) to win this recognition as the year’s outstanding collection of short fiction. It has been named one of five finalists for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the first fiction category, and also (continuing its remarkable run of awards attention) advances from longlist to finalist status for the PEN/Faulkner Award. The book earns mentions in New York Magazine, the Rumpus, Pittsburgh Magazine, and the bulletin of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, and author Deesha Philyaw appears on the podcasts from Storybound, Read More, and Black and Published. Watch for the announcement of the LA Times winners on April 16 and the PEN/Faulkner winner on May 10.

Jim Lewis’s “continuously engaging” Ghosts of New York is reviewed in Booklist, which praises the author as “a master at painting developed characters captured in various moments in time.” Lewis will launch the novel—which is excerpted in Air/Light Magazine—at a free online event with Shakespeare & Co. on April 2. Harper’s magazine will cohost.

Volume editor Travis Stimeling and contributor Paige Zalman discuss The Opioid Epidemic and US Culture at 100 Days in Appalachia. The title is reviewed in the Southern Review of Books, where it’s praised for “bringing awareness to damaging stereotypes and further victimization of those caught in the opioid epidemic.”

Also at 100 Days in Appalachia, Eric Kerl reviews So Much to Be Angry About, praising author Shaun Slifer’s “insightful eye,” and calling the volume “a testament to the ingenuity of our social movements.”

Joshua Eyler, author of How Humans Learn, talks with the Chronicle of Higher Education about universities, grief, and the importance of mourning as a response to covid.Read More »

Midwinter roundup: Reviews, media attention, and author events

The screen deal bringing Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies to HBO Max is widely reported, with Deadline Hollywood, Poets and Writers, Kirkus, LitHub, Pittsburgh Current, and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette spreading the word. Kirkus reports the good news that Philyaw has been longlisted for the PEN/Faulkner Award, and her status as one of three finalists for the $20,000 Story Prize is noted in Publishers Weekly and LitHub. The author and her book also appear on the Black in Appalachia podcast, in Next City, and in the Boston Globe, where novelist Robert Jones, Jr., says: “This is the kind of book I needed at this moment.”

In the New York Times, Chuck Keeney and his book The Road to Blair Mountain are featured in “The Real Meaning of Hillbilly,” an op-ed piece by Abby Lee Hood.

Foreword Reviews has a pre-publication review of Ghosts of New York: “In Jim Lewis’s wondrous novel Ghosts of New York, encounters among strangers result in unexpected relationships and a montage that celebrates a city of manifold graces. . . A subtle, dexterous novel.”

Renée Nicholson’s “lyrical and fascinating” book Fierce and Delicate is anticipated in Buzzfeed‘s preview of “18 Books That Will Help You Better Understand Disability and Chronic Illness.” Nicholson talks with Shaun Slifer, author of our forthcoming So Much to Be Angry About, in the inaugural episode of the “Short Talks” series from the WVU Humanities Center.Read More »

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 »

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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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 »