a self-educated genius, Myers never attended public or private school
due to a "physical disability" (Turner 114). His work, now
rare, was quite popular in his day and was often found in local presses
Roy Lee Harmon, then of Wayne County, was
appointed by Governor Homer A. Holt in 1937 and served until 1943.
He would be the laureate of choice for two other governors.
According to the biographical information on the dust jacket of his last
book Roses in December, he was a journalist as well as a member
of the West Virginia Legislature for twelve years, attended Morris
Harvey College, and founded the West Virginia Poetry Society.
James Lowell McPherson, appointed in 1943
at the age of 22 by Governor Matthew M. Neely, holds the record as the
youngest poet laureate. According to Jim Comstock, McPherson's parents,
unbeknownst to him, submitted a poem entitled "West Virginia"
(written while an undergraduate at West Virginia University) to a
contest conducted to select the state's laureate. (note 5) He received
the letter notifying him of his laureateship while serving as a PFC in
"the 95th Infantry Division in the California Desert"
(Comstock 3055). McPherson had attended Marshall, but received his B.A.
degree from West Virginia University in 1942. He later did graduate work
at Columbia University. Knopf published his novel, Goodbye Rosie,
In 1960 Governor Cecil H. Underwood
appointed Vera Andrew Harvey. She was then also poet laureate of
the West Virginia Federation of Woman's Clubs and a playwright.
Harvey held an A.B. degree from the College for Women, Western Reserve
University and an M.A. from Columbia University, and taught in the
Marshall University English department for six years (Montgomery
2203-4). Banner Press of Emory University published Touching the
Stars in 1954, the only book of poetry credited to her.
In 1979 Governor John D. Rockefeller IV
appointed Louise McNeill Pease and hailed her a "true daughter of
the mountains" ("Mrs. Pease" 2A). Her appointment
continued till her death in 1993 and is the longest uninterrupted
appointment. Born in Pocahontas County "on a farm that her
family had lived on for nine generations," (Anderson, Hill
Daughter xiv) she spent the majority of her life in the state.
Gauley Mountain, published in 1939, told
of the settlement of a fictional region of western Virginia named "Gauley,"
demonstrating Pease's ability to write poetry in addition to providing
an outlet for her extensive knowledge of West Virginia history.
held a Ph.D. in History from West Virginia University and taught at many
in-state colleges before retiring from Fairmont State
College. Some of
the honors bestowed upon her include The Atlantic Monthly Poetry
Prize, 1938; Teacher of the Year at Concord College, 1968; Distinguished
American Educator, 1972; West Virginia Library Association's Annual Book
award; West Virginian of the Year, 1985; and the Appalachian Gold
In 1991, Pease participated in West Virginia
Public Radio's dramatization of Gauley Mountain, which featured
in-state poets, authors, actors, and the music of Larry Groce.
Author Pinckney Benedict served as narrator for the evening, never to be
forgotten by Pease fans and poetry lovers. The tapes are available
for teachers from the West Virginia Library Commission through
interlibrary loan and can be purchased from Internet websites.
Current Poet Laureate Irene McKinney took
office in 1993 by appointment of Governor Gaston Caperton. She
grew up in Barbour County on the family's 146-year-old home place.
She holds a BA from West Virginia Wesleyan College, an MA from West
Virginia University, and PhD from the University of Utah. In 1986
McKinney received a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship.
Active in humanities programming in the state, McKinney performed a
major role in the radio production of Gauley Mountain.
The November 1986 issue of Wonderful
West Virginia: A Special Issue Dedicated to West Virginia Poetry honored
many poets including Pease. The late Michael Joseph Pauley of the West
Virginia Department of Culture and History, and founding member of West
Virginia Writers, Inc., served as the issue's poetry consultant.
His essay provides an excellent history of the development of the
poetry. Pauley acknowledges the poetic quality of the speeches of
Native American Chief Logan and uses samples of the work of early poets,
such as Joseph Doddridge and Margaret Blennerhassett.
The mistress of Blennerhassett Island is
remembered for her collection, The Widow of the Rock and Other Poems:
By a Lady. The most anthologized piece, "Deserted
Isle," mourns the loss of her western Virginia island home.
though no copy of Blennerhassett's book has been catalogued in the West
Virginia Library Commission's state-wide database, Comstock reprinted
her island poem frequently in West Virginia Hillbilly.
More recently, Barbara Smith and Kirk
Judd, two of the poets selected for the Wonderful West Virginia
issue, and editors of Wild Sweet Notes: Fifty Years of West
Virginia Poetry 1950-1999, acknowledged Blennerhassett in the
anthology, and the cover of the book is a photograph of the island.
The anthology's title phrase "wild
sweet notes" is from the title poem in Appalachia by
the late Muriel Miller Dressler. According to Pauley, "Her
book Appalachia (1977) is a landmark statement in literature of
our region and times" (32). Dressler was a past recipient of
the Appalachian Gold Medallion Award for her contributions to West
Virginia and to its literature.
Wild Sweet Notes showcases the
poetry of 186 multicultural poets of the state as shown by this short
list of additional poets from the volume. The list begins with
Farmington's P. J. Laska. A son of Polish/Russian immigrants, Laska who
"grew up in the ethnic brew of the coal camps," (Personal
communication 31 May 1994) has the distinction of seeing his first book
of poetry, D.C. Images and Other Poems, named a finalist for the
1976 National Book Award for Poetry. Laska holds a Ph.D. from the
University of Rochester and has taught at several colleges and
universities in the U.S. and Canada before settling in Ohio.
Russell Marano gave voice to Italian immigrants
in his book Poems from a Mountain Ghetto. Marano, born in 1931,
grew up in Glen Elk, primarily an Italian section of Clarksburg.
According to Norman Julian, "the poems give details of the cultural
clash which immigrants here encountered on their way to being
assimilated into the mainstream. . . " ("Pockets" 74).
Marano attended Fairmont State College, obtained a degree in philosophy
from Northwestern University, published two books of poetry, and
lectured on poetry at Cambridge University in England.
Elaine Hilson Blue
Marshall University graduate and Huntington
resident, Elaine Hilson Blue is an accomplished artist, poet and
playwright. Her first book, Moods and Works of Blue opens
with this introduction, "My upbringing and the color of my skin
kept me conscious of who I was . . ." (Blue vii). Blue's art is the
year 2001 opening exhibit at the Clarksburg-Harrison Library.
Billy Edd Wheeler, born in Whitesville,
West Virginia, is a "writer of songs, plays, poetry and humor with
a novel in progress" (Wheeler, Billy Edd Wheeler: Performer,
Playwright, Songwriter 1). His first book of poetry, Song of a
Woods Colt, is mountain poetry. Wheeler is the past recipient
of the Appalachian Gold Medallion for best Appalachian poetry presented
by Morris Harvey College in Charleston.
Maggie Anderson, though born in New York
City, has spent much of her life in West Virginia and Ohio.
Anderson a teaching poet and editor with five books of poetry to her
credit, writes in many genres and is a graduate of West Virginia
In addition to the listed poets, others
have readily available work. Writer Kate Long compiled a list of
nationally published West Virginia authors from 1970-1992. Her article,
appearing in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, 10 May 1992, and is
still an extremely valuable resource. In it the reader finds
recent "super stars" such as Breece D'J Pancake.
The state writers' organization, West
Virginia Writers, Inc., provides an important service to writers.
Over the years the organization published four anthologies containing
both the poetry and prose of its selected contest winners: Catching
the Crow, And Now the Magpie, Beyond the Magpie, and The
Best of West Virginia Writers.
West Virginia literature does
exist. Genres and age groups are well-represented and the
themes are universal. The state does not lack for literature, and
its promotion is now a more central activity for many key organizations.
Thanks to the efforts of the West Virginia Library Commission, West
Virginia is now the nation's forty-first Center for the Book. The
November announcement, by Executive Director David Price, appointed
Jennifer A. Soule, Adult and Senior Services Coordinator, as the
Center's director. Once firmly established, the West Virginia
Center for the Book hopes to pursue funding for a West Virginia literary
map. An idea, it seems, whose time has come.
In 1999 the West Virginia Humanities
Council, the West Virginia Library Commission, and the West Virginia
Folklife Center at Fairmont State College joined forces and organized a
committee to plan a literary map. The results are on file with the
Council and can serve as a resource for the Center for the Book.
Eventually, teachers, students, and the public will have a means of
identifying authors and literary sites associated with the state.
The implications for the state seem
clear. If we identify and promote our authors, this could result
in a positive change in the image of West Virginia. It would boost
the self-esteem of residents, especially students, and increase support
A case in point would be that of Meredith
Sue Willis, novelist, short story writer, and children's book author,
who currently teaches in both New York and New Jersey. An avid reader
and library lover as a child, Willis grew up in Shinnston, West
Virginia. However, she was unaware she could have read the works of
Newbery, O. Henry, and National Book Award winners from her home county,
Harrison. She believed "real" writers lived in New York.
Willis spoke at the 1994 West Virginia Writers Golden Rod XII Conference
in Morgantown saying "it might have made a difference" in her
decision to leave West Virginia had she known authors actually lived
here and wrote here.
Our writers represent the real West
Virginia and its multicultural heritage. They write it like it is, and
like it was. Aspiring teachers need to be taught, and then to teach, the
literature of the state; students need to learn the most
"Appalachian" of states, West Virginia, (the only state wholly
contained in Appalachia) has much in common with the world-at-large.
We need to value and celebrate our state's unique qualities, but also
point out its similarities to other places. West Virginia is the
world in microcosm. What better way to show the connection of
culture, socioeconomic issues, literature, and history than through the
voices of our native authors in the state's schools? Who could
possibly say it better?