West Virginia Book Festival

Meet the Author: Dean King

Dean King
Photo © Rachel Cobb

Author and historian Dean King takes a new look at the Hatfield and McCoy feud in his latest book, “The Feud: The Hatfields and McCoys.” King’s book breaks new ground with quotes from contemporary newspaper accounts and other information that was not available when Otis K. Rice wrote The Hatfields and the McCoys in 1982. King’s account traces the conflict back to the 1850s when the families intermarried and lived peacefully and shows multiple causes for the vendetta.

King is the award-winning author of 10 books. He will speak at Elk Valley Branch Library on Monday, June 3, at 6:30 p.m., and sign books after the presentation. Copies of the book will be available for purchase from West Virginia Book Company. Refreshments will be served.

This project is being presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any view, findings, conclusions or recommendations do not necessarily represent those of the West Virginia Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Three days and counting

Every year, as the West Virginia Book Festival approaches (and it’s just three days away now), it gets harder and harder to keep track of everyone who’s going to be there and everything they’re going to be doing. Consider this a small sampler of events that have come to our attention recently:

| Logan County-based Woodland Press will debut two anthologies at the festival: “Fed From The Blade: Tales and Poems from the Mountains,” co-edited by Cat Pleska and Michael Knost; and “Hills Of Fire: Bare-Knuckle Yarns of Appalachia,” edited by Frank Larnerd. Pleska and Larnerd will be signing books at the West Virginia Book Company booth in the festival’s marketplace on both Saturday and Sunday, and several other writers featured in the anthologies will be there and at the Books-A-Million booth.

| James Casto writes in the Herald-Dispatch about John Billheimer, a West Virginia expatriate with a new series of baseball-themed mysteries, and says he’ll be at the Book Festival on Saturday (although I’m not sure exactly when on Saturday).

| The Sunday Gazette-Mail had plenty of Book Festival preview coverage. In addition to Kathryn Gregory’s interview with the vampire author Charlaine Harris, there was a condensed version of my Q&A with “Big Band Jazz in Black West Virginia” author Christopher Wilkinson and an editorial laying out for people what awaits them at the festival. The print edition of Sunday’s paper also contained the annual schedule and marketplace map, a must for serious festival-goers. But if you didn’t get one, don’t panic. There will be plenty available at the festival. (And look for a few more Book Festival-related stories between now and the weekend.)

| Creative writing faculty members from West Virginia Wesleyan’s master’s of fine arts program (started by late West Virginia poet laureate Irene McKinney) will read at Taylor Books in Charleston at 6 p.m. on Friday. New program director Jessie van Eerden will be there, along with prose writers Richard Schmitt and Eric Waggoner and poets Mark Defoe and Doug Van Gundy. It’s not technically part of the festival, but they say it’s being held in conjunction with the festival, so OK.

Iconic New Deal photos collected in new book

Betty Rivard

After a 25-year career as a social worker and planner for the state, Betty Rivard became an award-winning professional fine art landscape photographer. When she discovered more than 1,600 photographs that were taken in West Virginia by 10 government photographers on the Library of Congress website, she was inspired to share these photographs and their story. The resulting book is “New Deal Photographs of West Virginia, 1934-1943,” published by West Virginia University Press.

Rivard will speak about the process of creating her book and present some of the most iconic images in the collection during her talk at the West Virginia Book Festival on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 10 a.m. Her program is sponsored by West Virginia University Press.

Rivard has a  photography business, West Virginia Homeplace, and two part-time jobs: secretary for the WV House of Delegates and producer of the FestivALL Charleston art fairs. She lives in Braxton County.

Charlaine Harris, best-selling urban fantasy novelist; Craig Johnson, author of the “Longmire” series of mystery novels; Dan Chaon, former National Book Award finalist; and Tamora Pierce, author of 28 fantasy novels for teens, have already been announced as part of the line-up for the festival, which will be held Oct. 13 and 14 at the Charleston Civic Center. The annual, two-day event celebrates books and reading and offers something for all age groups. A variety of authors will attend, participating in book signings, readings, workshops and lectures. Activities for children include special programs and a section of the Marketplace filled with children’s activities. Admission to the festival is free.

The event is presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail and is sponsored by The Martha Gaines and Russell Wehrle Memorial Foundation; Pamela D. Tarr and Gary Hart; the Friends of The Library Foundation of Kanawha County; West Virginia Library Commission and West Virginia Center for the Book; BB&T West Virginia Foundation; Books-A-Million; and William Maxwell Davis. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

Mastering the art of reading about Julia Child

For someone who hasn’t cooked all that much in his life, I have read a lot about Julia Child.

Child — who was born on this date 100 years ago – was, as most of you know, did more than anyone to teach Americans of the mid- and late 20th century how to seriously cook. She did it with her cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” and her PBS television show, “The French Chef.” Child also lived long enough (she died in 2004 at age 91) to see the dawn of the Food Network and a cornucopia of TV cooking shows, and enjoyed something of a renaissance in the public eye.

I’m not sure how I ended up with a copy of her 1997 authorized biography, “Appetite for Life” by Noel Riley Fitch, on my shelf in the early 2000s (I was raiding used bookstores pretty indiscriminately around then). But the Child biography was there one day, and I read it. It was interesting, and I learned a lot about her that I didn’t know before. The key phrase there is a lot; I remember the book being very long, and very dense; it sometimes seemed that names, dates and other information were just being thrown at the reader, rather than being woven into a story.

But I also remember the part that interested me the most: the post-World War II years, when Julia and her husband, Paul, lived in Paris — and Julia learned to cook. So when her memoir of those years, “My Life In France,” came out in 2006, I gave it a shot. Definitely worth it; the book (finished by Julia’s nephew, Alex Prud’homme, after she died) is, as William Grimes said in The New York Times, an “exuberant, affectionate and boundlessly charming account” of her transformation from clueless American in Paris to expert on all things culinary and French. (“My Life In France” also formed the basis for the Julia Child half of the movie “Julie and Julia.”)

That probably would have been the end of my Julia Child reading — except that in late 2010, a collection of letters between Child and one of her great friends, Avis DeVoto, was published. In recent years, I have become fascinated with books of letters (but that’s another post). So I picked up “As Always, Julia,” edited by culinary historian Joan Reardon.

The story of how Julia Child and Avis DeVoto “met” seems like a plot device in a novel. Bernard DeVoto, Avis’ husband, was a columnist for Harper’s magazine. In one issue, he lamented the poor quality of kitchen knives in the United States. Julia, a regular reader, sent him a note and a couple of knives she bought at her local store in Paris. Avis answered the letter. Over the course of several years, the two progressed from polite acknowledgement to soul-baring friendship — despite not meeting in person until years after their first correspondence. (If you’ve seen “Julie and Julia,” Avis is the friend who Julia finally meets in Boston toward the end of the movie.)

For anyone who’s really interested in Child’s life and career, “As Always, Julia” is a must. But it’s also a fascinating look at American political discourse in the 1950s, as seen by two women who were planted firmly on the left side of the political spectrum. Their letters are full of gossip and speculation about Joseph McCarthy, Adlai Stevenson, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, among many others.

As you might expect, the landmark birthday has prompted a handful of new books. There’s a new biography, “Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child,” by Bob Spitz, which is every bit as big as the Fitch biography. Reviews seem good so far; Kirkus Review called it “an engrossing biography of a woman worthy of iconic status.” If that’s too much to handle, there’s a 48-page illustrated biography by Jessie Hartland called “Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child,” and a children’s picture book about Julia and her cat, “Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat.”

So if you want to mark Julia Child’s centenary, there are plenty of literary options. Or, you could just opt to make some boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin, or anything else that sounds good. Whatever you do, just remember Julia’s advice, given when flipping potato pancakes on an early episode of “The French Chef”: you have to have the courage of your convictions. Bon appetit.

West Virginia Day — that’s today — is, by its very nature, a chance for residents to reflect on the history of their state. The West Virginia University Press and the West Virginia Humanities Council have joined forces to preserve some of that history.

Last fall, they published the first two volumes in the West Virginia Classics series: “West Virginia” by J.R. Dodge and “The Shenandoah” by Julia Davis, both with new introductions.

What is the West Virginia Classics series? The WVU Press is glad you asked:

The West Virginia Classics series republishes editions of treasured literary and historical works. This rediscovery of classic texts reveals the culture and diversity of West Virginia while speaking to a new generation of readers who desire to explore the story of the Mountain State.  The highly designed editions of West Virginia Classics clear a delightful path to the past, helping citizens of all ages discover and rediscover the history, culture, and diversity of West Virginia.

“Highly designed” may sound like some fancy sales pitch, but I’ve got the first two volumes in the series, and they’re some nice-looking books.

| “West Virginia: Its Farms and Forests, Mines and Oil-Wells” by J.R. Dodge, the first statistician for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to the introduction by Kenneth Bailey, professor emeritus and former dean at WVU Tech, the book’s genesis came after information about the “agricultural status and prospects” of the newly formed state was published by the USDA in 1864. Bailey says the report “stimulated a huge demand for more information,” which led to Dodge’s book, first published in 1865.

Dodge’s book contains several lists and tables, which are no doubt of use to serious historical researchers, and of passing interest to many general readers. But the real pleasure for many West Virginia readers will be the glimpse of the state as it first coalesced. He gives a survey of the state’s various regions: residents, history, topography, industry, natural resources.

It’s far from dispassionate history; it was the end of the Civil War, after all, and there’s no shortage of that flavor from Dodge, a New Hampshire native and a civil servant in the Lincoln administration. (On his very first page, Dodge writes of the “humbling of the pride of Virginia secession.) But that only adds to the period atmosphere of the book. Dodge’s snapshot of West Virginia as it became a state is often fascinating.

| The second of the West Virginia Classics — “The Shenandoah” by Julia Davis — was originally published as part of another series: the landmark “Rivers of America,” which spanned decades and relied on authors and poets, rather than historians and geographers, to tell the story of the great rivers of the United States.

Davis — the daughter of John W. Davis, West Virginia’s only major presidential candidate — was the author of more than two dozen books, both fiction and nonfiction. She was recommended to write about the Shenandoah River (and Valley) by poet Stephen Vincent Benet, one of the editors of the Rivers of America series, according to the new introduction by nature writer, poet and former Shenandoah Valley resident Christopher Camuto. As Camuto writes:

The heart of “The Shenandoah” is Julia Davis’ engaging account of the role the Valley played in American history from early European exploration in the late seventeenth century through the tragedy of the Civil War and the pains of reconstruction.

In October (just in time for the West Virginia Book Festival), the third book in the series will be published — and like “The Shenandoah,” it’s a section of a larger series that is particularly germane to West Virginia.

“History of the American Negro: West Virginia Edition,” by A.B. Caldwell, was first published in 1923. Caldwell edited and published seven volumes of the series, consisting of biographical sketches of prominent, and sometimes not-so-prominent, black citizens of the day. The first two volumes focused on Georgia; future volumes encompassed South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington, D.C. West Virginia was the seventh and final volume of the series.

According to the description at the WVU Press website:

In a statement printed in the first volume of this series, Caldwell wrote that his intent in publishing this collection was neither “comprehensive nor exhaustive,” yet he was determined to shed light on the  “successful element unrecorded” of black Americans in the United States. … A resource for genealogists, historians, and citizens alike, this history provides a detailed account of the often overlooked lives of ordinary men and women.

The introduction for the new volume will be by Joe Trotter, professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University and author of, among other works, “Coal, Class and Color: Blacks in Southern West Virginia, 1915-1932.”

Who knows what the next part of the West Virginia Classics might be? Well, maybe you do. The WVU Press is soliciting suggestions for the series. So if you remember a book from your youth that taught you something about West Virginia’s history, let them know. And come to the marketplace at this fall’s West Virginia Book Festival, where the WVU Press has been a mainstay for years, and pick up a couple of West Virginia Classics.

Byrd historian to speak at Book Festival

David A. Corbin

David A. Corbin will present the Settle Session at the West Virginia Book Festival on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 10 a.m. at the Charleston Civic Center. The session is named in honor of the grande dame of West Virginia literature, Mary Lee Settle.

Corbin’s new book, “The Last Great Senator: Robert C. Byrd’s Encounters with Ten U.S. Presidents,” will be released in October. Byrd grew up in the coalfields of southern West Virginia to become the longest-serving U.S. senator in history. Corbin examines the Senator’s relationships with each President, from Eisenhower to Obama, and talks about his effect on major events during their administrations.

Corbin worked in the U.S. Senate for 26 years, 16 of which were for Sen. Byrd. Corbin’s work included serving on the leadership staffs of Senate Majority Leaders Byrd, George Mitchell and Tom Daschle. During his last 10 years in the Senate he served as the speech writer/historian for Byrd.

Dr. Corbin earned his bachelor and master’s degrees from Marshall University and his Ph.D. in history from the University of Maryland. He has written extensively on American social and labor history and American politics, and has published two books on the southern West Virginia coal miners. He has received state, regional and national awards for his writings.

Corbin joins best-selling urban fantasy novelist Charlaine Harris, West Virginia University music history professor Christopher Wilkinson, and children’s author Marilyn Sue Shank in the line-up for the festival, which will be held Oct. 13 and 14 at the Charleston Civic Center. The annual, two-day event celebrates books and reading and offers something for all age groups. A variety of authors will attend, participating in book signings, readings, workshops and lectures. Activities for children include special programs and a section of the Marketplace filled with children’s activities. Admission to the festival is free.

The event is presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, the West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail and is sponsored by The Martha Gaines and Russell Wehrle Memorial Foundation, Pam Tarr and Gary Hart, the Friends of The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, and Books-A-Million. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

Christopher Wilkinson

Christopher Wilkinson mined census records, newspaper articles, personal interviews and many other sources in researching his new book, “Big Band Jazz in Black West Virginia, 1930-1942.” The book illustrates the relationship between the coal industry and the short-lived heyday of big band jazz that occurred in the Mountain State during the Great Depression and early World War II.

Wilkinson will speak at the West Virginia Book Festival at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13, at the Charleston Civic Center. He will autograph books immediately after his talk.

Wilkinson is a professor of music history at West Virginia University. A jazz historian, he teaches courses on that subject at the university and has presented talks to the general public on jazz. He also wrote “Jazz on the Road: Don Albert’s Musical Life,” published by University of California Press in 2001. “Big Band Jazz” is published by University Press of Mississippi.

The West Virginia Music Hall of Fame’s traveling museum will be stationed in the Festival Marketplace, featuring some of the musicians mentioned in the book. The Hall of Fame is a non-profit organization dedicated to documenting and preserving the rich and lasting contributions West Virginians have made to all genres of music.

The 12th annual West Virginia Book Festival will be held Oct. 13 and 14. The two-day event celebrates books and reading and offers something for all age groups. A variety of authors will attend, participating in book signings, readings, workshops and panel discussions. Activities for children include special programs and a section of the Marketplace filled with children’s activities. Admission to the festival is free.

The event is presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, the West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail and is sponsored by The Martha Gaines and Russell Wehrle Memorial Foundation, Pam Tarr and Gary Hart and Books-A-Million. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

A roundup of recent award-winning books

It’s awards season when it comes to books (actually, one thing I’ve learned since doing this blog is it never stops being awards season). We talked a couple of times about Newbery Medal winner (and former West Virginia Book Festival headliner) Jack Gantos, and here’s a few honors that we didn’t mention when they happened.

| Earlier this month, the National Book Critics Circle came out with their annual awards, and one of the winners was profiled on this blog last year. Dawn Miller wrote about “Liberty’s Exiles” by Maya Jasanoff (the NBCC non-fiction winner) as part of an Independence Day weekend look at those colonists who stayed loyal to the British crown during the American Revolution.

Other NBCC awards included fiction winner Edith Pearlman for her short-story collection, “Binocular Vision”; biography winner John Lewis Gaddis for “George F. Keenan: An American Life”; and poetry winner Laura Kasischke for “Space, In Chains.”

| Pearlman was also a finalist for The Story Prize, one of the nation’s foremost prizes for short fiction. On Wednesday, that award went to Steven Millhauser, a former Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the great writers living today, for his collection “We Others.” (You know how we hear about Herman Melville’s failure as a writer during his lifetime, or how Vincent van Gogh couldn’t sell a painting to anybody, and we wonder how contemporary people could have been so dumb? In 100 years, people are going to wonder how everyday audiences of the late 20th/early 21st century didn’t give a lot more recognition to Steven Millhauser.)

BTW, Millhauser is also a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award, to be announced next week. The other finalists include some literary heavyweights: Don DeLillo, Russell Banks, Kiran Desai and Julie Otsuka. Of course, we here at WVBF:TB have a soft spot for this award, as it was founded by Mary Lee Settle, the “grande dame” of West Virginia literature.

| Teju Cole, who was a finalist for the NBCC fiction award, won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, given to a debut novelist, for “Open City.” The book is an open-air rumination by a Nigerian medical student as he wanders around New York City.

| Two books of regional interest to West Virginians were named co-winners of the Gilder Lehmann Lincoln Prize, given each year for a book (or other work) about Abraham Lincoln or the Civil War. One of them, “Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union” by William C. Harris, talks about Lincoln’s efforts to keep the border states, including Kentucky and Maryland, in the Union during the first three months of the war.

The other winner, “Lincoln’s Forgotten Ally” by Elizabeth D. Leonard, is a biography of Joseph Holt of Kentucky, who served as judge advocate general in Lincoln’s administration. Holt was, according to the book, a staunch Unionist surrounded by secessionists and a slave-owner who came to support emancipation.


Coming up: The Virginia Festival of the Book

The Virginia — that’s Virginia, not West Virginia — Festival of the Book is coming up later this month. A larger event than ours, it runs for five days and holds events all over the city of Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia.

It’s mostly free, but there are a few sessions that you have to pay to get into; one of those features former West Virginia University basketball great Jerry West (who, I am compelled to mention, was presented free a few months ago at your West Virginia Book Festival).

Other presenters from past West Virginia Book Festivals include mystery writer Sharyn McCrumb (one of our early headliners) and Affrilachian poet Frank X Walker. There are several events that might be of interest to regional historians, including a couple of programs tied to Charlottesville’s 250th anniversary and one called “Moonshine, Mountaineers, and Motorcycles: On the Crooked Road Then and Now.” That last includes Charles Thompson, the author of “Spirits of Just Men,” a book that tells the story of moonshine in 1930s America through the lens of Franklin County, Va. — which is about 50 miles southeast of Monroe County, W.Va.

Unlike last year, I won’t be going to the Virginia event. If I were, the one event I would not miss is the one that includes Chad Harbach reading from his debut novel, “The Art of Fielding” (which I’m partway through now).

The Virginia Festival of the Book runs from March 21 to 25. If you love reading and writing and you’re looking to spend a day or two in a beautiful city with like-minded people. I highly recommend it — just like I’d recommend that denizens of the mother state take a day or two in October and come check out our event.

Year-end lists: A look in the mirror

The end of the year brings many things: holidays, cold weather, resolutions for the coming year … and lists. Lots of lists, the best and worst of the past year. Books are no exception — and even though the year’s last month has just begun, the lists are already coming out. Publishers Weekly and Amazon.com were among the first, and after coming out with their annual list of notable books last week, The New York Times announced their choices for the ten best books of the year on Wednesday.

These lists are always a little bittersweet for me. I find a lot of good ideas for future reading in them, but they’re full of books that I haven’t read, and many that I’ll never find time to read.

But there’s usually at least one or two that I can point to and say, well, at least I read that.

This year’s top 10 list from the Times, though … I’m 0 for 10. Haven’t read a one.

Man, I hate that.

It’s not like I didn’t know any of them were out there; I’ve actually had “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach and “Swamplandia!” by Karen Russell checked out of the library, but I didn’t get them started. I planned to at least read at Christopher Hitchens’ latest collection of essays, and Amanda Foreman’s “A World On Fire,” about Britain’s role in the American Civil War, has been on my list since it came out.

But still: there are 10 books on the list, and I haven’t read any of them. I find that depressing.

Just one bright spot: Including today, there are 31 days left in the year. Still time to crack a couple of them open.