West Virginia Book Festival

Bud Perry and “Reopening Glen Rogers”

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Bud Perry was one of the first people I met when I came to the Gazette more than 15 years ago. He was a copy editor by that time, but he’d been many other things during his decades-long newspaper career in Charleston, Huntington and Beckley. He covered Ohio State sports as a reporter for the Herald-Dispatch, was a television analyst for Marshall University sports and received the key to the city from the Huntington mayor.

He was also an author: Bud and his friend, longtime state Senate assistant clerk Karl Lilly, wrote “Reopening Glen Rogers,” a history of the Wyoming County coal town where they grew up, in 1997. Every little West Virginia town should be so lucky, as to have a book like this written about it. The book’s opening paragraph captures the informal tone that Bud and Karl carried throughout:

If you were to attempt the seemingly insurmountable task of building a massive and complex industrial facility in one of the most remote hollow in all of Appalachia, a good name for the place would be Glen Rogers.

Former Gazette reporter Bob Schwarz wrote about the book when it came out:

Their book traces the rise and fall of a Wyoming County coal town, starting with the development of the mine in a remote hollow beginning in 1919. The town of Glen Rogers grew up around that mine, and soon a high school, too. Nine years after a bigger high school opened in 1951, the mine closed, and then 32 years after that, in 1992, the high school closed as well.

The authors, sons of miners themselves – their fathers later became Baptist pastors – grew up in Glen Rogers and went to high school there. They gathered their material through interviews and archival research. Lilly says he sifted through tens of thousands of pieces of paper, some of it in cardboard cartons.

The book devotes one major chapter to the mine’s longtime superintendent Joseph Wesley Marland, and another to his son Bill, who became West Virginia’s governor at 34. The governor, married and the father of four children, later battled alcoholism, drove a taxi in Chicago, and died at 47 of pancreatic cancer.

“Reopening Glen Rogers” also chronicles the deaths – 160 in all – of the people who mined the coal. Twenty-seven men died in an explosion in 1923, but most of the men died in accidents which claimed one life at a time. Few years went by without a death, and the annual toll was often three, four or five.

Among many other subjects in the book, there’s also mention of a huge basketball rivalry in 1962-63 between Glen Rogers High School (Bud’s alma mater) and Conley High School, the traditionally black high school in Wyoming County. Despite the efforts of a senior named “Buddy Perry” in the book, Glen Rogers could only split two games with Conley during the regular season, then lost to Conley again in the playoffs.

I didn’t know, or had forgotten, some of this until I read it over the past couple of days. Bud died on Sunday; he’d been retired for nearly a decade, after heart bypass surgery. He was one of the old-time newspapermen, and I remember a conversation with him not long after I’d moved from the Gazette’s copy desk to the reporting side of the paper. In so many words, he told me he was sorry to see me go. “Not a lot of people get newspapers,” he said. “You get it.”

I have rarely valued a compliment more. Because Bud Perry absolutely got it.

Bethany professor wins British mystery award

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Ever since it was released in April, I’ve been hearing about Bethany College professor Wiley Cash and his debut novel, “A Land More Kind Than Home.” A few people have told me how good it is, and I’ve read some other hosannas for it, but I just hadn’t picked it up yet.

Well, I’m gonna pick it up now.

Late last week, “A Land More Kind Than Home” won the Crime Writers Association’s New Blood Dagger Award. Named after John Creasey, the founder of the British crime writers group, the award goes to the best novel by a previously unpublished writer. The previous winners include some pretty well-known names: Patricia Cornwell, Janet Evanovich, Walter Mosley and Gillian Flynn, to name a few. (Oh, and it also comes with a thousand pounds, which would be $1,602 under the exchange rate on Sunday.)

The novel is the story of two boys in western North Carolina — mute Christopher Hall and his precocious younger brother, Jess — and is told by three narrators: Jess, midwife Adelaide Lyle and sheriff Clem Barefield.

In their citation of Cash’s book, the CWA judges called it “a potent mix of religion, fundamentalism and murder in America’s Deep South … a powerfully written study of the places religious fanaticism can lead you.” That’s just the latest accolade for “A Land More Kind Than Home,” which The New York Times called an “intensely felt and beautifully told story” and NPR called “great, gothic Southern fiction.”

Cash’s reaction to the award, as recorded by the CWA? “As an American writer, it’s a shock and a real honour to win an award in a genre with such a proud British tradition.” (He was in London for the awards ceremony, so he put that U in honor.) If you want to hear him talk about the book, there’s a video from his publisher on YouTube.

Theodore Roosevelt, literary man?: UPDATED

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You thought the literary events in Charleston had ended with last weekend’s Book Festival? Not hardly.

Next week, Pulitzer Prize-winning Theodore Roosevelt biographer Edmund Morris will be in town to deliver the West Virginia Humanities Council’s annual McCreight Lecture. The lecture, “The Nine Lives of Theodore Roosevelt,” starts at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 25 at the state Culture Center.

Morris is probably our current leading authority on Roosevelt. His book “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt won the Pulitzer in 1980, and he’s followed that up with “Theodore Rex” (2001) and “Colonel Roosevelt” (2010).

The Gazette’s Doug Imbrogno talked with Morris recently, and asked him several questions about his nearly two decades researching our 26th president — including this one:

It’s hard to briefly summarize all TR (as Roosevelt was nicknamed) did with his life in the 60 years from his birth in 1858 to dying in his sleep of heart failure in 1919.

A sickly child, he reinvented himself as a vigorous governor of New York, a New York City police commissioner, an assistant secretary of the Navy, a colonel in the Rough Riders, a rancher in the Badlands and sheriff’s deputy in the Dakota Territory, a founder of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, a Nobel Prize winner, a vice president, and then a reform-minded president of the United States who almost single-handedly created the modern conservation movement.

Given all that, what did Morris learn during his long research on Roosevelt that surprised him?

“What surprised me — how funny he was, number one,” he said. “He had this delicious, lifelong sense of humor. And secondly, what I discovered in the last volume was how literary he was.”

Roosevelt authored about 40 books and wrote something like 150,000 letters, which recalls another notable world figure whose life straddled the 19th and 20th centuries — Winston Churchill.

“Roosevelt and Churchill are a very good comparison in being men of action, politicians and statesmen, and men of letters,” said Morris.

You can read the rest of the Edmund Morris interview in this Sunday’s Gazette-Mail.

UPDATE: Here’s the full interview.

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I can’t believe I forgot to put this in my earlier post about the just-completed West Virginia Book Festival. But I did, so here it is now:

Dan Chaon (left) and Ray Bradbury

Dan Chaon (author of “Stay Awake,” “Await Your Reply,” etc.) was talking about how he became a writer, and about his boyhood in a tiny town in western Nebraska. He wrote letters to several writers, and one of them wrote back — Ray Bradbury, one of the true giants of science fiction and the American short story in the 20th century.

Here’s video of Chaon in an interview with CBS, talking about Bradbury’s advice to him.

Bradbury, of course, died earlier this year at the age of 91. About a month after his death, “Shadow Show,” an anthology of stories inspired by him and written by a wide array of some terrific authors, was published. Chaon’s contribution is titled “Little America”; a review in the Los Angeles Review of Books called it one of the best stories in the collection and said:

Dan Chaon’s “Little America,” for example, is a grim tale of a boy apparently being abducted by a sinister adult in a brutal post-apocalyptic America — until we learn the boy’s true nature and the abductor’s true motives. There’s virtually no echo of Bradbury-style prose here, but there’s an acute understanding of the sensibility of a strange child in a strange and violent world

Besides Chaon, authors in the book include Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Audrey Niffenegger, Dave Eggers and Harlan Ellison, as well as the man himself, Bradbury.

Also included is a story from Julia Keller, Huntington native and longtime Chicago Tribune writer, whose first novel came out earlier this year. Keller’s story, called “Hayleigh’s Dad,” was described in the LARB review as “a tale of childhood friendship that turns dark in the manner of some of Bradbury’s atmospheric early horror tales.”

What I learned at the W.Va. Book Festival

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Charlaine Harris (right) autographs a book for Jessica Bennett of Cross Lanes during the 2012 West Virginia Book Festival on Saturday. Photo by Chip Ellis

 My favorite thing that I learned over the past weekend at this year’s West Virginia Book Festival? I think it’s a tie:

| Dan Chaon, a National Book Award finalist and generally fantastic author, first began to hone his writing skills at 7 or 8 years old in a tiny western Nebraska town. He knew about TV shows such as “Bewitched” and “The Brady Bunch,” but his family’s TV aerial antenna didn’t pick them up — so he would write his own episodes for them.

| Rahul Mehta‘s appearance at the festival was his first as a published author anywhere in his home state. (A childhood friend and his seventh-grade English teacher were among those who came to hear him on Sunday.)

A few of the other things I saw and learned over the weekend (keeping in mind that there’s so much going on, it’s impossible to attend every session):

| Charlaine Harris is a very nice woman.

| Harris’ fans luuuuuuuvvvvvvvv her. Seriously. There were fewer fans there for her than for Nicholas Sparks a couple of years ago, but I’m giving the overall love-per-fan title to Harris’ readers.

| Craig Johnson is hilarious. His speech is probably the funniest I’ve heard an author give at the festival. He even got Mike Albert, chairman of the Kanawha County Public Library board, to wear his cowboy boots and show them off to a room full of people, twice.

Kanawha County Public Library board chairman Mike Albert, Karan Ireland of the library, Craig Johnson and his wife, Judy Johnson, model their boots before Johnson’s appearance at the West Virginia Book Festival on Saturday. Photo via Susan Maguire

| Johnson carries a C&O railroad watch with him, as a reminder of his early years in West Virginia.

| Marc Harshman, West Virginia’s new poet laureate, is going to be fairly energetic in his post. He gave a reading on Sunday that had people in the audience buzzing afterward.

| Harshman said that his stolid Midwestern farmer father used to read him “When The Frost Is On The Punkin” by James Whitcomb Riley — which Harshman acknowledged many in his audience would probably consider close to doggerel. But as a boy, he said, it taught him that language could sing.

| WVU music professor Christopher Wilkinson, author of “Big Band Jazz in Black West Virginia,” and his former graduate assistant, West Virginia State University music professor David Williams, used to try to guess which century a random piece of music came from — or, if they were feeling confident, which decade.

| The first minutes of the Kanawha library’s used book sale, which have verged on chaotic in some years, weren’t as frenzied this year. There were still hundreds of people lined up waiting for the doors to open, and they poured in and grabbed a lot of books in a hurry, but they weren’t nearly as determined as I’ve seen. Or maybe they were just nicer.

| Reaction in the festival marketplace seemed a little mixed. Some vendors said they had good traffic and sales; others were a little disappointed. The WVU football game helped reduce numbers late Saturday afternoon (and I think everyone Mountaineer fan who watched that game would have had a better time at the festival).

| Pop-up books have been around since the 1200s, and Robert Sabuda incorporates techniques from that and subsequent eras into his work.

| Every year, it seems, there’s one session that surprises me with how well it’s attended. The Sabuda session was this year’s surprise. There were probably a couple of hundred or more adults and kids watching and listening to him, and they were rapt.

| Betty Rivard‘s book of New Deal photographs of West Virginia, which should be out in a few weeks, will have something of interest for just about anyone concerned with the history of the Mountain State.

I heard others speak well of the sessions I didn’t attend: Tamora Pierce; Marc Tyler Nobleman; David Corbin; Tamera Alexander, Lynn Austin and Julie Klassen; Sarah Dooley; Don Teter; and the West Virginia Storytelling Guild.

But what I heard most often, from a couple of authors and from several festival-goers, was just how much they enjoyed it, and how fortunate this area is to have an annual event like the West Virginia Book Festival. That’s a sentiment I couldn’t agree with more, and the festival workers and volunteers who make it all happen deserve more credit than I can possibly give them in a single blog post.

So the 2012 festival is in the books. It wasn’t perfect — what is? — but I’d call it a success. The Book Festival blog continues year-round; keep checking here for other reading-related news for West Virginia. As for next year’s festival, you can check the blog and the official website for developments.

You can also mark you calendars now:

Book memories, old and new, at the used book sale

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Early on in the children’s book section of the used book sale at the West Virginia Book Festival on Saturday.

I made a pass through the children’s section of the Kanawha County Public Library’s used book sale Saturday morning because you never know what you’ll find.

I found a worn but serviceable hardback copy of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson, the funniest Christmas book ever (and deep and moving). Already have an adequate paperback. Put it back.

Grown-ups shuffled along, heads and lower backs bent to the task of sifting for fiction and non-fiction treasure. Kids wiggled in between, forming an inner line along each table, like the front row along a parade route. One girl weaved fearlessly in and out of the formation.  She examined and gathered items from the picture book table and carried them neatly to a distant box her mom was filling. They looked like they were stocking up for the winter. Other families did the same. They piled books into their strollers and carts and other load-bearing vehicles. One boy nabbed every volume in the Dragonball  series that he saw. Another pulled two books out of a lineup of early chapter books, slipped them deftly into his father’s shopping bag without distracting Dad from his own browsing, and went back to the precise spot where he had left off as if it were bookmarked. A preschooler pulled a book out of a pile and sung out triumphantly, “Toy Story!” Adults laughed, but didn’t look up.

At the big kids book table, an older woman carefully turned over every Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew book one by one. I saw “White Fang” and “Gulliver’s Travels,” and I’m pretty sure the exact edition of the Classics Illustrated “Black Beauty” that I read in third or fourth grade. I opened  Anna Sewell’s 1877 classic:

The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it. Some shady trees leaned over it, and rushes and water-lilies grew at the deep end. Over the hedge on one side we looked into a plowed field, and on the other we looked over a gate at our master’s house, which stood by the roadside; at the top of the meadow was a grove of fir trees, and at the bottom a running brook overhung by a steep bank.

While I was young I lived upon my mother’s milk, as I could not eat grass. In the daytime I ran by her side, and at night I lay down close by her. When it was hot we used to stand by the pond in the shade of the trees, and when it was cold we had a nice warm shed near the grove.

Yep. Still a classic.

I really don’t need any more books. The crowd was thick and intent at this hour. It was time for me to get to a 10 a.m. program, so I backed off my browse. As the children’s books disappeared behind me, I heard a gruff man’s voice exult, “Stone Soup!”

Abra Sabuda!

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We haven’t seen much of pop-up book wizard Robert Sabuda here on the blog in the run-up to the West Virginia Book Festival. Honestly, it is pretty difficult to describe the magic of opening one of his books and getting Peter Pan’s cloud-level view of London, or seeing a deck of cards appear to flick through the air. Here, watch this video:

Robert Sabuda’s Beauty and the Beast

That should give you some idea of the experience. Then you can come see for yourself. Sabuda appears at the Book Festival at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

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West Virginia is one of the least-diverse states in the nation. Those are the facts. So it’s a little surprising that an acclaimed gay Indian-American writer would hail from here.

But here comes Rahul Mehta, native of Parkersburg and author of the short-story collection “Quarantine.” Mehta’s characters not only have to deal with the usual prejudice that gay people face in America, or the culture clash that first- or second-generation Americans face when their new American ideas come up against their families’ cultural mores; they face a combination of the two. Their parents and grandparents are from a country where homosexuality is viewed much more harshly than it is here (although things have become more open in recent years, frank talk about sexual issues is still discouraged in much of India, and homosexuality was decriminalized there less than three years ago).

The title story, “Quarantine,” involves at least one location familiar to many state residents. The narrator and his boyfriend come to visit the narrator’s family in West Virginia, and they take a day trip to “a town seventy miles up the Ohio River, famous for three things: ancient Indian burial mounds, after which the town is named; a state penitentiary; and a large Hare Krishna commune.”

(Hmmmmm, a town named after mounds …)

Mehta’s narrator says he and his family used to visit the commune when he was a boy:

“It is beautiful, set atop a hill with views of the river valley. There is a temple and a Palace of Gold. My family went a couple of times a year to worship. In those days, there were no Hindu temples nearby, and my father figured the Hare Krishnas were the next best thing. But my mom was wary. She thought they were weird.”

When the men get to the town, though, some things are different:

“The Hare Krishnas own the whole hill, including the road. It is in such bad condition, I have to drive extra slowly. The sign for the temple is so faded I almost miss it. Once there were cows on the green hills and white men with shaved heads wearing necklaces made of tulsi beads, and women in saris with hiking boots and heavy coats in the winter. Now the hills are empty. Many of the houses are boarded up. The cows are gone.”

Mehta returns to the Mountain State this weekend, at the West Virginia Book Festival. He’ll read from “Quarantine” at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.

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It is upon us. The 2012 West Virginia Book Festival is this weekend.

Here on WVBF:TB, we’ve tried over the last several months — and particularly over the past few weeks — to let you know why you ought to come to the Book Festival, and what you should look for once you get there.

We’ve talked with supernatural mystery author Charlaine Harris about meeting fans, and suggested audiobooks as a way to get to know Sookie Stackhouse and her crew. “Longmire” series author Craig Johnson talked about how he didn’t begin writing until he was in his 40s. We’ve had reviews of works by Marc Tyler Nobleman and Lynn Austin, and we’ve talked about the awesomeness of Dan Chaon and Tamora Pierce. WVU music professor Christopher Wilkinson talked about a forgotten musical subculture in West Virginia, and Rahul Mehta set the title story of his collection about growing up gay and Indian-American in the Mountain State. And … and …

(sigh)

Look, the fact is, we could write a couple of posts every day and not tell you about all the cool stuff at the West Virginia Book Festival. Between the programs and book-signings, and the Word Play area for kids, and the used book sale, and the plethora of vendors throughout the marketplace, there’s practically guaranteed to be something that appeals to you.

There’s only one way to find out. See you at the Civic Center. (And we might blog a little during the festival, but a bunch of people will be on Twitter talking about it. So join in, and use the hashtag #wvbookfest)

Craig Johnson: Better late than never

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In Thursday’s Charleston Gazette, Bill Lynch talks with Craig Johnson, the Huntington native who graduated from Marshall University and basically lit out for the territories. He eventually settled in a Wyoming town with 25 people and wrote a mystery series starring Sheriff Walt Longmire (now the basis for an A&E television series).

The whole interview is a good read (and if you can, you’ll want to pick up the print edition to see Kyle Slagle’s Western-themed design). Among the topics Johnson covers is how he came to writing relatively late:

The 51-year-old said he’d always wanted to write, but he didn’t really get started until he was in his 40s.

“I ran out of excuses,” he laughed — not that he necessarily regretted waiting until later in life.

Life had to happen before he was ready to write.

“I think one of the biggest mistakes a lot of writing students make is that they get these magnificent degrees in writing, and they don’t have any life experience to write about,” he said. “I don’t know about you, but if I read another novel about a novelist trying to write another novel about a novelist trying to write a novel, I’m going to bang my head against a wall.”

Johnson said he was following in the footsteps of Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck: writers who had lives and saw things worth writing about.

“It took a while to find a story I thought was important enough that I had to tell it,” he said.

Johnson will address the question “How Many People Can You Kill in a Town of 25?” at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, at the West Virginia Book Festival.