THE BOOK: Jaws of Life
PUBLISHED IN: 2018
THE AUTHOR: Laura Leigh Morris
THE EDITOR: Abby Freeland
THE PUBLISHER: West Virginia University Press
SUMMARY: In the hills of north central West Virginia, there lives a cast of characters who face all manner of problems. From the people who are incarcerated in West Virginia’s prisons, to a woman who is learning how to lose her sight with grace, to another who sorely regrets selling her land to a fracking company, Jaws of Life portrays the diverse concerns the people of this region face every day—poverty, mental illness, drug abuse, the loss of coal mines, and the rise of new extractive industries that exert their own toll.
While these larger concerns exist on the edges of their realities, these characters must still deal with quotidian difficulties: how to coexist with ex-spouses, how to care for sick family members, and how to live with friends who always seem to have more.
THE BACK STORY: While I never intended to write a story collection about West Virginia, I found that after moving to Texas all of my story ideas were centered on my home state. Turns out, I needed to leave home to really need to write about it. That distance allowed me to think about where I’m from and to miss the landscape itself, which led to stories. An early draft of the collection turned into the central part of my dissertation and forced me to think deeply about what it means to leave home and to become witness to a place and way of life that doesn’t define me so centrally any longer.
WHY THIS TITLE?: Jaws of Life is the title of one of the stories, which is pretty standard for a collection. More interesting is that one of the readers for WVU Press suggested another story title as book title – Photographing the Dead. While I love that title, and some days I love it more than the title the book ended up with, I did not want to give death such a central place in a book about Appalachia. The region is often given such a bad rap and is often seen as a place without life and a future, and I didn’t want my book to add to that. Instead, I wanted the book title to focus on the dynamic lives that people in the region live.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? There are so many stereotypes about West Virginia, and unless you spend time there, it’s difficult to get beyond them. The stories in this book open the door to some of the people you might meet there and gives as much more human perspective on their lives.
Through all the stories, Morris focuses on the quiet struggles. She elicits deep compassion for characters who seem to be on a ride that keeps trying to buck them off. This is a timely and important read bringing us closer to what it means to live in rural America. – Aurora D. Bonner, Colorado Review
It’s tempting to compare a new author with established ones who have treaded similar paths—in this case, Bonnie Jo Campbell and Ann Pancake come to mind—but Morris has a voice of her own, and her ability to tell rugged tales with crisp prose are the markings of a writer to watch. – Gonzalo Baeza, The Observer
Morris’ stories are refreshing in that way, tales of real people being real, faced with real situations, forced to make real choices. – Michael Czyzniejewski, Story 366
AUTHOR PROFILE: Laura Leigh Morris is the author of Jaws of Life: Stories, published in 2018 by West Virginia University Press. She lives in Greenville, South Carolina, where she teaches creative writing and literature at Furman University. Before that, she spent three years as the National Endowment for the Arts/Bureau of Prisons Artist-in-Residence at Bryan Federal Prison Camp in Bryan, Texas. She’s previously published short fiction in Appalachian Heritage, Louisville Review, Notre Dame Review, and other journals. Originally from north central West Virginia, all of her fiction is set there, the place she is most at home. From the landscape to the rich variety of people to the long history of resource extraction, the region serves as a rich backdrop to both her life and her stories. She is currently at work on her first novel.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: West Virginia is home, though I haven’t lived there in 20 years. This book reminds me of who I was when I lived there, and it reminds me of the people I still love who live there.
SAMPLE CHAPTER: Check out me reading an excerpt of the opening story “Frackers” on Inside Appalachia on WV Public Radio:https://www.wvpublic.org/post/whos-telling-appalachias-story-appalachian-writers-discuss-their-work#stream/0
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Any major retailer
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Contact me through my website: www.lauraleighmorris.com or on Twitter @lauraleighwrites or on Facebook athttps://www.facebook.com/lauraleighmorris
Laura Leigh Morris, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of English
Co-director, Furman Prison Education Partnership
President, AAUP, Furman Chapter
Furman Hall 100R