On the evening of February 15, writer and educator Jessie van Eerden came to the the Appalachian Center for an Appalachian Heritage hosted event to read from her new collection of portrait essays, A Long Weeping. Van Eerden is a native West Virginian and currently directs the MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan College. She has written two novels: Glorybound (2012) and My Radio Radio (2016). The Long Weeping was nominated for the 2017 Weatherford Award in Creative Nonfiction.
Professor Jason Howard brought his Introduction to Creative Writing Class in for the reading, and they were in good hands as van Eerden modeled a beautiful example of creative nonfiction in her reading of The Long Weeping. She gripped the audience with the raw emotion of the essay she selected about grief, memory, and finding the way back to oneself.
When van Eerden reads, life stops as her voice carries listeners through the ups and downs of her vocals, the ups and downs of a story, the ups and downs of life. The themes van Eerden talks about in her writing are universal: loss, of grief, of family, of love, of growing as a person. van Eerden’s writing is powerful because it is deeply grounded in sense of place. Her identity as a West Virginian is clear in the scenery of her writing, in the stories she chooses to tell, in the ways she examines family and community in her writing.
When I read The Long Weeping, I found myself so deeply invested in the stories van Eerden was telling, in the portraits she was painting, that there were moments when I had to put the book down. At times, I was moved to tears. Others, I found myself nodding my head in agreement. For my life, this has been the most relevant book I have read in a long time, and I felt refreshed and understood by the end of the essay collection.
I was asked to introduce Jessie van Eerden for the reading and was deeply honored to introduce the woman whose writing has changed my life. After the reading, van Eerden stayed to sign copies and to talk to students and community members. She offered to talk to anyone who was interested in the MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan and exchanged words of encouragement with the hopeful writers in the room. If you have not read The Long Weeping, I highly suggest picking up a copy and settling in for an evening of reading.
Article Written by Emily Masters