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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Kudzu Punks

Larah Helayne (left) wears a Girls Rock Whitesburg shirt while holding a banjo and a protest sign at the Blackjewel blockade in Cumberland, Kentucky. Helayne visited the blockade to show support for the protesting miners and their families. (Photo by Lou Murray)

I’m an editor at Inside Appalachia, a weekly themed radio program based at WV Public Broadcasting. We recently published a story that I’m particularly proud of, produced by folkways reporter Nicole Musgrave. The story follows two campers at Girls Rock–a summer music camp in Whitesburg, KY, for female, gender-fluid, non-binary, and trans youth–as they discover how the rich Appalachian tradition of protest music sung by women maintains its relevance today.

On the surface, songs like Florence Reece’s labor anthem, “Which Side Are You On?”–which draws on the ballad and old-time music traditions–might not seem to have much in common with the punk tradition that inspire many Girls Rock campers and organizers. But there’s more in common than meets the ear. Listen here…

Lucas Visiting Author

This April I’m stoked to serve as Lucas Visiting Author at Marietta College. I’ll be talking about nonfiction with creative writing classes and giving a public reading on Tuesday, April 7, at 5pm in the Legacy Library. “Heavy Appetizers” are promised. *HEAVY* In case that’s not enough, and I’m not sure why it wouldn’t be, I’ll be reading from my current project, a nonfiction book that examines the history and legacy of the Battle of Blair Mountain. – POSTPONED UNTIL SPRING 2021

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Letter to America

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.

UPDATE: “DEAR AMERICA: LETTERS OF HOPE, HABITAT, DEFIANCE, AND DEMOCRACY” NOW OUT

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Greensboro Bound

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.

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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…

WV Wesleyan Teaching

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.

Millay Colony

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)

Glamour

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 limited control. 😉

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.