Seeing West Virginia in the world: A year-end message

If 2017 was a year of firsts for West Virginia University Press, then 2018 has been one of reach—a year in which our books and authors were in particularly broad circulation, helping propel outward the reputation of the university, state, and region in encounters from Portland to New Orleans and New York to Munich. We’re proud of our work with partners in the state’s growing literary and cultural network, like Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown, Labor Heritage Week in Wheeling, and the West Virginia Book Festival in Charleston. In our end-of-year message, though, we start by looking further afield.

LA.jpgWest Virginia University Press was big in Southern California this year: we were reviewed in the Los Angeles Review of Books three times and made our first appearance in Pacific Standard; author Michael Adamson talked about his book in our series Energy and Society at the Huntington Library in San Marino; and a visit to Skylight Books yielded sightings of a half dozen of our titles (including one coauthored by WVU musicologist Travis Stimeling). “When I go into a bookstore and see the words ‘West Virginia University Press’ on a spine next to logos from the University of Minnesota and Oxford University,” said director Derek Krissoff, “it says something about the community WVU is part of. If I’m far from home and the book happens to be by a WVU faculty member, all the better.”Read More »

Notes on the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop, a vital part of the state’s literary landscape

Natalie Sypolt is an assistant professor at Pierpont Community & Technical College. She coordinates the high school workshop for the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop at West Virginia University and has served as a literary editor for the Anthology of Appalachian WritersHer work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Appalachian Heritage, Kenyon Review Online, and Willow Springs. She is the winner of the Glimmer Train new writers contest, the Betty Gabehart Prize, the West Virginia Fiction Award, and the Still fiction contest. West Virginia University Press will publish The Sound of Holding Your Breath, her first book, this November. Learn more at nataliesypolt.com.

The summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I attended the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop for the first time. I was shy, pretty awkward, and more than a little scared of the workshop leader I’d been placed with—West Virginia writer Pinckney Benedict. Now, looking back at my 19-year-old self, I’m still surprised that I actually did it. I can’t help but feel proud.

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The persistence of books in an age of content: A conversation

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In recognition of West Virginia University’s long-form scholarship celebration, we’re turning the blog’s camera around for an interview with Derek Krissoff, director of West Virginia University Press, in conversation with Ryan Claycomb, interim director of the WVU Humanities Center. 

RC: Derek, at this transitional moment in the publishing industry, how would you characterize the work of university presses?

DK: I would say, without qualification, irony, or diffidence, that this is a golden age for books and for university presses. There are more books, more bookstores, more authors, more communities of readers, more publishers in general, and more university presses specifically than ever before.

Moreover, while presses are experimenting with new business models and new methods of disseminating information, our recent history has been characterized by continuity far more than disruption. At most university presses, eighty to ninety percent of sales continue to come from print, while the upstart open access model, heralded in some quarters as our inevitable future, involves something like one percent of new scholarly titles. The substance of university press books—from Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century to Safiya Umoja Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression—is more adventurous than ever. Their form, however, is essentially unchanged.Read More »

Hope and contradictions in Appalachia

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WVU student Tristan Dennis warms up before a concert at Washington Lands Elementary School, Marshall County, WV. Credit: Raymond Thompson.

Travis Stimeling is an associate professor of music history at West Virginia University, a series editor and author with WVU Press, and a member of the WVU Humanities Center advisory board. He was instrumental in helping bring Elizabeth Catte, the press’s new editor at large, to WVU for this week’s talk cosponsored with the humanities center and the David C. Hardesty Jr. Festival of Ideas. Here he responds to Catte’s presentation.

Earlier this week, WVU Press’s new editor at large Elizabeth Catte visited Morgantown to participate in WVU’s Festival of Ideas and to serve as a much-needed counterpoint to Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance, who spoke at the university on February 21. Vance’s talk reinforced familiar negative stereotypes about Appalachia at nearly every turn—we’re deliberately ignorant, too lazy to work, and too dependent on government assistance to want to do anything to take ownership over our lives—and blamed “environmental” and “cultural” factors for the region’s problems. On the other hand, Catte—who holds a Ph.D. in public history from Middle Tennessee State University—argued that these negative stereotypes have often been deployed by people who did not always have the best interest of Appalachians at heart, including missionaries, extractive industry leaders, politicians, and even eugenicists.

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“I hope readers will see it as a corrective to narratives that blame those in the region for their troubles”: Todd Snyder on his new book, and two young boxers who made it

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Long before I was a first-generation college student or professor of rhetoric and composition, I was the son of a full-time West Virginia coal miner and part-time boxing coach, Mike “Lo” Snyder. For a short period of time, my father was one of the most respected boxing trainers in the state. For just over 40 years, he was a coal miner. I write about both sides of my father’s masculine ethos in my book 12 Rounds in Lo’s Gym: Boxing and Manhood in Appalachia, which will be published March 1 by WVU Press. It was in my hometown of Cowen, West Virginia, that my perspectives on Appalachian life were shaped by the beauty and brutality of life in coal country – experiences that continue to inform my research and writing on Appalachian culture.

12 Rounds in Lo’s Gym is about my father’s experiences but also – through stories of young fighters from West Virginia – about individual and community strength in the face of globalism’s headwinds. I hope readers will see it as a corrective to narratives that blame those in the region for their troubles.Read More »

Muriel Rukeyser’s memory, or, the ends of poetry

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Johanna Winant and Bradley Wilson at the WVU Press–WVU Humanities Center launch for The Book of the Dead.

On February 1, the WVU Humanities Center cohosted an evening to help launch WVU Press’s lovely new edition of Muriel Rukeyser’s The Book of the Dead, with a powerful introduction by West Virginia writer Catherine Venable Moore. The evening featured an interdisciplinary panel to talk about the poems, the history, and the global context of the poems and the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel disaster that the poems remembered. While the centerpiece of the evening was Moore’s reading from her essay of the same name, the panel also included historical context from Hal Gorby (History), who presented moving primary documents from those who advocated on behalf of the Hawk’s Nest workers. Bradley Wilson (Geography) put the disaster into Union Carbide’s global history of environmental disasters, noting that the Gauley Bridge Committee of advocates may have been among the first environmental justice activists in the US. Johanna Winant (English) gave the talk presented below, which asks, “What are the ends of a cycle of poems that calls itself a ‘Book of the Dead’? And indeed, what are the ends of poetry?”

This post is the first of many that we hope will be a long and fruitful exchange of ideas between the Humanities Center and WVU Press in this space. Like the rich evening of discussion that first presented this book to the public and prompted Winant’s essay, this post is an apt beginning to an intellectually exciting partnership.—Ryan ClaycombRead More »

The African American experience in Appalachia: Books, events, and articles from WVU Press

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Appalachia tends, for a variety of complex reasons, to be conflated with whiteness, and especially poor whiteness. But the region has a significant nonwhite presence and tradition — one celebrated at this parade commemorating John Brown’s raid in Charles Town, West Virginia (from our Marked, Unmarked, Remembered), and an important aspect of WVU Press’s overall publishing program. With Black History Month starting next week, it seemed like a good time to look at several books, events, and articles from the press that explore Appalachia’s diversity, and particularly its African American heritage.Read More »

Hidden headlines: What journalists get wrong about poverty

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Michael Clay Carey is author of The News Untold: Community Journalism and the Failure to Confront Poverty in Appalachia, published by WVU Press in November. Carey worked as a journalist for ten years at newspapers such as Nashville’s The Tennessean and USA Today. He is assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at Samford University in Birmingham. Find him on Twitter: @byClayCarey

BOOKTIMIST: What drew you to this topic?   

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 »

“Documents like this are objects of resistance”: Emily Hilliard on Folk Songs from the West Virginia Hills, by Patrick Ward Gainer

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Patrick Ward Gainer taught in WVU’s English department for many years. His Witches, Ghosts, and Signs has long been an important part of our publishing program and is now joined by a new edition of Folk Songs from the West Virginia Hills, a major work of folklore poised to reach a new generation of readers. Our edition – part of the Sounding Appalachia series, edited by Travis Stimeling – is introduced by Emily Hilliard, West Virginia’s state folklorist. Here we share an enhanced digital version of her foreword to the book.

When I first interviewed 89-year-old ballad singer Phyllis Marks at her Gilmer County home, I asked her how she started performing her songs and stories. She told me about the first time she met Dr. Patrick Gainer, when he was looking for local performers for the first West Virginia State Folk Festival:Read More »

A year-end message from WVU Press

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At West Virginia University Press we’re wrapping up a year of firsts – our first time in the New York Times, the AtlanticNo Depression, and PBS NewsHour online; our first time winning the Weatherford Award and landing finalists for the Southern Book Prize and the Lambda Literary Award. And while we’ve been reviewed in Publishers Weekly many times, we’ve never before had one of our titles held up in PW as evidence of the value of university press publishing.Read More »