Category Archives: West Virginia History

NEH Public Scholar Award

I’m honored to be the recipient of a 2021 National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Award, which I will use to finish my current book project, a narrative history of the West Virginia Mine Wars. The Public Scholars program supports the creation of well-researched nonfiction books in the humanities written for the broad public. It’s intended for writers without an academic affiliation, like me. Yay, NEH! While I don’t work at a university, the West Virginia University Humanities Center has provided me with access to an academic research library during my writing process, literally making my book possible. The librarians at WVU have sent me dozens of books in the mail over the years, not to mention all the digital resources that appear at a keystroke. I hope that someday scholarly work is more freely available to the general public, but until then — thank you to the librarians, and the Humanities Center for the borrowing credentials!

Smithsonian’s “Sidedoor”

Smithsonian’s “Sidedoor” podcast recently released a full episode on the history of the Battle of Blair Mountain. It’s an approachable and thoughtful introduction to the topic, featuring interviews with myself and my fellow WV Mine Wars Museum board member Chuck Keeney, along with several other historians…

One hundred years ago, in the hills of West Virginia, Black, white, and European immigrant coal miners banded together to demand better pay and safer working conditions and were met with machine guns. While the story made headlines in 1921, it didn’t make it into the history books. In our final episode of the season, we unearth this buried history to help mark the centennial of the largest labor uprising in American history.

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On Dark and Bloody Ground

Now for sale from West Virginia University Press! This set of oral histories from 1972 circulated for many years as an informal typescript volume, acquiring an almost legendary status among those intrigued by the subject. Key selections appear here for the first time as a published book, supplemented with introductory material, maps, educational resources, and photographs. Published to coincide with the celebration of the Blair Mountain Centennial in 2021, the book includes a preface by me and an afterword by Cecil E. Roberts of the United Mine Workers of America. All proceeds benefit the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum.

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Out of the Fire

Next year, West Virginia University Press will publish a rare 1973 manuscript, On Dark and Bloody Ground: An Oral History of the West Virginia Mine Wars, by Anne Lawrence, with a Foreword by me and an Afterword by none other than Cecil E. Roberts, President of the United Mine Workers of America. I’m pretty excited to share this treasure with the world! It will include some excellent maps and a few photos as well. Not to mention that Anne has graciously offered to donate all proceeds to the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum, where we work to preserve the archives and testimony of local communities affected by these early 20th century battles for unionization in the Central Appalachian coalfields.

“The difference working in a non-union mine and a union mine was like jumping out of the fire into a cool stream of water. Before it was every dog eat dog. When you go into anything collectively, everybody is striving to do the same thing. That’s the only way you can have peace in the coal fields.” –Kelly Buchanan, retired UMWA miner from Matewan, WV

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Georgia Review

The writer Jessica Smith graciously reviewed The Book of the Deada 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.

Read the full review…

Two Reviews

Two review-essays prompted by WVU Press’s recent reprint of Muriel Rukeyser’s 1938 poem cycle, The Book of the Deadto 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.

#Ojeda4Congress on NPR

Went down to Pineville, WV, to record a meet-and-greet with U.S. House candidate Richard Ojeda, sponsored by the United Mine Workers of America, for NPR News. 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.

Read the full story…

Taylor Books Reading March 1

Wrapping up a series of readings for 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.

Works In Progress

In September 2017, I sold two nonfiction books to Random House. One is about the history and legacy of the Battle of Blair Mountain; the other is an essay collection. Here’s the announcement from Publishers Marketplace:

University of Montana MFA graduate, Best American Essays 2017 writer and producer of public radio documentaries Catherine Venable Moore’s two works of narrative non-fiction set in Appalachia, exploring events in the past of America and of that region, from the violent West Virginia Mine Wars and the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921, up to the politics of today, to Kate Medina at Random House, in a pre-empt, by Meredith Kaffel Simonoff at DeFiore and Company (World English). UK rights: decronin@penguinrandomhouse.com . Translation: linda@defliterary.com.

WVU Press Re-publishes “The Book of the Dead”

“Written in response to the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel disaster of 1931 in Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, The Book of the Dead is an important part of West Virginia’s cultural heritage and a powerful account of one of the worst industrial catastrophes in American history. The poems collected here investigate the roots of a tragedy that killed hundreds of workers, most of them African American. They are a rare engagement with the overlap between race and environment in Appalachia.

Published for the first time alongside photographs by Nancy Naumburg, who accompanied Rukeyser to Gauley Bridge in 1936, this edition of The Book of the Dead includes an introduction by Catherine Venable Moore, whose writing on the topic has been anthologized in Best American Essays. Read more at West Virginia University Press…