‘Authors in the Cellar’ Returns to First State Capitol

The Wheeling Academy of Law and Science (WALS) Foundation, in conjunction with the Reuther-Wheeling Library and Labor History Archive, will host a revival of the “Authors in the Cellar” program at the First State Capitol at 1413 Eoff St. in Wheeling on First Friday, at 6 p.m. Feb. 2.

The free event will feature complimentary light refreshments and will be held in the State Cellar, a former restaurant on the premises of the First State Capitol. Speaking at the event will be West Virginia essayist Catherine Venable Moore, who wrote the introduction for the new edition of Muriel Rukeyser’s “The Book of the Dead,” a collection of poems about the 1931 Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Disaster being published by WVU Press. 

A writer and radio producer, Moore grew up in Charleston and studied writing at Harvard University and the University of Montana. She returned home to West Virginia to work as a newspaper reporter and independent producer. Since then, she has co-founded several public history projects, including the Paint Creek Audio History Project; the Cedar Grove documentary project; and the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum. Local 1440 of the United Mine Workers of America labor union recently inducted her as an honorary member for her work to preserve the history of the organization. Her writing has been published by Best American Essays, Oxford American, VICE, Columbia Journalism Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Yes! Her radio pieces have aired on public radio stations across the U.S. and on the BBC. Her current projects include works of narrative nonfiction set in Appalachia, to be published by Random House. 

Moore’s talk at “Authors in the Cellar” will focus on her remarkable introduction to Rukeyser’s book about the 1931 disaster in Gauley Bridge, W.Va. An important part of Appalachia’s cultural heritage and a powerful account of one of the worst industrial catastrophes in the nation’s history, “The Book of the Dead” is a collection of poems investigating the roots of a tragedy that killed hundreds of workers, most of them African-American. Rukeyser’s poems are a rare engagement with the overlap between race and environment in Appalachia. WVU Press is publishing a new edition of the book accompanied, for the first time, by the photography of Nancy Naumburg, who accompanied Rukeyser to Gauley Bridge in 1936.

To paraphrase from Moore’s introductory essay, Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980) was a prolific American writer and political activist. After learning of the disaster in West Virginia, Rukeyser and photographer Nancy Naumburg, drove from New York to Gauley Bridge to investigate in the spring of 1936. They originally intended the text and photographs to be published together, but for unknown reasons, this never happened. “The method was in vogue at the time, as writers and artists across the country — mostly white — dispatched themselves to document the social ills of the Great Depression in language and film.

The federal government assigned teams of unemployed writers to turn their ethnographic gaze to the country’s landscape and social history, producing the American Guide Series,” writes Moore. 

Visit the WALS Facebook events page, send an email to Sean Duffy at spd@walslaw.com or call 304-905-1690 for more information.