West Virginia Book Festival

For the past three years, Debbie Null, librarian at Sherman High School in Seth, has taken advantage of Kanawha County Public Library’s annBooks in stack white background2 LoResual offer of free books for nonprofit organizations.

Each year, immediately after the library’s annual used book sale (scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 19, this year), representatives from nonprofit organizations are permitted to comb through the leftover books and use them in any manner that benefits the group’s mission.

Null initially heard about the program from her friend Scott Blake. At the time, she was the librarian for Van Junior/Senior High School, and Blake knew that she needed books for her library. That year she scored about 10 boxes of books. When she moved to Sherman High two years ago, she continued participating in the program to rebuild that library’s collection.

She mostly gets nonfiction because “fiction sells out pretty quickly,” she said. And that works in her favor because “the common core standards have changed, and the new standards place greater emphasis on nonfiction,” she said.

Her trips to Charleston have resulted in a stronger, more up-to-date collection at Sherman, and that helps her students do better work. “Access to better, more current information makes their research more valid,” she said.

Null plans her expedition by evaluating her collection and assessing its weak areas. Then she makes sure to obtain a diagram of the book sale layout so she knows what areas to hit first. For the best results, “you need to do a little research before you get there,” she said.

She gets help in the form of a few teachers and community members. “They know our needs,” she said. And she brings her own truck to transport their finds back home to Seth.

She highly recommends the program to other nonprofit organizations who need books. “In today’s society, literacy is more important than ever. It is critical that people have access to books. The KCPL program has allowed numerous nonprofits – schools, community centers, literacy volunteers, service organizations and even jails –  to build collections that address their patrons’ needs,” Null said.

Nonprofit organizations may participate by calling Sandy Frercks at 304-343-4646, ext. 242. She’ll e-mail you a form, which must be returned no later than Sept. 6. You’ll need to provide a copy of your organization’s 501(c)3 or other proof of your nonprofit status and your own labor to pack and load the books into your vehicle. Additional instructions will be provided once you register.

Kanawha County Public Library cannot guarantee quantity, type or variety of the leftover books. Please note that Collector’s Corner materials are not included in this offer.

Scott McClanahan’s “Crapalachia”

In this author-provided photo, Scott McClanahan reads from “Crapalachia” in New York.

The people Scott McClanahan writes about probably wouldn’t read his new book.

“These people don’t read literary fiction,” McClanahan said in a recent interview with the Gazette’s Bill Lynch. “They might read the Gazette. … Maybe.”

That’s all right, because plenty of other people are reading Scott McClanahan’s book. He’s gotten a write-up in The New York Times, where Allison Glock calls his writing “miasmic, dizzying, repetitive” and says that trying to slow it down “would be like putting a doorstop in front of a speeding train.” He got excerpted in the Oxford American. In The Washington Post, Steve Donoghue compares him to Daniel Woodrell and Tom Franklin, which is pretty lofty company. Donoghue writes that “Crapalachia: A Biography of Place” — that’s McClanahan’s sort-of memoir about growing up in southern West Virginia — is “intelligent, atmospheric, raucously funny and utterly wrenching.”

The two largest figures in the book are McClanahan’s cerebral palsy-stricken Uncle Nathan and bigger-than-life Grandma Ruby, who knows death comes for her just like it comes for everyone else, and doesn’t find that frightening in the least. As Glock writes, “McClanahan describes how his grandmother Ruby would manifest a ‘look on her face like something terrible was going to happen to all of us one day. And you know what? It will . . . if not tonight, then the next night.'”

McClanahan, a Beckley resident who grew up in Greenbrier County, got degrees from Concord and Marshall and now teaches at New River Community College. He told Lynch that he doesn’t quite know what to make of all the attention over his book. “They’re always mentioning my accent in interviews,” he said.

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.”

New Pearl S. buck book coming in October

It’s been more than 40 years since Pearl Sydenstricker Buck, a native of Hillsboro in Pocahontas County and winner of the 1938 Nobel Prize for literature, died.

Thus, you would think the chances of reading something new by her would be nonexistent.

You would be wrong.

This week, Open Road Integrated Media announced that an unpublished manuscript, finished shortly before Buck’s death in 1973, will be published in October. The novel’s title is “The Eternal Wonder,” and it was found in a storage unit in Texas and returned to Buck’s family last year “for a small fee,” as The New York Times delicately puts it.

Open Road says the novel is “the coming-of-age story of a gifted young man whose search for meaning leads him to New York, England, Paris and a mission patrolling the demilitarized zone in Korea.”

Buck’s most famous book is “The Good Earth,” a story of Chinese farmers that was a huge critical and commercial success in the early 1930s. That was the second book she had published — and despite writing dozens more over the remaining decades of her life, she never matched her early success. Peter Conn, author of a well-received biography of Buck, told the Times that, with a few exception, the quality of her books started to slip in the 1940s.

So chances are, “The Eternal Wonder” will be a footnote in the Pearl Buck canon. But four decades after her death, that’s still enough to get excited about.

On the blog at the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace site, Michael Toler notes that the Kindle e-book version of the new book is already available for pre-order, and that any orders placed through the links on their site benefit the Hillsboro site.

One of the presenters at last year’s West Virginia Book Festival is up for one of the most prestigious awards in her field.

Marilyn Sue Shank’s novel, “Child of the Mountains,” is one of the three finalists in the Christy Awards’ young-adult category. The Christys (Christies?) are given for excellent in Christian-themed  fiction; they’re named after Christian author Catherine Marshall’s best-known work, the novel “Christy.”

Shank’s novel is set in 1950s West Virginia. The awards are announced June 24. Best of luck to her.

Susan Maguire, novelist

Susan Maguire, aka Sarah Title, and her novel “Kentucky Home.” Photo by Chip Ellis.

I don’t mind telling you, it’s been a little gloomy here on the West Virginia Book Festival blog lately. So it is a real, unalloyed pleasure to report some good news.

Readers of this blog may know one of our contributors, Susan Maguire, for her love of Judy Blume, her completely different love for Jack Reacher, or her always interesting and often hilarious thoughts on any number of subjects.

As of this past Thursday, you can know her as something else: a published novelist. Her first book, the romance novel “Kentucky Home,” has been published by Kensington Books under Susan’s nom de plume, Sarah Title.

Elizabeth Gaucher interviewed Susan for the Sunday Gazette-Mail about her “double life: mild-mannered librarian by day, steamy romance writer by night.” (About that: I wouldn’t say I know Susan well, but mild-mannered is not the first adjective that comes to mind.)

Anyway, Susan talks about her book, and being a romance novelist — and the difference, or lack thereof, between that and being a novelist in general:

“There is sort of a dismissal of all kinds of genre fiction — that it’s predictable and it’s not meaningful. I don’t like to compare it to literary fiction because I think that makes both kinds of writing come out losing. I think all kinds of reading are valuable,” she said.

“People are attracted to the romance formula because it’s comforting. But, in the right hands, it’s also interesting because you know you have to get from point A to point B, and there are a lot of different ways to get there.”

Kanawha library fundraiser set for Saturday

Kanawha County Public Library board member Cheryl Morgan fluffs up a “dress-up” wicker basket full of outfits and accessories for little girls. The basket will be among those sold at a silent auction at the library’s annual fundraiser on Saturday. Photo by Chip Ellis.

If you’re reading this, chances are you know that this year’s West Virginia Book Festival was cancelled because funding for the Kanawha County Public Library, the festival’s main sponsor, is likely to be severely cut by the members of the Kanawha County school board.

But a looming financial hit for the library means a lot more than no Book Festival in October. It could mean several libraries in the county will close completely. It could mean a lot of librarians and others will lose their jobs.

So what can you do? Well, if you’re in the Charleston area on Saturday — and if you’re one of those who believes that libraries are an important, even essential, part of the community — you can come to the library’s “A Tisket, A Tasket, A Literary Basket” fundraiser at 6 p.m. at the auditorium in the NiSource Gas Transmission building at 1700 MacCorkle Ave. S.E.

The annual event features a silent auction for themed baskets full of goodies, including at least one book in each basket. Gazette features editor Rosalie Earle wrote about preparations for the fundraiser a few weeks ago, and event chairwoman Cheryl Morgan told her that they already had 76 baskets — 11 more than they’ve ever had.

In past years, the fundraiser has been specifically for children’s programming, including children’s authors at the Book Festival. But Ghee Gossard, chairwoman of the Friends of The Library Foundation of Kanawha County (which puts on the event), told Rosalie, “We think it’s best that the library use their discretion as to where our money goes.”

You can check out many of the offerings at the library’s website. And maybe we’ll see you there on Saturday night.

Requiem: The West Virginia Book Festival

As you may have heard already, the West Virginia Book Festival scheduled for this October has been canceled. The Kanawha County Public Library board of directors decided Monday that they couldn’t support the festival this year — and despite the support of many others, the fact is that without the Kanawha library, there is no West Virginia Book Festival.

This year’s festival, which was scheduled for Oct. 19 and 20 at the Charleston Civic Center, would have been the 13th annual event. The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail, both charter presenters of the Book Festival, have coverage of Monday’s events.

The library board’s decision is a direct result of last month’s state Supreme Court decision, in which justices agreed that part of a special law that told the Kanawha County Board of Education to fund the Kanawha library — a law that, in some form, had stood for more than half a century — was unconstitutional.

The Kanawha school board — Jim Crawford, Becky Jordon, Bill Raglin, Robin Rector and Pete Thaw, who declared the library a parasite after the Supreme Court decision — had been trying to get out from under the library funding requirement for years.

The money was only about 1.25 percent of the Kanawha school board’s budget — but was 40 percent of the Kanawha library’s budget.

In light of that massive cut, I imagine it was a clear, if not easy, choice for the Kanawha library board of directors to eliminate funding for the Book Festival. If the money from the school board isn’t replaced in some way, much more draconian cuts to the Kanawha library system are on the horizon.

There are, of course, people and organizations besides the library and its workers who have helped make the Book Festival what it is. The West Virginia Humanities Council has been a charter sponsor, and the Gazette hosts this blog (the future of which is unclear, to say the least). Volunteers throughout the community have given their time and effort to the event over the years.

What’s so frustrating about this — well, there are lots of frustrating things about this — but one of them is that the Book Festival had really grown over the past few years. A few years ago, as people began to plan for the 10th edition of the festival, they felt that the event needed to grow, and to raise its profile.

A crowd of about 2,500 people gathered to hear Nicholas Sparks at the 2010 West Virginia Book Festival at the Charleston Civic Center. Photo by Vic Burkhammer.

The result was that Nicholas Sparks and Diana Gabaldon were brought in as headliners for the 2010 event. It was, by just about any measure, the most successful West Virginia Book Festival ever, and it was not close.

In the following years, 2011 headliners Lee Child and Jerry West and 2012 headliners Charlaine Harris and Craig Johnson may not have brought in Sparks-level crowds, but they lent the Book Festival a significant buzz.

I can’t tell you how many people I talked to at the Book Festival over the past few years, or interacted with on Twitter, who were genuinely surprised to find an event like the Book Festival in Charleston, or in West Virginia.

The Book Festival was the kind of event that politicians and other local leaders always bring up when they talk about making this a place where young, bright people want to live, and move to, and raise their kids — the kind of event that makes some people say, “Yes, this is a good place. This is a place I want to be.”

And now it’s gone.

State Poetry Out Loud finals this weekend

If this man is in town …

… it must be time for the state Poetry Out Loud finals.

That’s actor (and Beckley native) Chris Sarandon, who will be hosting the finals for the sixth straight year on Saturday. He’ll be joined by West Virginia poet laureate Marc Harshman and jazz duo Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola.

But since you can’t have finals without semifinals, those will be held on Friday. According to the state Division of Culture and History, there will be 30 high school students from 23 counties participating, and Charleston poet Crystal Good will be there. The top 10 students will advance to Saturday’s finals.

The state winner will get $200 and a trip to the national Poetry Out Loud finals at the end of April, and his or her school will get $500 to buy poetry books; the runner-up gets $100 and his or her school gets $200. Last year’s competition was won by Bruce McCuskey of Nitro High School.

Below is a list of participating students and their schools. If your local school isn’t involved, well, there’s always next year.

Aeesha Ranavaya, Cabell Midland High School, Cabell County

Dayja Legg, Capital High School, Kanawha County

Kristen Hensley, Chapmanville Regional High School, Logan County

Katherine Vandall, George Washington High School, Kanawha County

Levi Wells, Greenbrier West High School, Greenbrier County

Grace Pritt, Hurricane High School, Putnam County

Anna Rubenstein, Nitro High School, Kanawha County

Dallas Hopkins, Ripley High School, Jackson County

Tyler Hammack, Roane County High School, Roane County

Kaelyn Miragilotta, Sherman High School, Boone County

Jared Workman, Spring Valley High School, Wayne County

Peyton Humphreys, Wahama High School, Mason County

Caitlin Fowlkes, Winfield High School, Putnam County

Sarah Jones, Wirt County High School, Wirt County

Madeline Richmond, Woodrow Wilson High School, Raleigh County

Olivia Hrko, Bridgeport High School, Harrison County

Sabrina Dahlia, East Fairmont High School, Marion County

Zela Wyrosdick, Fairmont Senior High, Marion County

Luke White, Lewis County High School, Lewis County

Bronwyn Clagett, Lincoln High School, Harrison County

Timberly Robinson, Lyceum Preparatory Academy, Ohio County

Mackenzie Roberts, Magnolia High School, Wetzel County

Ashley Feliz-Redman, Martinsburg High School, Berkeley County

Autumn White, Meadow Bridge High School, Fayette County

Joshua Stretch, Monongalia Technical Education Center, Monongalia County

Tim DiFazio, Morgantown High School, Monongalia County

Amelia Sark, Richwood High School, Nicholas County

Jessica Kimble, Tyler Consolidated High School, Tyler County

Rory Morgan Williams, Webster County High School, Webster County

Jalen McCrary, Wheeling Park High School, Ohio County

Top photo by Tyler Evert, state Division of Culture and History

A Golden Delicious story to go with the stamp

The drawing of a Golden Delicious apple featured on a new postcard stamp.

News came last week of the relative immortalization (is that a word?) of the Golden Delicious apple, discovered in Clay County in the early part of the 20th century. The U.S. Postal Service is putting the apple — along with the Baldwin, the Granny Smith and the Northern Spy (which sounds like the coolest apple ever) — on a series of postcard stamps.

That makes this a good time to remind kids and their parents, teachers, etc., about “Golden Delicious: A Cinderella Apple Story,” the children’s picture book by West Virginia’s Anna Egan Smucker. The book tells the story of Anderson Mullins and his farm in Clay County, where the Golden Delicious apple was first grown.

Smucker was a featured presenter at the West Virginia Book Festival in 2008, the year “Golden Delicious” came out. Her book, according to Kirkus Reviews, is for kids ages 6 to 10 and is “a standout amidst the proliferation of apple books found in elementary classrooms.” If that’s not good enough for you, here’s a video of Smucker reading from her book (put online by Read Aloud West Virginia).