West Virginia’s poet laureate Irene McKinney has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the West Virginia Commission on the Arts. As subject matter for her award-winning poetry, she often draws upon her upbringing on the family farm. She resides in Barbour County.
To me, coming home to West Virginia means … I traveled and taught around the country for 20 years, and came back to West Virginia, thinking I would just stay for a brief while. But my parents were getting old and ill, and I wanted to be near them. Coming home is about those family connections, to a great extent. I had the privilege, and the burden, of helping to care for them in their final years.
My favorite West Virginia reunion memory is … Our family reunions today are much smaller than the ones I remember from childhood, as my older relatives age and die, and the younger ones live in other states and get home only rarely. So these recent reunions are all the more precious to me since I can see them disappearing.
West Virginia’s best-kept secret is … the resourcefulness and intelligence of its people. The image the outside world has of the region doesn’t have a clue about this truth.
Even when I’m away from West Virginia, I feel its influence in my work or life … Other people know that I am from a rural,a mountain background, even when I don’t tell them that. So my very being reminds me of the state, no matter where I am. Also, my way of viewing the world is something I’ve consciously created out of the background I was given, and I’ve developed that in my writing.
Of my writings, “Six O’Clock Mine Report” is an ideal homesickness remedy. Most of it is colored by my West Virginia background. The title poem, and the poem “Deep Mining,” seem to strike a chord with people from the state. This book has just been reissued in the Carnegie Mellon Contemporary Classics Series.