The latest compilation of West Virginia literature reveals new, complex views of the often-stereotyped state.
“It’s like a literary map of West Virginia, and it changes your understanding of the place,” said Dr. Laura Long, a University of Lynchburg English professor. She edited the fiction for Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Fiction and Poetry from West Virginia, which is the first anthology of West Virginia writing in 15 years. It features stories and poems from 63 authors.
“I’m really thrilled to have all these wonderful writers gathered together in this one place,” Dr. Long added. She was speaking about the writers’ works compiled in one book, but she could just as easily have talked about a real gathering; several of the poets featured in the book recently met with other writers and literature lovers — including Dr. Long — in Parkersburg, West Virginia, for a reading to celebrate the book launch. The event and the book became a story for PBS NewsHour. The story echoes the praise that the book has earned in other venues for dealing with complex matter that breaks new ground for the Mountain State.
“The poetry read that night, and contained in the anthology, is not what you might expect out of West Virginia, or from regional poetry,” the PBS story said. “For one, it does not fall into the trap of nostalgia or tackle traditional subjects in traditional ways. Instead, it examines, often unsparingly, topics as wide-ranging as environmental dangers, sexual identity, family conflict, discrimination and rebellion. At many points, the poetry asks questions about how to leave the past behind — or at least how to learn to live with it.” (Read the full story here.)
The story behind the book began when Dr. Long got into a conversation with Abby Freeland, an editor at WVU Press — which published Dr. Long’s first novel in 2014 — and Doug Van Gundy, a poet who has done a reading at University of Lynchburg before. They realized that the last collection of West Virginia literature was gathering age. “When we realized nothing had been done like it for 15 years, we thought it was time for another one,” Dr. Long said.
Dr. Long compiled fiction for the book while Van Gundy did the same for poetry. They selected many writers who are not normally thought of as West Virginia writers — people who had grown up there and left, for example — whose work reflects on the culture and identity of the state.
“The most fascinating part was when Doug and I sat down and looked at everything we had collected, and we looked at the anthology as a whole,” Dr. Long said. “So many different versions of West Virginia exist. It became a richer kaleidoscope than I had ever predicted.”
Kirkus Reviews praised the diversity of Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods in a January review, generating national buzz for the book. West Virginia University Press published it in March. It was featured in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel in April, before the celebratory reading.