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In Their Own Country logo In Their Own Country text in English Vivace font
Winner of the national Gabriel Award for programs that uplift the human spirit.

Entertaining visits with fourteen of West Virginia’s most celebrated writers.  

Irene McKinney

West Virginia's poet laureate tells insightful, often-funny stories about her working farm upbringing, mixed with stunning poems that peel back the surface of ordinary things. Delightful glimpses of an ornery little girl in a working farm community. Penetrating observations about modern life. Thought-provoking and moving. As Pinckney Benedict says, "This woman should be internationally famous."

Glimpses from readings:
- the little girl who wants to sleep naked in the barn with the animals
- the divorced woman who plans to use both gravesites for herself
- the dying father whose "mind is like a flapping line of laundry." 

Personal: Born and lives in Barbour County on farm owned by family since 18th century. Divorced, two children.

Publications: The Girl with the Stone in Her Lap, North Atlantic Books 1976, Wasps at the Blue Hexagon, Small Plots Press 1984; Quick Fire Slow Fire, North Atlantic Books 1988; Six O'Clock Mine Report, University of Pittsburgh Press 1989; Editor of Backcountry: Contemporary Writing in West Virginia , West Virginia University Press 2002.

Education and Career: BA West Virginia Wesleyan College 1968; MA West Virginia University 1970, Ph.D. University of Utah 1980. Teaching positions (chronological) Western Washington University, Potomac State College (WV), University of California at Santa Cruz, University of Utah, Hamilton College (NY), West Virginia Wesleyan (professor), University of New Mexico (visiting). Co-founder and editor with Maggie Anderson of poetry journal Trellis. Assistant Editor Quarterly West. Active writer-in residence, lecturer, speaker.

Awards: National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, Poet Laureate of West Virginia, WV Commission on the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, Utah Arts Council Prize Award in Fiction, Cincinnati Review Annual Poetry Prize, Appalachian Mellon Fellowship from University of Virginia, MacDowell and Breadloaf Fellowships.

Reviewers' Comments:
- "This beloved grief of connectedness occurs as a motif throughout this collection ... Even in isolation from one another, most of the poems are memorable; the passion that emerges as one reflects another as one reflects another compounds that virtue." (New Letters / Review of Books)
- "A beautifully-crafted voice is at work here in the rhythmic language of authority that knows a thing and a place well.. This honest, natural voice relies on no tricks, no poetic posturing. When McKinney writes of the mines, the landscape is a body." (Hungry Mind Review)
- "McKinney is an important contemporary West Virginia poet whose appreciation for Appalachia shines brightly through her work. In many of her poems, she creates powerful images of the region that leave us greatly impacted by the passion and admiration she feels for this oft-maligned corner of
America." (Megan Valentine)

Excerpts about writing from IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY: "When I was a little girl, this farm was the entire world to me. I think in the popular imagination, when people talk about living on a self-sufficient farm or nearly self-sufficient farm, the myth in America is that that was heaven, that that was all rosy and all good and all positive. And of course, nothing with life in it is every all positive. That's totally insane. I don't know where we ever got that idea."

"...Any time anyone would ask me, 'What are you going to be when you grow up? I would say, 'I am going to be a writer! And I think I told them that before I had written very much at all. I stated certain fantasies and made certain fantasies come true".

"The poet Gary Snyder was very important to me. He made me feel I had permission to write about rural life. So many of the poems I was reading were about city life or didn't seem to take into account the natural world in any way. Or if it did take into account the natural world, it was like a decoration. It was something in the background. But tome, the natural world was in the foreground. When I would go down to the barn and spend time with the cattle, with the workhorses - also we usually had some hound dogs down there - these were important characters in my life. And their life processes were important to me. Gary Snyder made me suddenly realize that I could write about that, that I could bring that into my poems."

"It's a great labor to write in an original way, to mine this stuff and bring it up to the surface and do something with it, turn it into fuel or whatever.".."In certain kinds of very intense lyric poetry, the poem knows better than I do".."I think, probably for those of us who write, we've made a decision sometime in our lives, either consciously or unconsciously, that this is the way we're going to understand the world"...

See also: A Directory of American Poets and Fiction Writers: NY Poets and Writers 1997

Program Music performed by: Bob Webb

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Last modified: 09/16/08