West Virginia Book Festival

Where Are They Now?: 2011 Book Festival edition

National Book Award winner Jaimy Gordon speaks at last year’s West Virginia Book Festival. Photo by Chris Dorst.

We’re less than three weeks away from the 2012 West Virginia Book Festival, so we’re running out of time to take a look back at the authors and others who made the 2011 festival such a success. This list isn’t inclusive — far from it — but here’s what some of them have been up to over the past year.

Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher novel, “A Wanted Man,” came out last month. That’s become pretty usual for Child. What’s not usual is the first Jack Reacher movie, which comes out in December. It’s based on the novel “One Shot,” but it’s called, simply enough, “Jack Reacher.” Tom Cruise stars as Reacher, and a less-likely Reacher I can’t imagine this side of Paul Giamatti, but Child doesn’t sound worried. (In that interview with Time magazine, he also mentions that he has a cameo in the movie.)

Jerry West remains a consultant for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, and has made several other appearances over the past year promoting his biography, “West by West.”

Gerald Blaine, former Secret Service agent during the John F. Kennedy administration, is also seeing his book turned into a film. “The Kennedy Detail” is tentatively scheduled to be released next November, the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. Fellow Secret Service agent Clint Hill, who was at last year’s festival with Blaine, came out with his own book this year, “Mrs. Kennedy and Me.” His co-author was Lisa McCubbin, who also worked with Blaine on his book.

Jaimy Gordon is speaking late next month on the WVU campus; she’s reading at the downtown library on Oct. 29 at 7:30 p.m. I don’t see a lot of recent news regarding her, but after you win the National Book Award, you’re allowed a little down time, right?

Alex Flinn came out with her latest young-adult twist on the supernatural/fairy tale world, “Bewitching,” earlier this year.

Bonnie Stewart, author of a book about the Farmington mine disaster, has continued to report on environmental matters for Oregon Public Broadcasting.

The Newbery winner and West Virginia

Dead End in Norvelt
In this Newbery winning novel, some residents of Norvelt, Pa., one of the New Deal towns, are upset at plans to sell and move their empty houses to Eleanor, W.Va.

In this year’s Newbery Medal winner, author Jack Gantos borrows from his own childhood in Norvelt, Pa., for a comical and touching mystery.

Gantos himself is the main character, a kid who suffers from frequent, stress-induced nosebleeds. Their town is named for Eleanor Roosevelt, because it is one of the towns that she pioneered during the Great Depression. Throughout the book, Jack is pulled between each of his parents. His mother grows corn and cooks casseroles for the aged widows in the dwindling town. She strives to live and teach the Depression-era values of sharing and helping that she learned as a child in Norvelt. His father, a World War II veteran, zips around in a surplus military plane and has no patience for quiet, struggling Norvelt and a barter economy. He plans to take the family to Florida for a better life.

Jack helps an elderly neighbor whose hands are so arthritic she can no longer write all the obituaries for the original residents, who are “dropping like flies.” She dictates them to Jack instead. One by one a fascinating and touching personal history of the town emerges.

Jack’s dad leaves periodically for construction jobs in West Virginia. He is also among the town residents involved in moving vacant houses from Norvelt to another Depression-era community that is thriving — Eleanor, W.Va.

Of course, this book is not Gantos’ only connection to the Mountain State. He appeared at the 2005 West Virginia Book Festival, where about 60 children and adults gathered and he expertly kept both laughing at the same words, but for slightly different reasons.

Gantos’ Joey Pigza books have long been a favorite of mine and the children I read them to. “Dead End in Norvelt” promises to join that category.

Nicholas Sparks — remember him? — comes out today with his latest book, “The Best of Me.” Judging from the book’s description, Sparks fans will enjoy this one as well:

High school students … fell deeply, irrevocably in love. Though they were from opposite sides of the tracks, their love for one another … unforeseen events would tear the young couple apart … twenty-five years later … neither can forget the passionate first love that forever changed their lives … Can love truly rewrite the past?

I’m guessing yes.

Anyway, today seems like a good time to catch up with the other people who helped make last year’s West Virginia Book Festival a success:

| Diana Gabaldon has the latest installment in her Lord John series, “The Scottish Prisoner,” scheduled for release on Nov. 29. She also a 20th anniversary edition of “Outlander,” the novel that started it all for her, in July. And, she recently announced on her blog that the eighth “Outlander” novel will be called “Written In My Own Heart’s Blood.”

| Carmen Deedy, as we mentioned last month, has a new young adult novel out, “The Cheshire Cheese Cat.” She also has a sequel to her 1994 book, “The Library Dragon,” coming out next April, called … wait for it … “The Return of the Library Dragon.” Michael R. White illustrates the book, as he did the original.

| James Robertson, longtime Civil War scholar, retired after more than four decades as a professor at Virginia Tech. That doesn’t mean we’ve heard the last of him. He’s the author of “The Untold Civil War: Exploring the Human Side of War,” which comes out next week. He’s also the co-editor of “Virginia at War, 1865,” a look at the mother state at the end of the Civil War, due out on Nov. 3.

| Meredith Sue Willis released a collection of stories, “Re-Visions: Stories from Stories.” Her newsletter, Books for Readers, remains a great resource for people who love reading.

| Jim Benton’s twelfth in the Dear Dumb Diary series, “Me (Just Like You, Only Better) was published in June. Because each book covered a month in diarist Jamie Kelly’s life, you might think that’s the end of the series. Not to worry, the first book in the “Dear Dumb Diary, Year Two” series is out on Jan. 1. Also, Benton’s Happy Bunny book, “Love Bites,” gets a special edition release on Dec. 1.

| Did you hear Ken Hechler is 97? Come wish him a belated happy birthday at this year’s Book Festival.

| Jayne Anne Phillips continues as director of the Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at Rutgers-Newark — she’s reading in the school’s Writers at Newark Reading Series on Oct. 25 — and was featured in “We Wanted To Be Writers,” an anecdotal history of the Iowa Writers Workshop published in August.

| Sarah Sullivan, Charleston children’s book author and longtime friend of the Book Festival, released “Passing The Music Down” to general acclaim in May.

| John J. Fox III, Civil War historian, writes:

My project due out late spring 2012 is about how JEB Stuart became famous – his June 12-15, 1862, ride with only 1,200 Confederate cavalrymen around George McClellan’s entire Union army that threatened to capture Richmond. Stuart only lost one man during the operation, but the intelligence he brought back gave Robert E. Lee the green light to go on the offensive and launch the Seven Days’ Battles that saved the Confederate capital.

| Heidi Durrow had her novel “The Girl Who Fell From The Sky” chosen as the city of Portland’s “Everybody Reads” book for 2012. Durrow, the daughter of an African-American father and a Danish mother, also appeared as part of CNN’s “Dialogues” series, in an event on “The 2010 Census and the New America.” She continues to co-host the weekly “Mixed Chicks Chat,” available on iTunes.

| John Antonik remains new media director for the WVU athletic department, and writes the Campus Connection blog on MSNsportsNET.com.

Nasar talks about her “Grand Pursuit” this weekend

One of the first things we did here on WVBF:TB was catch up with Sylvia Nasar, author of “A Beautiful Mind” and headliner at the first West Virginia Book Festival back in 2001. Among other things, Nasar said she was finishing up “Grand Pursuit,” a historical narrative about the invention of modern economics.

Mission accomplished. Nasar will talk about “Grand Pursuit” this weekend on Book TV. She’s scheduled to be on at 10 p.m. Saturday, 9 p.m. Sunday and midnight on Monday, talking with Gillian Tett, U.S. managing editor of the Financial Times.

Steven Pearlstein, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post, had this to say about “Grand Pursuit”:

Nasar’s aim … is not to write intellectual history but to put the reader into the lives of the characters of a sweeping historical drama that extends from Victorian England to modern-day India. That she largely succeeds reflects the depth and breadth of her research but also the elegance of her prose.

Where Are They Now?: Jim Clark

A photo from a gallery titled "West Virginia Autumn 2010" on Jim Clark's website.

Award-winning outdoor photographer Jim Clark, who grew up in West Virginia’s southern coalfields, came to the West Virginia Book Festival in 2003 to officially release and promote his book “Mountain Memories: An Appalachian Sense of Place,” published by WVU Press. But when I asked Clark sometime last year about his memories of the event, he said they don’t have as much to do with the book as they do with more personal things:

“Ah yes, the WV Book Festival…It was a very nice experience for me, not so much as an author, but because I was able to share the weekend with my wife, our four-year old son, and my mother…

“I remember doing a program called Mason Jars and Memories: An AppalachianSense of Place and then spending the day signing books. One particular fella, a doctor I believe, purchased a case of my new book at the time … My mother sat with me at the table and talked to lots of the festival goers and I’m sure her charm helped me sell more books than if I was on my own 🙂

“My wife Jamie spent the time with Carson doing all the kid activities that were scheduled. and I had time to explore the festival with him as well.”

At the time Jim wrote this, last summer, his mother was still living in War, McDowell County, at 95 years old.

Jim and Carson Clark, in a photo from Jim's website.

But the bigger family news involves his son, Carson, who is quickly establishing a name for himself. At 11 years old, he and his dad are finishing up the second book in a planned five-book series about Buddy the Beaver. They took the photos for the first book in McDowell County, according to this West Virginia Public Broadcasting profile of Carson. (He’s also been written up in The Washington Post, among other places.) Jim says his son “loves to go to WV — he and I do it about three times a year to just explore, photograph and visit my mother and brother.”

As for Carson’s father, Jim said (when we last e-mailed) that he’s a contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer magazine, and he still does workshops around the country and in West Virginia — including last year, when the grand prize in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge Photography Contest was a one-on-one photography workshop with him.

Where Are They Now?: Josh Weil

The highlight of the 2009 West Virginia Book Festival (for me) was listening to Josh Weil, author of “The New Valley”, talk about the three novellas in that collection, and about the novella in general. Josh is a terrific speaker (and was very generous with his time after his program), and “The New Valley” is a great book. Among the glowing reviews was one from Publishers Weekly:

Weil’s debut is a stark and haunting triptych of novellas set in the rusted-out hills straddling the border between the Virginias. …  All three pieces, despite their somber tones, offer renewal for their protagonists. Taken individually, each novella offers its own tragic pleasures, but together, the works create a deeply human landscape that delivers great beauty.

Josh’s next project, he told me earlier this month, will be somewhat different. “This new book is set in northern Russia, in an alternative present,” he said. “It’s the story of two brothers, once very close, who are pulled apart by the pressures of modern life, and of one brother’s attempt to bring them back together again.”

As for his memories of the Book Festival: “I remember the spirited discussion during that novella panel, and being sorely tempted to lay down some serious cash in the book sales section for some travel accounts from the age of exploration in Africa, and walking to Shoney’s that morning to load up before the festival.” (Shoney’s; hmmmm, I guess he really is from Appalachia.)

Josh is also the Distinguished Visiting Writer at Bowling Green State University in Ohio this semester, and he’s speaking Monday night at Denison University, just outside Columbus, Ohio.

Kinder vs. Maynard: A Book Festival smackdown

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about WVBF:TB is the chance to talk with some of the authors who have come to previous Book Festivals, to ask them what they’re working on now and what they remember about the festival they attended.

Among the writers I’ve contacted is Chuck Kinder, southern West Virginia native, WVU graduate, friend of Raymond Carver and James Crumley, longtime writing teacher at the University of Pittsburgh — and, of course,  the inspiration for Grady Tripp, the professor in Michael Chabon’s “Wonder Boys.”

Kinder was one of the featured authors at the Book Festival in 2002, and when I asked him about his experience, many of his recollections involved another West Virginia author, Lee Maynard. Once Maynard heard what Kinder had to say … well, I’ll let them tell the story completely, because they’re great storytellers.

Continue reading…

Where Are They Now?: Robert Morgan

Robert Morgan closed out the first-ever West Virginia Book Festival, back in 2001. His novel “Gap Creek” had shot up The New York Times best-seller list, thanks to a plug from Oprah Winfrey.

Morgan’s novels are noted for their evocation of the North Carolina mountains, where he grew up. But as he told then-Gazette reporter Kelly Regan back in 2001, he didn’t plan it that way.

“I never planned to write about the mountains, the farm, the work I had done and the religion. I felt I had gone off to college to get away from that type of thing.”

Morgan has taught poetry at Cornell University since 1971. He published a collection of poems, “October Crossing,” in October 2009, and says he’s working on another collection scheduled to be out in the fall of 2011.

He’s also working on a nonfiction book on the United States’ westward expansion, from the Thomas Jefferson administration to the Mexican War. When he e-mailed me last week, Morgan was in Taos, N.M., following the tracks of legendary frontiersman Kit Carson. He expects that book out in 2012.

Morgan said he has happy memories of the Book Festival. “There was an especially lively panel discussion of my novel ‘Gap Creek,’ and I met many other writers, such as Denise Giardina,” he wrote.

Where Are They Now: Sylvia Nasar

What do the Academy Awards, the Nobel Prizes and the West Virginia Book Festival have in common?


That would be Sylvia Nasar, who headlined the first Book Festival back in 2001 as the author of “A Beautiful Mind.” The biography of Bluefield native John Forbes Nash Jr. chronicled his work as a mathematical genius and his struggles with mental illness.

Nash shared the 1994 Nobel Prize in economics with two other men for their work in game theory. The film version of “A Beautiful Mind,” starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly and (loosely) based on Nasar’s book, won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Nasar came to Charleston to deliver the annual McCreight Lecture on Humanities, sponsored by the West Virginia Humanities Council.

As for the Book Festival, she said earlier this month:

“I have fond memories of the festival which gave me a chance not only to meet scores of avid readers like myself but to have a reunion with an old friend and West Virginian from Antioch College and the University of Besancon, Yvonne Farley.”

Nasar (a former New York Times and Forbes reporter) helps run a business journalism master’s degree program at Columbia University. She says she’s finishing “Grand Pursuit,” a historical narrative about the invention of modern economics, and recently edited “Best Science Writing 2008” for HarperCollins.