Marc Harshman speaks at 12:30 p.m. Sunday during the West Virginia Book Festival at the Charleston Civic Center. For more about the festival, which runs all weekend, visit wvbookfestival.org.
See Vic Burkhammer's "MountainWord" poetry blog at http://blogs.wvgazette.com/mountainword/ for an audio interview with Harshman.
Read some of Harshman's work here.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The call came "out of the blue" this past May, recalled Marc Harshman.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's office wanted to know if the poet and award-winning children's author would be interested in becoming the next poet laureate for the state of West Virginia?
Harshman got the call first as a phone message, then called back and got a staffer on the line. "She could testify to all the stuttering I did," he said. "I was absolutely stunned."
Harshman is the ninth writer to fill a position first established by the West Virginia Legislature in 1927. He is keenly aware of the large shoes he'll be filling. The previous holder of the post was nationally acclaimed poet Irene McKinney, who died Feb. 4 at age 72, after serving as West Virginia's poet laureate for nearly two decades.
"I certainly wish to continue the kind of support Irene gave to other writers and artists throughout the state," said Harshman, who lives in Wheeling. "She was very supportive, as well as being an inspiration in her own life and in her courageous struggle with her illness in her later years."
Harshman will deliver his inaugural reading as poet laureate at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at the West Virginia Book Festival at the Charleston Civic Center. He plans to read from his three chapbooks and from more recent work. He'll also reflect on the legacies of McKinney and her predecessor as poet laureate, Louise McNeill.
For a place as small as the Mountain State, Harshman said, "we are blessed with a true plethora of writers in West Virginia of really amazing skill. That's humbling in and of itself.
"Beyond that, I always think of myself as part of a larger community of artists - of painters, sculptors, dancers and musicians. I love to do all I can to support all the arts."
Harshman, 62, was born in Randolph County, Ind., earned a bachelor's degree from West Virginia's Bethany College and doubled up on master's degrees from Yale Divinity School and the University of Pittsburgh.
"Turning Out the Stones," his first chapbook, was published in 1983. In 1989, he published his children's book, "A Little Excitement," and began to earn acclaim as a children's author. His 1995 children's book, "The Storm," was named a Smithsonian National Book for Children and Parent's Choice award winner. He has since published 11 children's books, with some translated into Spanish, Korean, Danish and Swedish.
Given his résumé, he is quick to underscore how he sees himself as he takes up the mantle of his new position.
"I've always been a poet first, much as I love children's writing and thankful it has made my reputation and put bread on the table in a way poetry never has and probably never will."
As for the art of writing children's books and being a poet, he said, "There isn't as much a divide between the two genres as one might imagine.