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 »

524 words about 120 counties: Notes from Jesse Donaldson’s book tour for On Homesickness

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Jesse Donaldson was born in Kentucky, educated in Texas, and now lives in Oregon. His book On Homesickness was published by WVU Press in September.

You could fit all I know about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity into a thimble and yet that’s what comes to mind when I reflect on my tour to promote On Homesickness.

These are the space-and-time “facts” of the tour: 28 days. 5400 miles. 120 counties.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 »

“Just as people make their own history, they also make their own memory-practices”: A conversation about Marked, Unmarked, Remembered

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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 »