June 14th, 2022
West Virginia University Libraries and the West Virginia and Regional History Center will help you find the words to celebrate the Mountain State’s 159th birthday with “West Virginia’s Poetic Heart” on June 21 at 1 p.m. in the Downtown Libraries’ Milano Reading Room. The date of this event has changed because of a University holiday.
The West Virginia Day program brings together West Virginia Poet Laureate Marc Harshman and the poetry of noted Appalachian poet Maggie Anderson.
“We are thrilled for Marc to headline our first in-person West Virginia Day program since 2019,” WVRHC Interim Director Lori Hostuttler said. “Although Maggie isn’t able to participate in the program, she will be present through Marc reading her works. Listening is poetry is always moving and inspiring, and will help us celebrate the experiences and relationships we as West Virginians value most.”
Attend in person or register to watch the Zoom event here.
Anderson is a poet and author of five books of poems, most recently “Dear All.” She was born in New York City in 1948 and moved to West Virginia when she was 13 years old. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English, with high honors, from WVU in 1970, she stayed to complete master degrees in creative writing and social work. She taught poetry at Kent State University from 1989 until her retirement in 2009.
Although she’s lived in many places throughout her life – New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon and Ohio – she calls West Virginia home.
“There are the familiar hills, there are my memories of my friends and I growing up there,” Anderson said. “I have vivid memories of Morgantown from when I was in college. I used to walk these hills and walk these streets. In some way, what we think about home is place of memories.”
She treasures her memories of her close friend Irene McKinney, Poet Laureate for West Virginia from 1994 until her death in 2012.
“I used to go to her place outside of Elkins. It was out in the country,” Anderson said. “I loved to be in the green and in the fields, and I think that all goes directly into my writing.
I can’t seem to write anything without a tree in it.”
Harshman left Indiana to attend Bethany College in 1969 and fell in love with the Mountain State, which reminded him of his native home.
“Both places are much defined by rural culture,” Harshman said. “People respect hard work, are welcoming and friendly. It’s the kind of place where people know the name of things – plants, next hollow over, roads, and creeks. And that all suited me.”
Harshman was appointed Poet Laureate for West Virginia in 2012. He is the author of 14 children’s books including “The Storm,” a Smithsonian Notable Book, and five books of poetry. He also holds degrees from Yale University Divinity School and the University of Pittsburgh. In 2018, WVU invited him to be part of the inaugural group of Distinguished West Virginians who contributed their papers to the WVRHC.
“I have a great faith in poetry to refocus in us what it means to be human and with every passing year I feel an ever greater need to be reminded about what it is that we hold in common as men and women who value beauty and the kind of meaning revealed in artistic expression,” Harshman said. “I am not embarrassed to continue to quote as immensely relevant William Carlos Williams’ adage that, ‘It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there’.”
Harshman views being poet laureate as an opportunity to pursue his writing diligently and to promote the arts of West Virginia, whenever and wherever he is. In that vein, he is quick to praise his long-time friend.
“Maggie writes poems that are heartwarming, that make you proud to be a fellow human being, even as some of the poems ask you to face challenges and darker issues,” Harshman said.
Along with their works, Harshman will use a portion of his time on West Virginia Day to read poems by Irene McKinney and Louise McNeill, who was poet laureate from 1979 until she passed away in 1993.
Immediately following the program, the WVRHC will open its latest exhibit, which documents selected West Virginia poets with materials from the Center’s book and archival collections. In 2006, the WVRHC received the title of Literary Landmark by the Friends of the Library Association U.S.A. for preserving McNeill’s papers.
Refreshments and birthday cake will be served at 1 p.m., and the speakers begin at 1:30 p.m. More information can be found at wvrhc.lib.wvu.edu/wvday.