Writing West Virginia
Place, People, and Poverty in Contemporary Literature from the Mountain State
With their stirring depictions of a proud people striving for fulfillment in a land of natural beauty and economic hardship, West Virginia authors have produced a body of work that is worthy of study and of celebration. In Writing West Virginia, Boyd Creasman examines the fiction and poetry of eight accomplished writers—Davis Grubb, Mary Lee Settle, Breece D’J Pancake, Denise Giardina, Irene McKinney, Ann Pancake, Jayne Anne Phillips, and Pinckney Benedict—who exemplify the rich but often overlooked literary heritage of the Mountain State.
Creasman identifies the varied ways in which these writers have grappled with the dynamics of place, socioeconomic class, and gender. For Settle, this expression has taken the form of historical novels chronicling the development of the state from its British settlement to the rise of the coal industry and the creation of a wealthy, industrial class. For other authors, the struggle against poverty and lack of opportunity has been a central concern. From the male protagonists of Grubb and Breece Pancake, searching for ways to assert their masculinity when they cannot find gainful employment, to the strong, independent women of McKinney, Giardina, and Ann Pancake, the characters in West Virginia literature have fought to transcend the challenges and limitations of living in the most Appalachian of states. In the recent fiction of Phillips and Benedict, elements of magical realism and fantasy are employed to create the possibility of transcendence for their characters, shifting the focus from landscape to dreamscape and thereby suggesting exciting new directions for Appalachian literature.
Despite the remarkable talent of these writers, only a handful of book-length critical studies have focused on them, and none have considered them as a group. Writing West Virginia helps fill this gap in literary scholarship while opening up new paths for further exploration.