- Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Fiction and Poetry from West Virginia eds. by Laura Long and Doug Van Gundy
Some places can pull at a person more than others—West Virginia is one of those places. For years its writers have been attempting to express that pull, what Lucy Lippard calls "the lure of the local … the geographical component of the psychological need to belong somewhere" (Lippard, 7). Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods, the new groundbreaking anthology of West Virginia writing, features the state's most prominent writers struggling with how that lure functions in their own lives and the lives of their characters. Through that exploration, they provide an ever-expanding definition of the diverse cultural landscape of West Virginia.
Editors Laura Long and Doug Van Gundy make clear in their introduction to Eyes Glowing that their anthology intends to capture the contemporary moment of West Virginia writing. Collecting pieces published specifically within the last fifteen years, the editors have made a seemingly conscious effort not to reiterate the work of the 2002 anthology, Backcountry: Contemporary Writing in West Virginia, the only other multigenre anthology of West Virginia writing.
Eyes Glowing brings together sixty-three writers of poetry and fiction, ranging from well-established authors to a number of new and exciting voices. Such a variety of perspectives allows the collection to fulfill the editors' goal as defined in the short introduction: "It is our intention that this collection defy easy categorization: a mosaic crafted from many voices, united by this place, and the quality of work" (Long and Van Gundy, 1). The anthology achieves this kind of mosaic surpassingly well, as the selections from the twenty-seven fiction writers and thirty-six poets exemplify the wide range of perspectives and diverse experiences that come out of living in and being from the mountain state.
While the book is full of well-known West Virginia writers like Maggie Anderson, Anne Pancake, and current state poet laureate Marc Harshman, it also features a large number of next-generation West Virginia writers, such as Jessie van Eerden, Randi Ward, Natalie Sypolt, Glenn Taylor, and William Woolfit. This new wave of voices adds to the editors' desired mosaic by capturing the diversity, richness, and multicultural aspects of the state that often go overlooked in favor of common stereotypes. Rahul Mehta's moving short story "Quarantine," for example, about an Indian American gay man's return visit to his West Virginia home, and Rajia Hassib's story "Quilting" about the only Egyptian participating in a quilting circle are two of many [End Page 127] stories that add to the sweeping perspective demonstrated by the anthology. This blend of new work from established authors and work from a variety of newer voices paints a portrait of the diversity in Appalachia that aids in breaking down the walls that decades of stereotypes have sadly constructed.
One of the more poignant and timely pieces is an excerpt from the late Lee Maynard's The Pale Light of Sunset in which he writes what could serve as the mantra for the entire collection: "I am born in West Virginia. I am West Virginian. And, as are all of us, I am a child only of West Virginia. And of no where, of no one, else" (Long and Van Gundy, 121). The anthology reasserts this notion that despite one's rootedness or transience, the connection to the land and its people remains. At the heart of several pieces in the anthology, either overtly or not, is the fundamental contradiction that is inherent in many West Virginians—a desire to escape and an unbreakable pull to stay.
And yet, by the very virtue of its intended mosaic design, the book simultaneously works against, embraces, and at times forthrightly defies the kind of stereotyping under which West Virginia, its literature, and its people have long suffered. Because the writing of Eyes Glowing spans such a range of experiences and concerns—longing...