Exploring West Virginia

Exploring West Virginia

Literary West Virginia

Old Land, Dark Land, Strange Land: Stories

catalog link: Old Land, Dark Land, Strange Land: Stories by John F. Suter

Kanawha County
Suter came to Charleston as a young boy and later became a research chemist for Union Carbide. His first attempt at writing was a story that he wrote using a book from the public library on how to write for radio. He is best known for his short stories that appeared in Ellery Queen's and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazines. The story When are People Going to Learn? was based on a real crime in Charleston and was written 10 years before a similar case in New York stunned the nation.

Addie: A Memoir

cover photo: Addie: A Memoir by Mary Lee Settle B S495

Kanawha County
Settle is best-known for her Beulah Land quintet that traces several families from Cromwell's England to the Kanawha Valley. In this memoir she tells the story of her life growing up in the Kanawha Valley, and records the expectation, talents, and tragedies of a people and a place that would serve as her literary inspiration.

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cover photo: Crum by Lee Maynard

Wayne County
The author spins a sometimes shocking, often outrageous, always irreverent tale of his young protagonist's rebellion against the place he's from and the people he grew up with in this first book in a trilogy. Maynard grew up in Wayne County's small towns -- and hollows -- that shape much of his writing.

The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake

cover photo: The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake by Breece D'J Pancake

Cabell County
These stories were published after the author's suicide in 1979. His stories have been described as dark and brilliant. It is said that "he plowed new territory for Appalachian writers with searing stories about ordinary people coping on the edge."

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cover photo: Shrapnel by Marie Manilla

Cabell County
Manilla's first book, which came out in 2010, is a collection of short stories called Still Life with Plums. She turned to novel-writing in 2012 with this book set in Huntington. One reviewer commented: "Her description of Huntington is as loving and honest as her handling of the novel's character."

A Killing in the Hills

cover photo: A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller

Cabell County
Keller is a Pulitzer Prize Winner who grew up in Huntington. This book, about a woman who returns to her West Virginia hometown to fight corruption, was highly acclaimed when it was published in 2012. Scott Turow described the book as "a gripping, beautifully crafted murder mystery that shows that small-town West Virginia is no longer Mayberry. Great reading." Keller has penned a follow-up novel that is slated for publication in September.

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Black for Remembrance

catalog link: Black for Remembrance by Carlene Thompson

Mason County
This was Thompson's first novel. The idea for the plot came one afternoon when she was taking two of her dogs for a walk in a wooded area. Her pets appear in many of her books. She writes suspense novels and most of them are set in West Virginia.

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Lost Highway

cover photo: Lost Highway by Richard Currey

Wood County
Currey has written about the Vietnam ground war (which he personally experienced), the mine wars, and murderers. This novel is the fictional memoir of Sapper Reeves, a World War II veteran and talented country musician from the small town of Maxwell, W.Va. Lost Highway has attracted a legion of admirers since its initial publication in 1998, and the second edition contains an additional chapter omitted from the first edition and an introduction by James Lee Burke.

The Clarinet Polka

cover photo: The Clarinet Polka by Keith Maillard

Ohio County
Maillard has set several novels in the fictional West Virginia town of Raysburg, commonly known as Wheeling, where the author was born and raised. Among his other works is a four-volume series called Difficulty at the Beginning.

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The Siege of 318: Thirteen Mystical Stories

catalog link: The Siege of 318: Thirteen Mystical Stories by Davis Grubb

Harrison County
Davis Grubb became a national literary sensation after his novel Night of the Hunter was made into a movie in 1955. Grubb started out writing short stories before turning to novels.

The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales

cover photo: The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales by Ruth Ann Musick 398.4 M98t

Marion County
Ruth Ann Musick's contribution to the folk literature of Appalachia is unsurpassed. In 1946 she moved to West Virginia to accept a teaching position at Fairmont State College. She felt that the Appalachian region surrounding the college was ripe for fieldwork in folklore, and was instrumental in establishing the college's first folklore course in 1948. In 1951 she became the founding editor of West Virginia Folklore, serving in that capacity until her retirement in 1967. According to her eulogy by William Hugh Jansen, Folklore Professor at the University of Kentucky, she had become "a public relations agent for West Virginia folklore."

The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir

cover photo: The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir by Patricia Harman B H2867

Monongalia County
Though not a native, Harman is an important contributor to the literary legacy of our state. In 1974 she and her husband lived on a commune in Roane County. After some traveling, they returned to West Virginia and settled in Morgantown where they have lived and worked for more than 20 years. Harman is a certified midwife. In this memoir she recounts the stories that patients brought into her exam room, and her own story of struggling to help women as a nurse-midwife.

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Lark and Termite

cover photo: Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips

Upshur County
This author's fiction grew out of stories heard in childhood, family events, and personal experiences. This book, set in Winfield and Korea in the 1950s, is an example. The idea for one of the main characters in the book sprang from a scene Phillips witnessed while gazing out the window of an old friend's house onto an alley. She has also written several other novels and two short story collections.

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Vivid Companion: Poems

cover photo: Vivid Companion: Poems by Irene McKinney 811.54 M152v

Barbour County
McKinney served as the state Poet Laureate from 1994 until her death in 2012. Her lyrical poetry is steeped in the rural Appalachian landscape and frequently explores the connections between people and place. She also edited the anthology Backcountry: Contemporary Writing in West Virginia.

Strange As This Weather Has Been

cover photo: Strange As This Weather Has Been by Ann Pancake

Hampshire County
Based on interviews pertaining to actual events, this stirring debut novel centers on one family in a West Virginia coal mining town, the senseless destruction of their land by strip mining, and the cover-up of the illegal dumping of hazardous waste. Pancake also wrote a book of short stories called Given Ground.

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Hawk's Nest: A Novel

cover photo: Hawk's Nest: A Novel by Hubert Skidmore

Webster County
When native West Virginian Hubert Skidmore tried to tell the real story of what has been called the worst industrial disaster in American history in his 1941 novel, Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation reportedly convinced publisher Doubleday, Doran & Co. to pull the book from publication after only a few hundred copies had appeared. This reprint from the Appalachian Echoes series makes this story available to a new generation of readers.

Dogs of God

cover photo: Dogs of God by Pinckney Benedict

Greenbrier County
In this first novel, Benedict continues his exploration of rural West Virginia life begun in his two short story collections, The Wrecking Yard and Town Smokes. In an interview, Benedict stated: "I set out to write a potboiler, a simple page-turner about bare-knuckle fighters and dope growers. The New York Times review said something along the lines of 'One fears for the sanity of the writer who dared to look the demons in the eye.' I figured, as a writer, if readers were worried about my sanity, I must be doing something right." The author grew up on a dairy farm in Greenbrier County.

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The Well Ain't Dry Yet

cover photo: The Well Ain't Dry Yet by Belinda Anderson

Monroe County
Anderson focuses on Appalachia and its residents in her writing which includes three collections of award-winning short stories. Her writing style includes humor, making her stories delightful reads. This book includes Hauling Evelyn, a story about a woman who has been driving around for years with her dead sister's ashes in her trunk.

Storming Heaven

cover photo: Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina

McDowell County/Kanawha County
Giardina began her writing career with this novel about the Battle of Blair Mountain and went on to write several more highly acclaimed novels. She was born in McDowell County but now calls Kanawha County her home.

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