With an approaching book deadline, I haven’t been taking on too many freelance assignments, but this one was just too good to pass up. The literary magazine Terrain is preparing to publish an anthology of writings in response to the current national crises—political, environmental, ethical. They’ve been publishing a series of “Letters to America” ever since the 2016 election. These “letters” take various forms—epistles, poems, fables, even a bit of artwork—but they all respond to the changing American landscape so vividly illuminated by Donald Trump’s win. Writers, artists, intellectuals, activists—citizens of both the country and the planet—have, over the past two years, steadily contributed a variety of literary reactions to the world we all awoke to on the morning of November 9. I’m working on a letter for the anthology, which will sit in good company alongside writings by writer-heroes Robert Hass, Camille Dungy, and Bob Ferguson, the attorney general of Washington who is 17-0 against Trump in court.
I’m headed to the Greensboro Bound literary festival next week, where the novelist Wiley Cash and myself will talk about contemporary Appalachian voices, the representation and the role of writers/journalists as witnesses, and other fun stuff TBD. Musician Laurelyn Dossett will open. Cash’s novel The Last Ballad, is a fictionalized account of the life of Ella May Wiggins, a North Carolina textile worker who tried to unionize and was murdered in 1929.
The writer Jessica Smith graciously reviewed The Book of the Dead—a new edition of Muriel Rukeyser’s famous poem cycle about the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Disaster–for The Georgia Review:
Admirers of Muriel Rukeyser have been waiting for a reprint of The Book of the Dead, long out of print, and West Virginia University Press’s new edition does not disappoint. Of course, it’s exciting to have Rukeyser’s seminal hybrid poetic work of social justice in its own affordable softcover volume (with French flaps!), but the great surprise for fans and scholars of Rukeyser is Catherine Venable Moore’s extended introductory essay, which comprises the first half of this volume.
This winter I’m a visiting nonfiction writer at the low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing at West Virginia Wesleyan. Back in December, I had ten days in residency in Buckhannon, where I taught a workshop and gave a seminar called “Nonfiction for Poets.” The campus looked nothing like the photo above, because winter, but the feeling was like those orange lilies; it was such a warm, welcoming crowd to get to know. The whole experience leaves me grateful to have found this talented crew of writers so close by, and I’m pumped to keep working with my advisees for the rest of the semester. Check out the program’s podcast, where you can hear seminars and readings by other visiting writers.
This October, I’ve been in residence at the Millay Colony in Austerlitz, NY, working on my book. Once the home of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, it’s now a place for writers and artists to come for intense periods of work and wonder, punctuated by long wanderings through the meadows, hills, and forests of Steepletop, Millay’s gorgeous estate in the foothills of the Berkshires.
White with daisies and red with sorrel
And empty, empty under the sky!—
Life is a quest and love a quarrel—
Here is a place for me to lie.
(from “Weeds,” Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1921)
I wrote a short piece for Glamour magazine’s September issue, published alongside the voices of women in Arizona, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Florida, speaking about the issues that will decide their vote ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. “I’m a Woman in a Battleground State. Here’s What Politicians Don’t Understand About Me.” For the record: I don’t hate the city where I started my Ph.D. That was an error introduced in the editing process, over which I had little control. 😉
Two review-essays prompted by WVU Press’s recent reprint of Muriel Rukeyser’s 1938 poem cycle, The Book of the Dead, to which I wrote an introduction…
Los Angeles Review of Books, “I Wake Up Choking,” by Maggie Messitt:
The Book of the Dead is a story about race. It’s about industry. It’s about being held accountable and the right to a safe workplace. But, to me — like so many Great Depression narratives — it’s about wealth and power and the ways in which that has trumped humanity and justice across time.
The Paris Review, “Muriel Rukeyser, Mother of Everyone” by Sam Huber:
We often lament our porosity to the world’s data as a uniquely contemporary curse. Rukeyser imagines it instead as a capacity we might cultivate, no easier for having been attempted before by others like her, from whom we are lucky to learn, and by many more who will not be preserved or restored. So often in her poems, Rukeyser is both student and teacher.
My agent shouted out my forthcoming books in Politico Magazine the other day, in a story on how the Trump victory impacted publishing:
The turn of political administrations has always brought changes to the literary landscape. The dystopian narratives of the late 1980s like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale or Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta were seen as a response to the fundamentalist politics of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. […] But Trump, a president so unlike any of his predecessors, has jolted society in a more fundamental way. Despite branding himself as a New York City billionaire, he bypassed barriers of class and geography, and captured the presidency by bringing the grievances of small-town America to the fore. Suddenly, the voices of Pittsburgh steel factories have begun to echo in book-lined Manhattan offices.
NPR News, which is already reporting on the 2018 Election in West Virginia, sent me down to Pineville to record a meet-and-greet with U.S. House candidate Richard Ojeda, sponsored by the United Mine Workers of America. It was lots of fun talking to Wyoming County voters about what they’re thinking about going into the election; many were teachers who had been galvanized by Ojeda during the spring’s big strike action in Charleston.
Wrapping up a series of readings and events to promote the re-issue of Muriel Rukeyser’s poem collection, The Book of the Dead, by West Virginia University Press. One more chance to catch a reading here in the region, and this one should be pretty special. I’ll be joined by several descendants of Hawks Nest Tunnel silicosis victims, who will read from Rukeyser’s work. I’ll also read a bit of my nonfiction essay that introduces the new edition of the book. March 1, 5:30-7:00 PM. Visit the event page for details.