Literary Festival Speaker Finds Inspiration in West Virginia’s Land and its People

Matthew Neill Null, a Mainstage Speaker at this year’s Lewisburg Literary Festival, found the roots of his first novel in his West Virginia childhood.

            Null, born in Nicholas County, went with his father to visit a disabled coal miner, who had created a museum on his homestead, including a garage filled with logging tools. “Like that man, the keeper of those things,” Null said, “a novelist desires objects, textures, physicality. A novelist reconstructs vanished lives.”

            Later, he would visit Spruce, an old logging town. “There, at nineteen, I decided to write a novel about that place and the people who once inhabited it,” Null said. And so Honey from the Lion – the title taken from a Bible verse – was born.

            Null’s presentation at Carnegie Hall is scheduled at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6. Admission is free, but tickets are required. Tickets are available at the Greenbrier Valley Visitors Center at 200 W. Washington Street in downtown Lewisburg. The phone number to reserve tickets or request other festival information is (304) 645-1000.

            “Fiction is fossilized gossip,” Null said. “I’ve tried to create an emotional history that bridges the space between our ancestors and ourselves.”

            Null’s Carnegie Hall presentation will include excerpts from his new book, Allegheny Front, a collection of short stories that covers the last two hundred years of life in West Virginia, with a particular focus on the relationships between humans and animals.

            Lydia Millet, the editor of Allegheny Front, said, “Null’s stories are remarkable for both their sharp relevance and their otherness. … Almost every piece touches on some part of the class enmity that festers between rich and poor, educated and uneducated, those who understand the land as a treasure to be protected and those who eke out a tough living directly from it.”

            Null’s writing has garnered national recognition. He is a recipient of the Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Mary McCarthy Prize, and the Michener-Copernicus Society of America Award.

            Asked why he thinks readers have been so responsive to his work, he said, “People are interested in the relationship between landscape and history, politics and family life, and that’s at the heart of my work. Also, I care about the nuances of language – I want my sentences and paragraphs to stand the test of time, as if chiseled into rock – and in a world with so much disposable language, maybe readers are responding to that.”

                Null divides his time between West Virginia and Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he coordinates the writing fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center.  

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