West Virginia Book Festival

W.Va. authors: Hubert and Hobert Skidmore

In Wednesday’s Charleston Daily Mail, guest columnist Mack Samples profiles a couple of West Virginia authors whom many people probably haven’t heard of before.

The twin Skidmore brothers, Hubert and Hobert, grew up in Webster Springs and graduated from high school in Harrison County, according to Samples.

hawksnestHubert’s success came first, with award-winning novels that gained national attention. His fictionalized account of the building of the Hawks Nest tunnel, called “Hawks Nest,” gave him “a secure place in the publishing world,” Samples says. Hobert’s success came later, starting with “Valley of the Sky,” an account of a World War II bomber crew.

Remembering Dr. Paul Saville, scientist

If you spend any time in Charleston’s Taylor Books, you probably know, or know of Dr. Paul Saville (pronounced like gravel). He was the old gent who came out with the dog, most recently Leo, but before that, Jackson, to go for long walks.

dr saville and leoHe also loved long chats, and I always felt so lucky to fall into a comfortable coze with him. He wasn’t a writer, at least not in the literary sense we think of the word. Nor was he a publisher, though he published plenty in his own field. His wife Ann, is technically the bookseller in the family, the Taylor of Taylor Books.

He was definitely a reader. I know that he read books, but most of what he talked about reading were complex medical journals. He did the scholarly reading for his profession during lunch most days of his long practice in rheumatology, and continued to do so long after he retired. He lamented that reading scientific journals is not stressed in medical education today, and fewer younger doctors seem to form the habit.

Dr. Saville was a first-class thinker. He was sharp, critical and eager to teach what he knew. In fact, that is how I first met him. I was writing about health issues for the Gazette, and I wanted to do a story explaining the differences among was seemed to be an explosion of over-the-counter pain relievers, every one of them making this or that promise in TV commercials. Another beloved old Charleston physician, the late Dr. Warren Point, referred me to Dr. Saville.

Continue reading…

Book Festival author up for national award

Carmen Agra Deedy, who’s coming to this fall’s Book Festival, has been named as a finalist for the annual E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards, presented by the Association of Booksellers for Children.

(The ABC … I just got it. Ha!)

Deedy was nominated for her book “14 Cows for America,” which the award  committee called the first non-traditional, non-fiction book ever shortlisted for the award. They also said:14cows

“It will give readers chills, and we challenge anyone to read it aloud without crying. This is a big story perfectly told in the picture book medium in a way that any age can understand, and that shows how small the world really is.”

“14 Cows for America,” illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez, was shortlisted in the picture book category. Other finalists are “Once Upon a Twice” by Denise Doyen, illustrated by Barry Moser; “Princess Hyacinth (the Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated)” by Florence Heide Parry, illustrated by Lane Smith; and “The Curious Garden” by Peter Brown. You can find a full list of finalists in other categories here.

growingupJames E. Casto, longtime Huntington newspaperman, reviewed Marshall professor Bob Barnett’s memoir “Growing Up in the Last Small Town — A West Virginia Memoir” in Sunday’s Gazette-Mail.

Barnette’s childhood and teenage years growing up in Newell in the Northern Panhandle weren’t anything like the dysfunctional bringing-up chronicled in Jeanette Walls’ “The Glass Castle,” Casto reports. Not to say it was idyllic, but the name Richie Cunningham is used.

West Virginia’s Ann Pancake at WVU workshop

annpancakeAnn Pancake, a West Virginia native, will be one of the featured authors at the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop, held on WVU’s campus in Morgantown July 15-18. Pancake is the author of two award-winning books, the short story collection “Given Ground” and the novel “Strange As This Weather Has Been.” She is also known as an astute and generous teacher.

Pancake will lead a workshop of 10 to 12 students as well as give a reading and a craft talk. She is in good company among the award-winning faculty, which includes poets Jim Harms and Peter Makuck and fiction writers Nancy Reisman and Renee Nicholson.

Tuition to the four-day workshop ($350) is one of the lowest in the country. Participants are treated like friends.

mccarthyThe West Virginia Humanities Council is partnering with the Harvard Club of West Virginia to present Harvard University professor Timothy Patrick McCarthy for a lecture at the University of Charleston.

McCarthy will speak “On Radicalism and the Humanities” on Thursday,  April 29 at 7:30 p.m. in the Erma Byrd Gallery in UC’s Riggleman Hall. The event is free and open to the public. Seating is first come, first served.

McCarthy is the program director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s JFK School of Government. He is co-editor, along with John McMillian, of a new book, Protest Nation: Words That Inspired a Century of American Radicalism, due to be published by The New Press in the spring of 2010.

protestnationThe book features a collection of speeches, letters, essays, and manifestos from union organizers, feminists, socialists, environmentalists, civil rights workers, and a variety of activists ranging from Eugene Debs to the original Black Panther Party platform.

Protest Nation presents brilliant examples of radical writing in a concise volume that will be of interest to those wanting to reconnect with the deep currents of American radical thinking. We hope to have advance copies of the book on sale at the lecture.

Independent booksellers agree

In keeping with Greg’s lamentation on the decline of the independent bookstore, let me add my brief two cents that independent booksellers know what they are talking about when they talk about books.

If you are in any doubt, take a look at the books they selected for the 2010 Indies Choice Book Awards.  If you treasure books and reading (or if you’re in a book group – these would all make great selections), you’ll want to check these out:

Adult Fiction

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese

Adult Nonfiction

The Lost City of Z, by David Grann

Adult Debut

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

Young Adult

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

(Dystopian Appalachian teen fiction!  Hooray!)

Middle Reader

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead

New Picture Book

The Lion and the Mouse, by Jerry Pinkney

cuttingforstonelostcityofzhelpcatching-firewhen-you-reach-meThe Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

More about the awards can be found here.

The West Virginia Book Festival features authors and publishers from across the nation and provides an opportunity to honor the state’s own publishers and literature too. The state’s literature, past and present is my interest and I’d like to blog about it.

buttercupFor example, the latest collection of short stories by author and gifted writing coach Belinda Anderson of Greenbrier County. “Buckle Up, Buttercup” builds on two collections preceding it, “The Well Ain’t Dry Yet” and “The Bingo Cheaters,” all published by a great little press, Mountain State Press of Charleston.

An overarching character in Anderson’s cast is West Virginian, African-American quilt maker Twilight Dawn Johnson. She speaks first and last in “Buckle Up, Buttercup even though she was escorted to the afterlife by a Jaguar-driving, Johnny-Cash-like character in “The Well Ain’t Dry Yet.”

From her view in the Hope County Cemetery, Johnson says, “I may be old and dead, but I am just itching to take a switch to that boy Paul Goshen.” Paul, a community college student struggling with Developmental English, is then introduced in the next story “Kicking against the Pricks.”

In the story, his love interest, a shapely blue-eyed blonde classmate named Dorcas, is prone to quoting scripture and handing out religious tracts. She is converting Paul, who thinks he’s already a Christian (he looked up the definition in his new dictionary). But handing out pamphlets and knocking on doors is not his idea of a date. In fact, his mother taught him to “drop and roll” off the couch onto the floor and stay out of sight when evangelicals knocked at the family’s door. He’s not easy to convert.

Johnson watches over not just Paul, but all of Hope County, West Virginia, a “…patchwork of farms, town and government forest. Big enough to build a hospital and community college, but small enough folks know what time you went to bed and what you bought at Wal-Mart.”, and fusses over their decisions.

Humorous story follows humorous story. Reading Anderson’s collections is a little like eating a many-layered Appalachian applesauce stack cake. Some folks enjoy just one layer at a time and some want a huge slice all at once. It’s a calorie-free fun read and provides a slice of life off the main road, West Virginia style.

Don’t read these books!

What do these three books have in common?

twilightto-kill-a-mockingbird colorpurple

Someone, somewhere, doesn’t want you to read them. They’re on the American Library Association’s annual list of the 10 most “challenged books” by parents and educators. The list was released Wednesday.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Color Purple” are mainstays on this list: both because of language, “The Color Purple” because of its sexual content and “To Kill a Mockingbird” because of racism issues.

The “Twilight” books, of course, have been all over the news for the past couple of years. There’s some sexual content that some people object to, but an official with the ALA thinks the books tap into a “general unease with supernatural stories,” according to The Associated Press.

“Vampire novels have been a target for years and the ‘Twilight’ books are so immensely popular that a lot of the concerns people have had about vampires are focused on her books,” says Barbara Jones, director of the association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

For the first time in a while, though, none of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are on the list.

Flying with Amelia Earhart?

earhartSome time back, I was boarding a small airplane for the short run to Cincinnati and noted that the baggage handler bore a striking resemblance to Amelia Earhart, the famous American pilot and explorer.

Taking my seat, and awaiting the start of the engines, I was startled to see that same young woman enter the cockpit and take her seat on the right-hand side, indicating that she would be the copilot for the trip. It was not so much that she was a very young woman, but that she loaded baggage that caused my fascination.

In those days, prior to 9/11, the cockpit door was often left open, and since I like to watch pilots at work, I took great pleasure in a clear view of the excellent co-pilot managing the take-off, and then the landings at Parkersburg and Cincinnati. I am sure that in the intervening 20 years, she has been a fine pilot, and I would fly with this woman any time.

Would I fly with such confidence if Amelia Earhart were at the controls?

earhartbookPerhaps Earhart is now largely unknown to the American public. She should be known, and Susan Wels, the author of “Amelia Earhart: The Thrill of It,” should also be known to a wide public. Susan Wels has given us a well written and beautifully illustrated story of Amelia, her husband and others who were part of her many adventures.

In the 1930s she set many records for long-distance flights. Amelia was making an around the world trip when she and her Lockheed Electra were lost in the Pacific in 1937 and was widely known, praised, and sometimes scorned.

As one with a particular interest in the history of transportation, I picked up this book from the new books section of the South Charleston Public Library, with a thought that its 200 illustrations, consisting of photographs, copies of documents, and reproductions of personal letters would be a quick read, requiring little time. I would look at the pictures, and put this slightly oversized book on the “finished” stack.

But, no. Susan Wels’ text is exciting and reasonably comprehensive enough to gain personal insight into the life of a woman who not only was her own person, but also pressed by her husband George Putnam (of the publishing house G. P. Putnam’s Sons) to take more and more risks. Flying is an expensive venture. Amelia Earhart needed money. The way to make money was to take risky flights and then to give public lectures about her adventures. She was billed as the Lady Lindy, even taking some fashion cues from the uniforms worn by trans Atlantic air hero Charles A. Lindbergh.

One could gather from Wels that Earhart was perhaps not always well prepared for her risky trips. She had limited training in flying by reference to instruments only, which in the ’30s was a relatively new art. Her navigator on her last trip, Fred Noonan, was one of the best in the world, but often negatively affected by heavy use of alcohol. She did not know Morse code, needed in those days for accurate long distance radio reception.

This book belongs in all libraries, including ones related to schools. One need not take Earhart’s risks, but certainly young women and men can gain inspiration from this volume.

Would I fly with Amelia? My answer is that I would, if the trip was not across great oceans, or over high mountain peaks. On my many trips by air in the past, I always looked for a place the plane might land.