For many of us, it’s fun to read books. The contents within the pages are entertainment, they allow us to escape, or even provoke new ideas. Some of us are challenged by good writing. And I, for one, always wonder what the author of each good story is like. I grew up reading some science fiction and fantasy by Orson Scott Card, and then I found out he was a Mormon. Although I’m leery of the religion, I met Card at a nice, independent bookstore in San Diego. He was engaging, thoughtful, and endearing—everything that I had thought he would be.
I’ve mentioned before in my blogging that I’m not a celebrity hound. I don’t usually care much for the famous—the exciting no-names are more intriguing. But when I added a face and personality to the books that I had read, I felt some sort of tangible connection to the literature. Somehow they seemed more grounded. I’ve met many authors, before and after that encounter with Card, but he will always stand out to me. Now only if I could have lunch with Bill Bryson…
What if I told you that all of you that access to published writers (award-winning and good writers at that!) is usually nothing more than looking in your neighborhood. Here in Morgantown, we’re practically swimming in authors and scholars. After all, most good professors have been published extensively in journals, texts, and even trade books. Some write amazing stories. When I lived in Illinois, I worked at a bookstore while going through undergrad at the University. I commonly sold books from my professors, such as Leaving Atlanta, by Tayari Jones; Ledbelly, by Tyehimba Jess; and The Echo Maker (winner of the 2006 National Book Award), by Richard Powers. Getting to know the author can be a wonderful way to learn more about the material, and, if you’re an aspiring writer, find out all the secrets to the trade.
Here’s a list of some of Morgantown’s published and award-winning authors, which is by no means comprehensive. I work with the College of Physical Education and Sport Sciences (CPASS), and I study through the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism and the English department, so this list is heavy on the folks I work with, for, and around on a daily basis.
Ethel Morgan Smith
Smith is an associate professor at the English department. She is the author of From Whence Cometh My Help. An excerpt:
Determined to give voice to the African American community that served as the silent workforce for Hollins College, Ethel Morgan Smith succeeded in finding individuals to step forward and tell their stories. From Whence Cometh My Helpexamines the dynamics of an institution built on the foundations of slavery and so steeped in tradition that it managed to perpetuate servitude for generations. Interviewing senior community members, Smith gives recognition to the invisible population that provided and continues to provide the labor support for Hollins College for more than 150 years.
Smith specializes in creative nonfiction and African-American literature. She is working on an upcoming project to be detailed within the website but.if.and.that in April, 2011.
Harms is a professor of English at WVU, and is an amazing poet. He has won three Pushcart prizes, he has published several collections of poems, and has appeared in countless publications and magazines. One of my favorite mags, Smartish Pace, featured Harms, and you can even read one of my favorite poems of his here. One of his better collections, in my opinion, is Freeways and Aqueducts, of which the following praise appears from the English department website:
“Atmospheric and often lovely . . . these poems dwell unapologetically in the quotidian, attempting to transform the banal into the sublime. When this succeeds, it does so beautifully. . . . The collection is worth a good read—both for its images of quiet loveliness (‘you cupped my face like handful of water’) and for its masterfully sustained mood, the pleasant ache of chronic homesickness.”
Brazaitis has a book on my reading list, which came highly recommended, titled An American Affair: Stories, which won the 2004 George Garrett Fiction Prize. Brazaitis, also a professor at WVU, offers many courses; one of his classes I wish to attend as a grad student is his fiction workshop (also highly recommended to me). For a sample of his writing, you can visit Sun Magazine and read The Boy Behind the Tree. Check it out!
Einstein is receiving her MFA from WVU, and is moving on to Ohio, where she’ll be pursuing her PhD. She is the winner of a Pushcart prize for her nonfiction essay Mot, published by Ninth Letter at the University of Illinois (by my alma mater and creative writing department). You can read selections from Mot and a get a unique perspective on the voice of the “other” at but.if.and.that.