Appalachia, both geographically and culturally, is richly diverse. The literary offerings of the WVWC MFA’s Winter 2019 Visiting Writing Series are similarly rich and diverse in genre, topics, themes, and places treated in these writers’ works. The writers hale from West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania. I have assembled some links for you to follow as a way of introducing these visiting writers.
Steve Scafidi began writing poetry after reading Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” It satisfied and piqued further “his hunger for something like magnificence” (The Poetry Break: Steve Scafidi).
For a visual and oral experience of Scafidi’s evocation of life and death matters a mutually illuminating one another, watch the animation of his poem “The June Bugs,” from his magical biography of Abraham Lincoln, To the Bramble and the Briar, and read his poem “Thank You Lord for the Dark Ablaze.”
Diane Gilliam’s collections of poetry have moved along a spectrum. From treating four generations of women in her family, (One of Everything) to the struggles of West Virginian families during the Coal Mine Wars (Kettle Bottom), to her most recent collection, Dreadful Wind & Rain, which takes up the mythic dimensions of each and any woman’s story. Melva Sue Priddy reviews the verse narrative. Priddy notes, “Her poems speak from different personas and cover stories women often tell and don’t tell, which are the key to how we are who we are, how we diminish ourselves, and how that can change over time.”
An Appalachian murder ballad supplies the title for her most recent collection. Listen to the rendition by Gilliam Welch and David Rawlings; listen here for the interpretation by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman.
CATHERINE VENABLE MOORE is a nonfiction writer and radio producer based in Fayette County, West Virginia. Her work investigates questions of history, place, identity, and character of West Virginia, past and present. Her article “The Book of Dead” explores the formation of identity through disasters remembered and suppressed.
For a sampling of her radio documentaries, click here.
Jacinda Townsend is currently the Appalachian Writer-in-Residence at Berea College. Her novel Saint Monkey, winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for best fiction written by a woman in 2014 and the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for best historical fiction, relates the story of two African American women in the 1950s from a small Kentucky town. Listen to Townsend discuss Saint Monkey on PBS.
Read her article on the Green Book, a guide for African-Americans travelling by car through segregated America, which appeared in the Smithsonian Magazine in 2016.
Townsend shared writing advice and encouragement during National Novel Writing Month 2018.
Matthew Ferrence hails from Pennsylvania and Prince Edward Island. These two places delineate the area of Appalachia that is north of the Mason-Dixon line. He describes himself as living at “the confluence of Appalachia and the Rust Belt.” His book North: A Memoir is the first full-length treatment of that region.
Read his essay “The Foxes of Prince George Island” for its poignant evocation and exploration of discovering an island home to foxes became his.
Kayla Rae Whitaker's work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Buzzfeed, Literary Hub, Lenny Letter, and others. Her debut novel, The Animators, was named one of the best debut novels of 2017 by Entertainment Weekly and one of the best books of 2017 by NPR, Kirkus Reviews, and BookPage.
Whitaker discusses her desire to write a novel about women artists as well as her choice of central characters in this interview; two of her exemplars were Willa Cather’s Song of the Lark and Margaret Atwood’s Cats Eye.
Watch an episode of Judge a Book devoted to The Animators in which people attending a book festival speculate about the novel by interpreting its cover.
Mindy McGinnis is an Edgar Award-winning novelist whose books include the YA novel The Female of the Species. In addition to treating sexual violence and young women’s response to it, the novel also attends to the impact of rural poverty on young people. Mindy discusses this aspect of the book at Teen Librarian Toolbox
Mindy writes across multiple genres, including post-apocalyptic, historical, thriller, contemporary, mystery, and fantasy. Advice and reflection on writing can be found at her blog Writer Writer Pants on Fire.
Diane Callahan interviewed Mindy for her YouTube program Writer to Writer.