Growing up in Appalachia means different things to different people. For West Virginia University alum and adjunct professor Dwight Harshbarger, it evokes a sense of place, history and culture.
That’s why the Cabell County, W.Va., native created the Appalachian Writing Award in 2010. And that’s why he has funded an endowment to support the award for as long as the writing contest exists.
The contest is hosted by the Department of English is open to all WVU undergraduate students who grew up in Appalachia, which includes all of West Virginia, and whose work is set in Appalachia. Each winner is awarded tuition to the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop, which features nationally recognized writers and is held every July in Morgantown.
“Living in West Virginia, a state in which two-thirds of the land is owned by outside corporations, it is important to recognize and reflect on what place means in the lives of West Virginians,” Harshbarger said. “I hope this award will help do that.”
Harshbarger grew up in the small town of Milton, W.Va., and used his knowledge of the culture, people and history of West Virginia to create powerful characters in his two fictional works In the Heart in the Hills: A Novel in Stories and Witness at Hawks Nest, a fictionalized account of the 1930s construction of Hawks Nest tunnel, America’s deadliest and least-known industrial disaster. Although best known for his work in psychology, his novels earned him a coveted spot in West Virginia’s literary community.
He returned to WVU in 2008 and soon afterward joined the Department of Community Medicine as an adjunct professor. In addition, he became a member of the Visiting Committee of the Department of English. He developed the award to underscore the significance of Appalachian literature and culture within the department.
“I hope the award will strengthen the voices of young Appalachian writers and give visibility to Appalachian issues,” Harshbarger said.
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