Sunday, October 22, 2017

Learning about Loss with Denise Giardina

by Dr. Nancy Caronia, WVU Department of English

L to R: AD of Undergraduate Writing Sarah Morris,
Luis Neer, University of Pittsburgh Professor Lina Insana,
Taylor Miller, and Denise Giardina at the WVRHC.
First-year English majors from ENGL 199 watched as Denise Giardina turned the pages of a spiral-bound notebook that contained the first draft of what would become the author’s novel Storming Heaven. Giardina pitched forward in her chair in the West Virginia & Regional History Center (WVRHC) to get a closer look at what she had written. “There were no computers. And typewriters were a mess to work with. I had no choice,” she said regarding the notebooks filled with her longhand script. Then she smiled: “My handwriting was pretty good back then.”

Melville Davisson Post, hunched over, fourth from left.
Earlier in the semester, ENGL 199 had visited the WVRHC to learn about the center and to look through archives related to both WVU’s campus read Hidden Figures and the Department of English’s history. During that initial trip, students saw W.E.B. DuBois’s signature on the first page of a ledger, learned more about one of the young men, Melville Davisson Post, in the photo of the young Shakespearean players hanging in Colson 130, and read through and handled the notebooks of Giardina. Some pulled out their phones and snapped pictures of a page or two of Giardina’s work while others flipped the pages to examine her writing process.

The students who gathered to meet Giardina on October 12, 2017 knew of her archives, but some had also read her novels in high school. They each had questions about her writing process, but they also wanted to know what it meant to her to grow up in a coal camp and to continue to live in West Virginia in 2017. What they couldn’t have been prepared for was the writer who sat and talked quietly about how long ago it had seemed since she wrote Storming Heaven. With each turn of the page, she remembered more and more of what it was like to create that novel and her other works.

When Giardina suggested her novels weren’t the same, or as important, as history textbooks, associate coordinator of undergraduate writing Sarah Morris discussed how central the author’s novels had been to Morris’s understanding of West Virginia, coal mining, and her family when she was a teenager. Morris stated that Giardina’s novels gave her a visceral experience of coalmines that brought empathy and a sense of belonging, something a textbook couldn’t do. The students nodded their heads in agreement.

Later that evening, Giardina gave a talk--“The Socialist Revolution in West Virginia: What Happened?”--for WVU’s Slavic Studies Series: Revolutionary World, 1917 and Beyond. At this event in the Milano Room of WVU's Downtown Library, Giardina noted, “West Virginia has never been in sync with the times in which it lives.” She suggested that “we are in a unique place,” but that in southern West Virginia, autonomy was compromised through the sale of land. When 80% of the land is owned by corporations or special interests, she suggested, “West Virginians lose a lot.” Earlier in the week, Onondagan Chief Oren Lyons spoke at the Peace Tree Celebration and he suggested the same thing when discussing the game of lacrosse. He stated that the team “loses a lot,” which seemed to allude to other kinds of losses regarding indigenous people. But then he stated: “no matter how much they lose, they are never defeated.” Giardina seemed to echo Lyons’ statement when she said: “I’d rather be a loser in West Virginia and I’m still here and I hope you are still here as well…. It’s not about liberal versus conservative. It’s about progressive views versus corporate views. Massive multinational corporations have no controls on them, but we must not devalue ourselves because we cannot control everything.”

At the WVRHC. L to R, back row: University of Pittsburgh Professor Lina Insana,
AD of Undergraduate Writing Sarah Morris, Luis Peer, Sarah Mitchell, Taylor Miller, Amelia Jones,
Samantha Barney, Marigene Robertson; front row: TAP Nancy Caronia and Denise Giardina.
WVU’s first year English majors have been planting seeds as to  how they will belong and where they will best contribute their voices and actions. I look forward to the day when one or more of these students choose to explore Giardina’s archives for their capstone project.

Special thanks to John Cuthbert and Lori Hostuttler with WVRHC for paving the way to visit Giardina’s archives, Lisa DiBartolomeo and the World Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics Department for hosting Giardina's talk, Lina Insana, the chair of the Department of Italian and French at University of Pittsburgh, for coming down to Morgantown to chat with myself and Denise Giardina about Italian Americans in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, the ENGL 199 students for their good cheer and curiosity, and Denise Giardina for her generosity of time and spirit.

Friday, September 22, 2017

APBP Archives Project Kicks Off

Today marks the beginning a multi-year effort by the Appalachian Prison Book Project to digitize the thousands of letters they've received over the years. Volunteers have been working hard all day to sort letters from men and women imprisoned in six states in the Appalachia region. Organizers estimate they've received over 20,000 letters!

If you'd like to get involved, APBP offers volunteer training every Saturday between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Learn more at

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Look at our snazzy new space!

Thanks to Cindy Ulrich, our resident interior designer, we now have a lovely new waiting area for students visiting our advising office. Isn't it sweet? And even if you don't have an advising appointment with Nancy Caronia or Doug Phillips, our pretty famous advisors, but just need a little sit-down, you could probably hang out there until someone notices and scoots you along!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Bit of Housekeeping

We're just doing a bit of housekeeping here on the blog to get it ready for Fall. I've started by updating our list of authors since many of the students have now graduated and moved on to other schools (either as professors or as doctoral students). Some of the faculty have moved on to other schools too since the blog began in 1984, which is a thing that happens in academia, apparently.

If I removed you and you want to be re-added so that you can send us tidings from the larger world, just let me know in the comments.

Next up: an update of our Favorite Blogs section. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Fun at the Eclipse

Wow. Not sure I've ever seen this many people seeking discoveries on the steps of Colson Hall. But that's what an eclipse will do for you, I guess. We didn't get total darkness or anything (darn), but it was kinda fun.

(photo credit on that first pic: Gwen Bergner)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Who do we have here?

Why, it's Professor John Lamb looking, well, very professorial! Who else would read King Lear in the sun?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Dispatches from the 2017 West Virginia Writers' Workshop

Happy Summer, everyone! We just enjoyed four marvelous days of reading and writing here in Morgantown, as part of the 2017 West Virginia Writers' Workshop! Here's a rundown of our speakers from the poster:

The poet laureate of West Virginia, Marc Harshman spoke on our first day, to a full house in the Gold Ballroom of the Mountainlair.

Here is Marc with some of our High School Workshoppers! 
Geffrey Davis and Courtney Brkic ran craft talks and workshops on poetry and fiction, while David Hassler and Ann Claycomb gave incredible readings and shared their writerly insights with all of us all weekend long.
David Hassler

Courtney Brkic

Ann Claycomb

Publishing Panel, featuring our High School Workshop Leader, Natalie Sypolt, and Geffrey Davis!

Thanks to the Assistant Director Renee Nicholson's Narrative Medicine Workshop, we also heard presentations from Dr. Lorence Gutterman, Aimee Mepham, and Erich Grant. Renee's Workshop also had presentations from Dr. Carl Grey, and the Office of Accessibility Services as they discussed Renee, Carl, and Whit Arnold's work in the infusion clinic of the WVU Medicine Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center.
Dr. Lorence Gutterman

Ready to start Friday morning!

Some of the Dream Team
Sunday morning offered the (fan favorite) Publishing Panel, and we closed the Workshop with a Memorial for Dr. Jamie Shumway, who passed away in October of 2014 from ALS.  Renee had worked with Jamie to complete his forthcoming memoir Off Belay, so Jamie's wife Betsy and Renee offered a tribute to him, and his work during this breakfast celebration.

Betsy, reading from Off Belay

Renee offering her memories of Jamie as well
The Writers Workshop would like to thank the WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of English Faculty and Staff, and all of the Workshop Faculty, Writers, and Participants.  You can relive the magic on our Facebook page, our Instagram account, our Twitter handle, and with the Periscope Live App, so check us out all over social media!

 Thanks for coming everyone, and safe travels as you return home!


Friday, April 14, 2017

Spring 17 PWE Capstone Poster Winners Announced!

Yesterday, the Professional Writing and Editing (PWE) program hosted the biannual PWE Poster Exhibit, where PWE capstone students showcase their writing and editing internship work for the university community.

Judges' and attendees' votes have been tallied, and the winners of the top poster awards are:

First Place: Jordan Miller, WVU Office of the Provost

Second Place:  Kayla Birnie, Eberly College Office of Undergraduate Studies

Third Place:  Olivia Wheeler, Literacy Volunteers of Monongalia & Preston Counties

Congratulations to all of the interns on their accomplishments this term, including:
Thank you to everyone who supported these talented English majors by attending the poster exhibit and voting for their favorite posters. A special thanks to the events' three judges, as well: Cheryl Ball, John Jones, and Sarah Morris.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

CFP EGSU 2017 Conference: Finding Frontiers: Then, Now, and Beyond

Call for Papers for WVU EGSU Conference 2017

Finding Frontiers: Then, Now, and Beyond

Keynote speaker: Professor Holly Dugan, George Washington University

In 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Frederick Jackson Turner declared that “[by] moving westward, the frontier became more and more American…each frontier leaves its traces behind it, and when it becomes a settled area the region still partakes of the frontier characteristics.” For Turner, the frontier and the American pursuit of the ever shifting frontier line was the force that shaped our democracy. It left upon future generations a temporal residue that found its way onto coming frontier lines, and the future definitions that came out of them Where, then, is the frontier now? How do we identify it if/when we find it? Turner’s declaration, and the questions it elicits, recall parallel issues of space across ages, disciplines, and texts.

The students of the English Graduate Student Union (EGSU) at the West Virginia University Department of English invite you to explore the idea of frontiers and the complications that they entail. The conference this year will be titled Frontiers: Then, Now, and Beyond, and will be held March 11th, 2017 at the West Virginia University downtown campus in Colson Hall.

This interdisciplinary conference seeks to look further at the unexplored, undefined, indefinite nature of frontiers like those that Turner describes in his thesis. Presenters should feel free to explore the idea of frontiers in some of its broadest terms. Guiding questions include: what are the implications of imagined borders within the frontier narratives of 19th century America? How do literary borders situate, sustain, and undermine the British empire during the same period–and where do we find additional historic, scientific, and cultural parallels?  How does the rise of post-apocalyptic fiction in popular culture speak to the constant search for new frontiers? How does the proposed Anthropocene affect the drawing back or expansion of sensual or ecological frontiers? We urge you to broadly explore all questions of, or pertaining to, frontiers. You may consider one of, but are not limited to, the following categories:
  • Ecocriticism and Environmental Studies
  • African American Literature
  • Women, Gender, and Sexuality
  • Popular Culture
  • Liminality
  • Posthumanism
  • American Literature
  • British Literature
  • Transatlantic Studies
  • Hemispheric Studies
  • Hispanic, Latino/a, and Chicano/a Literature
  • Native American Literature
  • Postcolonial Literature
  • War and/or Trauma and Literature
  • Film Studies and Film Theory
  • Queer Theory
  • Critical Theory and Aesthetics
  • Architecture and Urban Planning
  • Digital Humanities
Proposal abstracts of 250 words should be submitted electronically to by January 13th, 2017. All proposals should include the title of the work, presenter’s name, institutional and departmental affiliation, and any technology requests. We also welcome and encourage panel proposals of three to four presenters. We encourage panel organizers to experiment with different formats, including more speakers and shorter papers, discussion groups, PechaKucha, etc. The subject line of your email should also indicate if your abstract is a proposing creative or academic work. Panels will run for one hour and fifteen minutes, and speakers should be prepared to give a presentation lasting approximately fifteen minutes. This allows for ample opportunity in the interim for discussion of each paper. Chairs will see that all panels start and end on time, and that no speaker or group goes over their allotted time. Notification of proposal status will be within two weeks of the submission deadline.

Creative writing panels are also encouraged. Possible panel topics for creative writers might include defying boundaries of genre and/or genre blending, the resurgence of fairy tales in contemporary creative writing, or influences on your work out of genre or that deal in any of the possible subjects listed above. Fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry panels should plan to read for 7-10 minutes per participant and field questions from their audience.

More information can be found at

Friday, November 18, 2016

PWE Capstone Poster Winners Announced!

Yesterday, the Professional Writing and Editing (PWE) program hosted the biannual PWE Poster Exhibit, where PWE capstone students showcase their writing and editing internship work for the university community.

Judges' and attendees' votes have been tallied, and the winners of the top poster awards are:

First Place: Abigail Humphreys, The Daily Athenaeum

Second Place:  Krislin Nuzum, WVU Office of Accessibility Services

Third Place:  Matt Jarrett, Digital Publishing Institute

Congratulations to all of the interns on their accomplishments this term, including:

Thank you to everyone who supported these talented English majors by attending the poster exhibit and voting for their favorite posters. A special thanks to the events' three judges, as well: Lydia Welker, Nathalie Singh-Corcoran and Tom Sura.