“Tenacity and persistence are requirements in writing”: Kelley Shinn talks with Kristine Langley Mahler

Kelley Shinn’s The Wounds That Bind Us—the improbable true story of an orphan at birth who loses her legs, becomes an avid off-road racer and, as a single mother, attempts to drive around the globe in a Land Rover—will be published by West Virginia University Press on June 1. Here Shinn talks with Kristine Langley Mahler, author of Curing Season, also published by WVU Press.

Mahler: Could you talk about the importance of disability representation in literature and also the pressures that might come along with it?

Shinn: I’m a nonfiction writer, so representing the fullest scope of a human experience is an obvious goal. If what the reader reads is true about how a character thinks, reacts, is propelled through a situation, then there is an opportunity for connection.

I read The Color Purple when I was twelve. I have no obvious similarities with the protagonist, Celie, who is a traumatized slave in the American south. However, her drive and tenacity and hope under such cruel conditions were riveting to me as an adolescent. I felt her heart within my own. I thought then that if I ever had a daughter, I would name her after the brave, vulnerable, and triumphant Celie; now, decades later, my daughter, Celie, is part of the heartbeat of my debut, The Wounds that Bind Us.

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

In Book Riot, Kendra Winchester holds up West Virginia University Press as one of the “wonderful university and indie presses” that “provide a place for a lot of books big publishing doesn’t want to take a risk on.” Her piece (subtitled “supporting small presses supports communities”) quotes WVU Press staff alongside publishing professionals from Feminist Press and Hub City Press. Thanks, Kendra!

Neema Avashia’s Another Appalachia is named a finalist for the Lambda Literary “Lammies” Award, with winners to be announced June 9 in New York. Avashia’s book is judged “astute and beautifully crafted” in the Southern Literary Review. She talks with the Read Appalachia podcast.

In Other Lifetimes All I’ve Lost Comes Back to Me is praised as “a deep and howling portrait of longing and loneliness” in the Boston Globe and “brilliantly aching and haunting” in Lilith. Author Courtney Sender appears in Slate with an essay on family, citizenship, and the difficult history of Jews in Europe.

At the website for the Today Show, Jessica George, author of the latest “Read with Jenna” pick, recommends Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Lives of Church Ladies. “I think short stories are notoriously difficult to write because you have so much to pack into such a small word count, but I think Deesha did this effortlessly.” Philyaw also makes another (!) appearance in the New York Times, where she talks with Gina Cherelus for the “Third Wheel” column.

Davon Loeb’s The In-Betweens is positively reviewed in Library Journal, which finds it “ideal for those interested in descriptive, insightful stories about what it is like to not quite fit in anywhere.” The book also earns a mention in Vol. 1 Brooklyn.Read More »

“A societal petri dish to create mental health challenges”: Read an excerpt from Improving Learning and Mental Health in the College Classroom, a new book in our higher education series

We’re pleased to share an excerpt from Improving Learning and Mental Health in the College Classroom, a new book by Robert Eaton, Steven V. Hunsaker, and Bonnie Moon. The latest title in West Virginia’s series Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, edited by James Lang and Michelle Miller, it ships now when ordered from our site.

If a group of malicious social scientists were designing a societal petri dish to create mental health challenges, they would be hard pressed to come up with anything more effective than the US higher education system. For starters, consider the timing: students traditionally embark on their college experience during the very period in life when most mental health challenges initially manifest themselves, with nearly 75 percent of lifelong mental health challenges emerging by the midtwenties.

On top of that, many college students leave home and their established networks of support, often for the first time. Such disruption might unsettle the most emotionally seasoned among us, let alone eighteen-year-olds. “The college years are a period of often intense anxiety about belonging: Do I fit in?” observes Paul Tough in The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us. “Can people like me feel at home here?”Read More »

AWP 2023 sale: Save 30% on fiction and creative nonfiction

To celebrate the annual meeting of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, all of West Virginia University Press’s new and recent works of fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry are 30% off with free shipping through April 30, 2023. This discount applies to paperback and electronic editions.

Our exhibit at the AWP meeting will feature display copies for perusal, with all sales handled online at our website. Just use code WVUPAWP2023 at checkout. This sale is open to all, regardless of whether you’re attending the conference.

Discounted titles are:Read More »

“I definitely aim to expand and test the boundaries of the love story”: An interview with Courtney Sender

Courtney Sender’s braided story collection In Other Lifetimes All I’ve Lost Comes Back to Medescribed as “fierce” by Danielle Evans, “a stunner” by Deesha Philyaw, and a book that “upends . . . what it means to tell a love story” by Alice McDermottis available now. Sender talked with Vesto PR for the blog.

When did you start writing the stories in this book?

I am a structuralist at heart—or at least, my instinct is to look at structure second only to voice—so I wanted to create a collection that reads like individual stories at first and like a novel by the end.

So this is a braided collection that becomes one story by the final word. Characters recur and offer refractions against each other. One set of characters shows one outcome when a lost lover comes back, and another set shows a very different outcome.

Most of all I view the book as existing in three parts: “In other lifetimes,” which is the longing and the recourse to magic and the spiritual; “All I’ve lost,” which is that deep loneliness that I know so well from being single throughout my twenties; “Comes back to me,” which is the longed-for thing. And the question is whether, after all those longing and loss, the longed-for thing is even what we want or can accept anymore.

The stories have changed so much as I’ve shaped them into a unit for a book project. To me, they all feel new in the terms of the words on the page. That’s a testament to the work and vision of my editor, Sarah Munroe, who helped me think about the relationships of one story to another. I went through and matched last lines to first lines, and created an emotional arc from story to story by drawing a thread from one to the next.Read More »

Appalachian studies sale, 2023 edition! Save 30% on new and recent titles

It’s that time of year: All of West Virginia University Press’s new and recent books about Appalachia are 30% off with free shipping through April 30, 2023. This discount applies to paperback and electronic editions (and, in the case of African American Workers and the Appalachian Coal Industry, jacketed cloth). West Virginia’s sale is open to all. Just order at our website using discount code APPALACHIAN30—and enjoy!

Discounted titles are:Read More »

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

The rollout for The In-Betweens receives wide coverage, in USA Today (where it’s a book of the week), the Philadelphia Inquirer (“gorgeously told”), and the Chicago Review of Books (“utterly captivating and resonant”). Davon Loeb and his book also appear in BOMBLibrary Journal‘s Book Pulse, the Rumpus, Electric Lit, Reckon Review, the Offing, Debutiful, the Southern Review of Books, and the Substack from writer and editor Rachel León. Loeb’s launch tour comes to Barnes & Noble in Marlton, NJ, on February 25.

Neema Avashia’s “captivating” Another Appalachia is praised for its “nuance and hard-won pride” in a review at Pittsburgh Quarterly, and the audiobook edition earns an equally enthusiastic rave in AudioFile. Avashia will appear on April 13 at Marshall University, where her book has been selected as a campus read.

In the newsletter from 100 Days in Appalachia, Skylar Baker-Jordan reviews William H. Turner’s The Harlan Renaissance, predicting the book “will become a cornerstone of Appalachian literature and of Appalachian studies, influencing writers, researchers, and everyday people for years to come.”

James Lang and Michelle Miller, coeditors of WVU’s series Teaching and Learning in Higher Educationtake to the Chronicle of Higher Education with “Don’t Write Like a Robot,” an essay about authorship and artificial intelligence. Miller also appears on the Learner Engagement Activated podcast.Read More »

Midwinter roundup: Reviews, media attention, and author events

Kirkus Reviews has an early rave for Courtney Sender’s “compelling” In Other Lifetimes All I’ve Lost Comes Back to Me, which is hailed as “a distinctive debut from a promising author.” Also sharing praise is Foreword Reviews, where Sender’s “brooding, poignant” book is commended for its “sharp humor and imagination.” And Booklist, in a third pre-publication review, credits the title with “bringing to life emotions and connections too unwieldy to define or restrain.” Courtney Sender will launch In Other Lifetimes All I’ve Lost Comes Back to Me at events this spring in Boston and other cities.

Davon Loeb talks with Daily Kos about his “rich, evocative, and surprising” memoir The In-Betweens. It’s named one of 2023’s most-anticipated titles by the News International in Pakistan and by Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum Books. The Jewish Book Council has an excerpt.

Another Appalachia continues to earn best-of-2022 recognition. Neema Avashia’s book is included on the list “The Top 100 Lesbian, Bi, Trans, and Queer Moments of 2022” from GO Magazine, and named one of the year’s bestsellers at Riverstone Books in Pittsburgh and Read Spotted Newt Bookstore in Hazard, KY. Neema Avashia and Davon Loeb will both serve as featured authors at the April writers’ conference from Barrelhouse; registration is now open.

Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, writes in Food & Wine as part of the feature “6 Valuable Lessons Learned around the Dinner Table, According to Award-Winning Food Writers.”

Mark Powell’s “fantastic” Lioness is praised as “a helluva page turner” in Reckon Review.Read More »

John Sayles’s Matewan and Appalachian history: An excerpt from American Energy Cinema

This spring, West Virginia University Press will publish the collection American Energy Cinema, edited by Robert Lifset, Raechel Lutz, and Sarah Stanford-McIntyre. A volume that explores how Hollywood movies have portrayed energy from the early film era to the present, it’s been praised by Michael E. Webber at the University of Texas as “captivating and informative for movie lovers, energy enthusiasts, and historians alike.” Here, we share an excerpt from one of the book’s essays—a study of the movie Matewan by historian James R. Allison, III.

Matewan’s focus on the fine-grained interactions of a diverse community coming together can be traced to John Sayles’s own intellectual journey to this historical subject. In Thinking in Pictures, the filmmaker explains how his path to the Matewan Massacre traveled through the work of new labor historians, who by the 1970s were dismantling their field’s dominant “institutional” approach, which focused on labor’s most visible components: trade unions, labor leaders, and strikes. In contrast, these new labor historians were interested in better understanding workers, and they did so by exploring the intricate social relations forged within their workplaces and communities. This turn reflected the discipline’s broader interest in the social history of everyday folk, and it produced significant insights into the long-term, multigenerational process of class development. As E. P. Thompson, a leading advocate of this new approach, explained, “We cannot understand class unless we see it as a social and cultural formation, arising from the process which can only be studied as [workers] work themselves out over a considerable historical period.” The new labor history, in other words, went to the ground to get to know the people, but then remained there over time to best explain the development of working-class culture.

Converted to the cause, Sayles’s film excels in the former but has no time for the latter. In Matewan, typically abstract institutions like “the company,” “the company town,” and “the union” get transformed into a collection of personal relationships worked out in this particular place. As such, the specifics of place matter quite a bit to understanding these interactions, as well as to the film’s success in portraying the workers’ world. So while John Sayles’s familiar Western narrative carries the audience along, Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler frames the narrow verticality of this Appalachian hollow in such a way as to make inescapable the intimate entwinement of workplace with homelife. In this tight space, there are few unfamiliar faces or single-layered relationships. Danny must share his rooming house with the hated Baldwins, Sid Hatfield regularly crosses paths with his adversaries as he patrols Main Street, and ethnically diverse communities are “segregated” by just a few hundred yards, if at all. This intimate and textured look at mining life is further enhanced by Matewan’s use of local actors, whose regional accents and dialects provide some stilted prose but also lend an air of authenticity to these Appalachian scenes. Even the largely amateur cast’s uneven performances somehow contribute to the film’s credibility, similar to a Coen Brothers’ production like Fargo (1996) or No Country for Old Men (2007). In other words, this is not some sweeping Hollywood epic, but a grainy, realistic depiction of life in an Appalachian coal town.Read More »

“Place is a character”: An interview with Davon Loeb, author of The In-Betweens

West Virginia University Press is pleased to publish Davon Loeb’s The In-Betweens, which tells the story of a biracial boy becoming a man, all the while trying to find himself, trying to come to terms with his white family, and trying to find his place in American society. (The official publication date is February 1, and it ships now when ordered from our site.) Kirkus Reviews calls the book “engagingly delivered, candid reflections on heritage and identity.” Here Loeb talks with Vesto PR’s Caitlin Solano for our blog.

This is a kind of second life for the book—you’re working with a new publisher, and you added a lot of new material and edited what had been published before. Can you talk about how the book has changed? 

The prefix re-, for “again” or “repeat,” can have a negative connotation, like the word “revision” can seem like “to do again” is a bad thing. I argue the opposite, that to revise and reproduce is a good thing, and the bodies of work we create are never fully complete. The first version of The In-Betweens was incomplete, lacking a narrative arc, one which I believe is now present in the new book. To republish a book feels rare, but I was given a second chance by West Virginia University Press, which shows their dedication to publishing great books no matter what shape they start off in.

What drew you to the lyrical essay form? Did you experiment with other styles of writing?

I was drawn into the lyrical essay form because so many of the chapters in my memoir were originally poems. When I entered my MFA, I was declared as a poet, but as I completed various craft and workshop courses in different genres, I gravitated towards memoir. Writing memoir felt like the perfect balance between binding narrative and lyrical storytelling.

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