On his most recent birthday, Jeff Mann sat in the comfort of his writing sanctuary in Pulaski, Virginia, scrolling through his email. One particular missive from a friend stood out. It referred to “LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia,” the first book of poetry and fiction by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer authors from Appalachia.

The note went beyond birthday well-wishes. Its words captured the true essence of Mann’s decision to take part in the West Virginia University Press writing project.

“My friend talked about how isolated he felt growing up,” said Mann, an associate professor of creative writing at Virginia Tech. “He said if he had seen a book with a title like that in the library or bookstore, even though he’s not from Appalachia, it would have made him feel a lot less isolated.”

For Mann, a two-time Lambda Literary Award-winning writer, the email resonated with his reasons for accepting the press’ invitation to be co-editor on the anthology with Julia Watts, a faculty member at South College in Knoxville, Tennessee.

“Julia and I were the right people to edit this book because both of us have published more fiction and poetry about gay and lesbian life in Appalachia than just about anybody,” he said. “We have both published quite a bit on that confluence of identities.”

After Mann did a book reading at West Virginia University in 2017, Abby Freeland, an acquisitions editor with the press, asked Mann to be an editor on a new book. She outlined the parameters. It would include Appalachian- and LGBTQ-themed poetry and fiction. The press specified that submissions would be invitation only, and each author would have published at least one book. 

Mann had two writers in mind. Maggie Anderson, a fellow graduate of West Virginia University, accepted the invitation and sent poetry. He also invited Dorothy Allison, author of the bestselling novels “Bastard Out of Carolina” and “Cavedweller,” who provided four previously unpublished poems.

 In addition, the book includes 16 other writers and poets. Mann and Watts contributed to the anthology as well.

Mann is the author of five books of poetry, “Bones Washed with Wine,” “On the Tongue,” “Ash: Poems from Norse Mythology,” “A Romantic Mann,” and “Rebels.” His other works include three collections of personal essays, a memoir with poetry titled “Loving Mountains, Loving Men,” and six novels. Among his many honors, he was inducted into the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival Hall of Fame.

Although Mann had to take a hiatus from his own writing to focus on his editorial duties for “LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia,” he said that it was an important act for the press to publish the book during a time in history when LGBTQ people are experiencing so much turmoil.

“The best thing about this book,” he said, “is it will make it easier for people to balance their gay and lesbian identities with their Appalachian identities than it was for me or my generation. I spent decades trying to figure out how I could be a gay man and Appalachian at the same time, and here is proof that all kinds of writers have negotiated these two identities.” 

Written and photographed by Leslie King.