West Virginia Book Festival

Louise McNeill exhibit opens Saturday

Louise McNeill. Photo from the West Virginia State Archives, via the West Virginia Encyclopedia.

As we prepare to open the month of West Virginia’s statehood sesquicentennial, what better way than with a salute to a former West Virginia poet laureate?

On Saturday, the West Virginia Folklife Center at Fairmont State University will premiere its exhibit remembering Louise McNeill during its Friends of Folklife Gala, from 4 to 10 p.m. McNeill served as poet laureate from 1979 until her death in 1993.

It’s fitting that the Folklife Center recognize McNeill. For one, she used to teach there when it was plain old Fairmont State College (as well as at West Virginia University, Concord College and Potomac State College). For another, the West Virginia literary map put together by those at the Folklife Center is titled “From A Place Called Solid” — a reference from McNeill’s memoir, “The Milkweed Ladies.”

Judy Byers, the center’s director, told West Virginia Public Radio’s Ben Adducchio about the choice:

“That is what I think the writers of West Virginia, be they poets, novelists, be they historical non-fiction writers, I think that is one of the strong, thematic undercurrents that you will find in their writing …  A place called solid, a place where the values are rich and sincere. A place where out of struggle, out of friction, out of suffering, has come a great state.”