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In Their Own Country

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Winner of the national Gabriel Award for programs that uplift the human spirit, this audio series consists of entertaining visits with fourteen of West Virginia’s most celebrated writers.

“... a major piece of work ... showing the nation what a treasure trove of talented writers—and strange and wonderful minds—these hills have produced.”—The Charleston Gazette

“The perception of West Virginia as a literary backwater was thoroughly demolished by these programs.”—Graffiti

“These writers are as deep, original, stirring and funny as the place is. You can't hear them without feeling good about West Virginia. You'll hear lots of humor, advice to writers, reflections on WV and life ... and some provocative, beautiful readings." —Kate Long, host of the series


Public libraries throughout the state of West Virginia received complete sets with guides and scripts. These sets are available for circulation.

Program Highlights

Irene McKinney – state poet laureate (home country: Barbour). Insightful, often-funny stories about her working farm upbringing, mixed with stunning poems that peel back the surface of ordinary things. Delightful glimpses of a little girl in a working farm community. Penetrating observations about modern life, thought-provoking and moving.

Glimpses from readings ... the little girl who wants to sleep in the barn with the animals ... the divorced woman who now has an extra gravesite .... the dying father whose "mind is like a flapping line of laundry".  Music:  Bob Webb

Denise Giardina – (home counties: McDowell, Kanawha) national award-winning novelist. Denise traces historical and theological threads that run from novel to novel. She compares the courage of those who fought for the miners in the West Virginia mine wars with the dilemmas faced by Dietrich Bonnhoeffer in World War II and Henry V in the fifteenth century. Humor, sex, theology, and her run for governor.*

Glimpses from readings ... a boy watches his dad come in from the mines late at night ... a TV newscaster tries to film southern WV kids during the Poverty War ... a lovely sex scene ... Dietrich Bonnhoeffer agonizing over his decision to return to Nazi Germany.  Music: various

Richard Currey – (home county: Wood) Adult fiction, translated into a dozen languages. In his compelling, deep voice, Richard Currey gives us absorbing, sometimes stunning glimpses of the Vietnam ground war, the West Virginia mine wars, murderers, and traveling musicians. Intense readings, valuable advice to writers.*

Glimpses from readings ... a miner sitting in his house with a shotgun during the Mine Wars, waiting for the mine guards to come kill him ... a country musician calling his wife from the road, a medic cradling a dying guy on the ground in Vietnam.  Music: John Blisard

Cynthia Rylant – (home county: Raleigh) One of the world's best-loved children's writers. Adults will love her too. She reads favorites like When I Was Young in the Mountains, but also other work for older people that shows her irreverent humor and down-to-earth nonconformity. A rare visit with a writer who almost never grants recorded interviews.

Glimpses from readings: ... favorite children's books: scarecrows and relatives, night birds and When I Was Young in the Country. Also writing for older people: a young soldier in WWII who sees his buddy's head blown off ... a teenager whose mother has lost her mind ... a charming duet with an 8-year-old Tucker County girl.  Music: Robin Kessinger

Keith Maillard – (home county: Ohio) Adult fiction. Probably the sexiest show in the series! Keith teaches at the University of British Columbia in Canada. For his eight published novels, he made up a fictional West Virginia town (Raysburg), modeled on Wheeling. His work is as lively and irreverent as he is. Great advice to writers mixed with stories about early settlers, teenagers hopping a train, an alcoholic stepfather, etc.*

Glimpses from readings: an outrageously sexy scene of two teenagers hopping a train ... an Irish immigrant rolling down the National Road toward Wheeling ... wonderful advice to writers.  Music: Steve Hill

Jayne Anne Phillips – (home county: Upshur) Adult fiction. National award-winning writer, translated into more than a dozen languages. Fiction that grew out of stories heard in childhood, family events, and personal experience, mixed with intense pieces that are definitely not from her personal experience. First-rate advice about writing.*

Glimpses from readings: a stripper remembers her early life in Charleston ... a mother and daughter argue about sex ... a daughter follows her father with Alzheimer's around town, to make sure he doesn't get lost.  Music: Bob Webb

Sandra Belton – (home county: Raleigh) children's writer. When Sandra Belton grew up in Beckley, she and her friends packed the library on Saturdays because it was one of the few places black people were treated equally with whites. Much as she loved the library, she knew what books were missing: books about black kids. Now she writes those books, to much national acclaim. A warm, musical visit with a thoughtful person.

Glimpses from readings: glimpses of 1950s segregated Beckley ... a little girl looking in vain for books about black kids in the library... segments that could happen to any child: divorce, job loss, combined with specifically African-American segments ... people reminiscing on a neighborhood porch about the time Duke Ellington came to West Virginia, when black people couldn't stay in hotels.  Music: Tim Courts

Pinckney Benedict – (home county: Greenbrier) Adult fiction, international award-winner. Stories about people struggling to keep their dignity and humor against big odds, mixed with fast-paced, dark tales of giant hogs and drug lords. Often funny, often violent. A controversial writer who delivers memorable writing advice and talks frankly about his writing and himself.*

Glimpses from readings: a young man busts a beloved older man out of a nursing home ... a giant, dangerous white hog ... drug lords in southern WV ... a judge's wife waltzes into a farmhouse and asks to buy a piece of the family furniture.  Music: Ron Sowell

Breece D'j Pancake – (home county: Cabell) Adult fiction. Dark, brilliant stories from the book of his short stories published after he committed suicide. He plowed new territory for Appalachian writers with searing stories about ordinary people coping on the edge. His book attracted international attention. First-rate readings from his stories and letters, mixed with discussion of his work by other WV writers and his biographer.*

Glimpses from readings: a bobcat watches a hunter cut open a deer ... a desperate young prostitute sells herself in a river town ... a guy gigs turtles and looks for fossils while his mother sells the farm.  Music: various

Maggie Anderson – (father's family county: Preston) Poetry. Nationally-praised poet and director of Kent State's writing program. Advice to poets and charming stories about mid-century Rowlesburg, mixed with lively poetry about many subjects: her family, a photographer taking pictures of West Virginian s, vegetables that dream, black dogs. A treat: the music a Connecticut composer composed to go with her vegetable dream poems.*

Glimpses from program: a little girl watches a stool, pretending it's a TV ... a farm wife who cooks and cleans endlessly without a thank you from anyone ... radishes with insomnia.  Music: various

Stephen Coonts – (home county: Upshur) - Adult fiction. A fast-paced, entertaining visit with West Virginia's best-selling writer. He writes techno-thrillers about international espionage and fighter pilots. Flight of the Intruder, his first book, was made into a movie, and almost all of his books rank on the New York Times best-seller list.*

Glimpses from readings: a Navy pilot sits in his plane in the night on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, waiting to be launched out into the dark ... a computer hacker destroys the Red Chinese missile bank.  Music: various 

Marc Harshman – (longtime resident: Marshall, now Ohio) - Children's books, poetry. Marc has lived in West Virginia for over thirty years. He represents the many fine writers who have moved to the state. Marc combines a national reputation as a children's writer with a talent for storytelling performance. He tells about his early days in West Virginia and offers insightful comments about poetry, politics, and storytelling in West Virginia.

Glimpses from readings: ... two kids watch their dad put out a chimney fire in the snow ... a beloved uncle writes wonderful letters, then turns out to be an alcoholic ... strangers who seek shelter at a child's house in a blizzard create a magical evening.  Music: various  

Davis Grubb – (home county: Harrison). Adult fiction. After Night of the Hunter was made into a movie, Davis Grubb became a national literary celebrity. His dark, absorbing stories often involve innocents and children battling danger and dangerous adults. Interviews with him, thanks to the West Virginia Library Commission.*

Glimpses from readings: a convict posing as a preacher chases two children through the night ... a man buried in a mine collapse eats from his lunch pail as he prepares to die.  Music:  various 

Mary Lee Settle – (home county: Kanawha). Adult fiction and memoir. West Virginia's National Book Award winner. In typical energetic fashion, Mary Lee explores the themes of her five-volume Beulah Land quintet that traces several families from Cromwell's England to the Kanawha Valley. Entertaining glimpses of her research, readings from her memoir of her grandmother Addie.*

Glimpses: a rebel in Cromwell's England faces a firing squad ... Mother Jones rallies the miners on Cabin Creek ... in a drunk tank, a guy from the wealthy section of town decks a guy from the creeks.  Music: various

* Programs may contain adult content or language. Parental discretion advised.

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Guide for use of "In Their Own Country"

  • With teachers and parents in mind, the CD set of "In Their Own Country" allows users to go directly to a selected segment. Used in a thoughtful way, this CD set is a powerful tool for stirring pride in West Virginia. Teachers will find sections that can be used in English, history, and social studies lessons.
  • These 14 authors write for people of all ages, however, some material would go over children's heads or be inappropriate for them. The guide will help teachers and parents easily find the programs and segments suitable for use with young people. An asterisk* identifies programs containing adult content or language.
  • A script and table of contents accompanies each CD.
  • As teachers listen, they may want to note material they want to use in the classroom.
  • Each CD is divided into tracks, so you can go directly to the material you want to use.
  • The script and table of contents for each CD is available by written request to Susan Hayden. The West Virginia Library Commission provides these materials for educational and personal use only. Any commercial, published, or broadcast use of the writers' work or any other program material requires the written permission of the rights owners.
  • Each table of contents contains a brief description and the time of each track. Most tracks last no longer than three minutes. Some are shorter. A few last as long as ten minutes.
  • Each table of contents also contains a subject matter index. A teacher might, for instance, want to feature childhood memories of several authors. She or he would look for the tracks marked CM in each table of contents. Or a teacher might look for tracks marked AW for writing advice. Or CH for cultural history. Using the tables of contents, a teacher can easily find relevant tracks from CD to CD.

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One Book, One West Virginia | Letters About Literature | W.Va. Children's Choice Awards | In Their Own Country | Celebrating Literature