It is truly a terrifically exciting time for literature throughout Appalachia, but especially here in our own West Virginia. What I love most about being Poet Laureate of West Virginia is the opportunity to sing the praises of fellow West Virginia writers — be they writers of poems, fiction, or nonfiction — and I swear there’s never been a better time to sing those praises than right now.
I have just returned from a reading at the venerable McNally Jackson Books in the East Village of New York City with Meredith Sue Willis, originally from Shinnston, and Val Nieman, graduate of West Virginia University and for many years a resident in Marion County. The title of our evening program was “Writers of the Appalachian Renaissance.”
I think the word “renaissance” is no exaggeration.
A quick glance at three recent anthologies alone underscores the remarkable breadth and depth of writing from authors with deep roots in West Virginia. The first two books are “Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Fiction and Poetry from West Virginia,” edited by Laura Long and Doug Van Gundy, and “LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia,” edited by Jeff Mann and Julia Watts. Both books are from WVU Press, which has in recent years put itself squarely on the map as one of the finest university publishers anywhere in America. Hats off to Derek Krissoff!
There is also the recent fine anthology, “Voices on Unity: Coming Together, Falling Apart,” from Mountain State Press, edited by Cat Pleska, which addresses through poetry and fiction the divisive issues of our nation as seen through the lens of Appalachia. And a special tip of the hat to Bill Clements whose Quarrier Press (publishing arm) and West Virginia Book Company (online bookstore) provide such invaluable support to so many West Virginia writers.
I must note, as well, the continuing tradition of exceptional children’s book authors who either live in West Virginia or claim long association with our state, and whose titles are published by the most respected publishers in the United States and whose reviews regularly garner national attention. These authors include Cynthia Rylant, Cheryl Ware, Anna Egan Smucker, Sarah Dooley and Sarah Sullivan.
I’m also heartened to see so many venues across our state where writers can take to the stage. There are established reading series at Marshall, WVU, West Virginia Wesleyan and West Liberty University to name a few. There are also many fine bookstores regularly hosting writers such as Taylor Books in Charleston, Four Seasons Books in Shepherdstown and the Inner Geek in Huntington hosting the Writers Can Read series.
Other important venues for writers include the Lee Street Listening Room in Lewisburg, FestivALL in Charleston and the Wheeling Poetry Series at the Ohio County Public Library.
An essential support to the state’s writers for 42 years has been the West Virginia Writers, Inc., annual conference and workshops held at Cedar Lakes each June.
Holding a special place in my heart are the Poetry Out Loud competitions held across the state in countless high schools. POL is special not only because I’ve been honored to serve as judge for many years, but because our young people year in and year out give recitations of poetry worthy of an Academy Award.
So, what an exciting time for West Virginia and its vast number of superb authors. I am so very grateful to be serving as our state’s poet laureate in an era where every week I’m learning of a new author, or a new book by an established author, and finding in every case that the work not only holds its own with any being produced anywhere in the U.S., but in many cases clearly surpasses it.