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WVU Press author and WV poet laureate Marc Harshman wins 2016

Marc Harshman, poet laureate of West Virginia, has received the 2016 Weatherford Award in poetry for his book Believe What You Can, published by Vandalia Press, the creative imprint of West Virginia University Press.

The Weatherford Awards honor books that “best illuminate the challenges, personalities, and unique qualities of the Appalachian South.” Granted by Berea College and the Appalachian Studies Association for 47 years, the awards commemorate the life and achievements of W.D. Weatherford, Sr., a pioneer and leading figure in Appalachian development, youth work, and race relations, and of his son, Willis D. Weatherford, Jr., who was Berea College President (1967-84). Harshman was recognized at the 2017 Appalachian Studies Conference in Blacksburg, Virginia, March 10.

In his poetry collection Believe What You Can, Marc Harshman explores the difficulty of living with an awareness of the inevitable death of all living things and methods of coping with that inevitability. Each of its four sections suggests a coping mechanism for this inevitable predicament, from storytelling, to accepting darkness and death as a creative force, to enjoying disruption and chaos, and finally to embracing the mystery of life as the most triumphant story of all.

Of Believe What You Can, one Weatherford judge said they found Harshman’s poetry to be “enduring.” They continued, “His work neither took for granted nor exploited any Appalachian stereotypes.  Each poem stood on its own metaphorical and transcending ability alone, relying on no down-home domestic detail to make it relevant or social cause to carry and give it weight.  It had no other agenda than to make the invisible visible.” Another said that Harshman's collection was "a gem of a book, composed of finely tuned sentences that stand in tribute to language and this region."

Harshman has lived his adult life in northern West Virginia, though he was raised in Indiana. He holds degrees from Bethany College, Yale University Divinity School, and the University of Pittsburgh. For the first part of his career, Harshman taught fifth and sixth grades, and for the last 20 years he has devoted himself exclusively to his writing and lecturing. His 13 highly-acclaimed children’s books include The Storm, a Smithsonian Notable Book. He is the host of The Poetry Break, a monthly show for West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Finalists for the 2016 Weatherford Award in poetry are Joseph Bathanti’s The 13th Sunday After Pentecost, Kathleen Driskell’s Blue Etiquette, and Rita Sims Quillen’s The Mad Farmer’s Wife. Other 2016 Weatherford Award winners include Crystal Wilkinson’s The Birds of Opulence (fiction) and Steven E. Nash’s Reconstruction’s Ragged Edge: The Politics of Postwar Life in the Southern Mountains (nonfiction).

Publication date: September 2016

114pp/PB 978-1-943665-22-8: $16.99/epub 978-1-943665-23-5: $16.99

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