First look: Neema Avashia’s memoir of growing up Asian American in Appalachia

In response to the renewed urgency of amplifying Asian American voices after last week’s Atlanta tragedy, we’re proud to share an excerpt from Neema Avashia’s book Another Appalachia: Coming up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place, forthcoming from West Virginia University Press. Please check back for a formal publication announcement and ordering information.

I grew up in West Virginia with one foot in the boom, and one foot in the bust. I was born in a valley with thriving industry and all its associated complications, and graduated from high school in that same valley, now saddled with dying industry and all its complications. The place I call home is the small, unincorporated community of Cross Lanes: population 9,995. A town that doesn’t even warrant a dot on the state map—a string of gas stations, fast food restaurants, and residential developments built in the 1950s and 1960s to house the employees at the burgeoning chemical plants in Nitro and South Charleston. These workers—the children and grandchildren of coal miners—found their way into a more middle-class existence than their ancestors because of the steady pay, union protections, and guaranteed health benefits that work at the plant provided. And my Indian immigrant parents, who arrived from the state of Gujarat to the United States in the early 1970s, capitalized on that same employment to create their own foothold in the middle class. Along with about 100 other Indian families who moved to the Chemical Valley around the same time, we created an Indolachian existence for ourselves, encountered West Virginians who both embraced us and rejected us, and simultaneously both embraced and rejected elements of the culture we found ourselves immersed in.Read More »

Celebrating Black History Month in Appalachia: An early look at William Turner’s Harlan Renaissance

William H. Turner’s The Harlan Renaissance: Stories of Black Life in Appalachian Coal Towns is coming from West Virginia University Press in fall 2021, and will be announced officially in our next catalog. In this preview from the manuscript, Turner—a sociologist and recipient of the lifetime of service award from the Appalachian Studies Association—reflects on Black life in his hometown of Lynch, Kentucky.

Lynch was a model company town, among the first planned communities in the mountains of the South. The engineers estimated that there was enough coal to stay in business for a century, so they, by design, constructed the business, mining, recreational, health care, and residential structures of the most durable materials. All municipal services were first-rate. By mid-September 1917, the year of my father’s birth, 300 cars of materials had been unloaded and the building of the town began. A mine was opened, and rail tracks were extended from Benham, which was owned by International Harvester, another of J. P. Morgan’s companies. The new town was named after Thomas Lynch, the president of US Steel, who had passed on three years earlier.

Within the blink of an industrial eye, between 1917 and 1920, the population of Lynch increased dramatically, to 7,200. The first nonnative residents in Lynch were Italian and Hungarian stonemasons brought directly from Ellis Island by the company; these robust souls were the first line of laborers who carved out what became a colossal coal camp, carved into the wilderness. By 1940, Harlan County’s population (75,275) was exceeded in Kentucky only by the counties of Jefferson (Louisville) and Fayette (Lexington).

Lynch and towns like Harlan, Hazard, Jenkins, and Wheelwright (in eastern Kentucky); Big Stone Gap, Grundy, and Stonega (in southwest Virginia); and Gary, Keystone, and Beckley (in southern West Virginia) were as racially and ethnically diverse—each group living in their neighborhoods and with traditions openly displayed—and as booming and blooming as New York City. Harlan County was to Kentucky Black coal mining families in the 1920s through the 1940s what Harlem was to Black New Yorkers in the same period. It was the cultural and social epicenter of the region for Blacks; and, as “the blackest town for mountains around,” Lynch was equivalent to 125th Street in Harlem—the school was our Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Pool Room was our Apollo Theater.Read More »

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

 

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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 »

Summer signings: Early announcements of some forthcoming books

Twice a year we share our seasonal catalog announcing titles to be published in the next six months. But WVU Press’s acquisitions editors are always at work (even in a pandemic!) signing books where publication is even further out. In this space we’re pleased to share early news of some highly anticipated projects that have come under contract this summer, with publication expected in the next year or two. Working on a book of your own? Please feel encouraged to contact one of our acquisitions editors.

Eminent historian Joe Trotter has signed a contract for a collection of his essays on Black workers and the Appalachian coal industry. Look for it in fall 2021.

Anne T. Lawrence has submitted her oral history of the Appalachian Mine Wars, based on interviews she conducted as a student in the early ‘70s. We’ll publish next year to mark the Blair Mountain Centennial, with a foreword by Catherine Venable Moore and an afterword by Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America. Catherine announces the book here.

Lou Martin at Chatham University has agreed to write a short history of Appalachian activism, from the Mine Wars to the teachers’ strike.Read More »

Why Ungrade?: An excerpt from Susan D. Blum’s forthcoming book Ungrading

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With universities pivoting quickly to online instruction in response to public health concerns, many teachers are considering new approaches to grading, including the prospect of ungrading—the topic of Susan D. Blum’s forthcoming edited volume in our series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Here we share an excerpt from the introduction to her book Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead).

Humans, in recent memory, invented a way of looking at students’ learning. We in the United States call it grading; in Canada, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere, they distinguish between marking on particular assignments and final grading. Though grading seems natural, inevitable, a part of the very fabric of school, it isn’t. It was created at a certain moment, for certain reasons not entirely well thought out, and then became embedded in the structures of schools for most students.

But because we invented it, we can uninvent it. We can remove it.

And many of us believe we should.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 »

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 »

“Once again the Mine Wars demand our attention”: Lou Martin introduces Never Justice, Never Peace

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Never Justice, Never Peace: Mother Jones and the Miner Rebellion at Paint and Cabin Creeks, by Lon Kelly Savage and Ginny Savage Ayers, will be published by WVU Press on September 1. In this post, adapted from his introduction to the book, historian Lou Martin (who received his PhD from West Virginia University) talks about the context for the strike, and argues for the relevance of the West Virginia Mine Wars during our own period of labor activism and political contest.

Paint Creek. Cabin Creek. Holly Grove. Cesco Estep. Mucklow. Frank Keeney. Mother Jones. Solidarity Forever. The places and the people of the Paint Creek–Cabin Creek Strike are buried deep in the American memory of the labor movement and the working-class struggle for rights and justice. The strike occurred in the “age of industrial violence,” before there were laws to govern labor relations, and for many it revealed the darkest depths of capitalism in America but also the indomitable spirit of workers organized in the face of great odds. Despite its tragic loss of life, despite its importance in the history of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and despite being a cause célèbre among the labor activists of the era, this conflict in the heart of the Appalachian coalfields remains little known today except among historians and the coal mining families of southern West Virginia.Read More »

Lessons from Welsh women: An excerpt from Tom Hansell’s After Coal

Tom Hansell’s After Coal will be published by WVU Press in November. The book traces a long-term exchange between mining communities in Appalachia and Wales, looking at how resonances between these regions—often depicted as victims of globalization—can be a source of strength. As Hansell puts it: “Taken at face value, international commerce seems to erode community self-determination, but can international connections also support local control?” Read More »

Hillbilly identity and the WVU Mountaineer

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Rosemary Hathaway is associate professor of English at West Virginia University. She’s writing a book about the idea of the Mountaineer in West Virginia history and folklore, which will be published by WVU Press. Here’s an early look at her work-in-progress.

Although a number of students had informally dressed up as the Mountaineer for sporting events as early as 1927, when Clay Crouse volunteered for the position, the first “official” Mountaineer, selected by Mountain Honorary – as it still is today – was Lawson Hill, in 1934. Notably, this was the same year that witnessed the advent of comic strip characters L’il Abner, The Mountain Boys, and Snuffy Smith. Kentucky Moonshine, the big-screen vehicle for the comic-strip Mountain Boys, would come out in 1938, a year after Mountain formalized its selection process for the Mountaineer, choosing “Slim” Arnold for the position, a role he would perform for three years.Read More »