Two collections by West Virginia Wesleyan College Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing faculty hit the shelves this month. Richard Schmitt, a core MFA faculty member, releases his short story collection, Living Among Strangers, with Adelaide Books of New York and Lisbon; and Jessie van Eerden, MFA director, releases her collection of portrait essays, The Long Weeping, with Orison Books of Asheville, North Carolina.
Schmitt is the author of the novel The Aerialist (Harcourt, 2000) and has published fiction and nonfiction in Arts & Letters, Cimarron Review, Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, North American Review, and Puerto del Sol, among other places. His story, “Leaving Venice, Florida,” won 1st Prize in The Mississippi Review story contest. He has been anthologized in New Stories of the South: The Year’s Best 1999 and Best American Essays, 2013.
The stories in Living Among Strangers follow unparented kids walking the train trestle, a widowed mother whose daughters push her toward assisted living, an alcoholic trying to give up drink by questioning the root of desire—characters that span a lifetime. It is in the characters’ estrangement that the reader will find kinship. As with the manicured lawns of the Florida suburbs in the title story, in this collection, “there are rumors, things under the surface, things man-made and not.”
“Richard Schmitt is a storyteller,” writes Peter Turchi, author of A Muse and A Maze. “His stories seem not to start so much as startle, drawing us into a world that might feel familiar, but that we have never seen quite this way. Like one of his narrators, he knows to ignore the map, point his nose, and go. The magic is in his sentences, which at their best are sleek and strange and urgent, surprising and illuminating."
Van Eerden is author of the novels Glorybound (WordFarm, 2012), winner of ForeWord Reviews’ Editor’s Choice Fiction Prize, and My Radio Radio (Vandalia Press, 2016). Her work has appeared in The Oxford American, River Teeth, and Willow Springs, among other places. Her prose has been included in Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Fiction and Poetry from West Virginia (Vandalia Press); Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean (Ohio University Press); and Best American Spiritual Writing (Houghton Mifflin).
Van Eerden’s collection offers portraits of historical subjects like Simone Weil and the Beguine mystics and of family members and neighbors. Religious tradition and the rural landscape of Terra Alta, WV are two backgrounds to van Eerden’s longing to see and to believe, the longing itself taking on the robustness of faith. This is the common goal of these essays, to fully meet each subject and return to it some form of wholeness.
About The Long Weeping, Ann Pancake, author of Strange as This Weather Has Been, writes, “Van Eerden is one of the best essayists working today if judged by her craft and intellect alone, but her gifts go beyond those: she is also one of the most honest. The Long Weeping turns a visionary eye and a laser mind on subjects often simplified or even scorned by contemporary culture: white poverty, mysticism, love of family, the wisdom of modest people.”
Schmitt and van Eerden will hold a double book launch at Lascaux micro-theatre at Trader’s Alley in Buckhannon on Wednesday, December 6 at 7 p.m., with drinks and light eats at 6:30 p.m. next-door at ¾ Café. The reading is open to the public, and a book-signing will follow.
Wesleyan’s low-residency MFA in Creative Writing offers an apprenticeship model that enables students to earn a graduate degree without having to uproot their lives. Students are on campus for an intense residency period of nine to ten days each summer and winter, and complete their semester course work through correspondence with a mentor. Launched by Irene McKinney, who served as WV’s Poet Laureate until her death in February 2012, the program continues to honor her vision: the dynamic faculty is committed to fostering the creation of fine literature, particularly literature that explores place and identity. This program is the only one of its kind in the state.
For more information about Adelaide Books, or to order Living Among Strangers, visit adelaidebooks.org. For more information about Orison Books, or to order The Long Weeping, visit orisonbooks.com. Both books are also available on Amazon. To find out more about West Virginia Wesleyan’s creative writing program, contact MFA Director Jessie van Eerden: firstname.lastname@example.org, 304.473.8329, or visit the MFA website at www.wvwc.edu/mfa/