1 Oct

Poet and winner of the 2016 Slope Editions Book Prize Keegan Lester writes about his special connection to WVU, his new book, this shouldn’t be beautiful but it was & it’s all i had so i drew it, and the moment he almost gave up on writing.

Keegan Lester

Photo Credit: www.KeeganLester.com

This summer, about a week after I got off the the Travelin’ Appalachians Revue Tour, I was sitting on a Mega Bus headed to NYC, and at some point on that nine hour trip I made up my mind that I was done. I was done with touring and trying to write professionally. I was done trying to get a book published. I was 29 and felt it. I had only slept in a real bed once in about three months. I decided to move home to California from NYC. I decided I’d failed and figured I’d never be able to get my book published.

It was a strange time.

I had been mulling it over the weeks surrounding that trip, and it was this heavy weight on my shoulders that no one knew about, except for two people in my family and my girlfriend. Each night on that tour I went out on stage as if it was the last time.

The day after I got back to NYC, my girlfriend and I went out and had the most somber happy hour margaritas ever. We went home, and sang songs because singing songs always helps. After singing, I checked my email as I do thousands of times a day, and I saw an email from Slope Editions. I read Mary Ruefle had selected my manuscript this shouldn’t be beautiful but it was & it’s all i had, so i drew it, for the 2016 Slope Editions Book Prize. And believe me, no one was more shocked than me.

I almost passed out. I danced pretty hard. I yelled a bunch. And I only write this now, because in the age of social media I think people often don’t realize how hard it is out there, even when you are getting published in top tier journals and are touring the country. Choosing to dedicate your life to the writing vocation will ensure you a life of self doubt, but sometimes it works out fine.

So persevere. You have time.

Keegan Lester Sign

Photo Credit: www.KeeganLester.com

My connection to WVU goes way back. Everyone on my dad’s side of the family went to WVU and even my great grandma on my mom’s side went there too. Morgantown is where the majority of my father’s family still live today. Even though I grew up in Huntington Beach, California, Morgantown was my home away from home where I’d often spend summers and winter vacations and usually attend two or three football games a year. It’s a place where I’ve always felt most free and most creative.

I was wrangled into the undergraduate creative writing program at the end of my sophomore year, per the suggestion of Renee Nicholson and Gail Adams, and I never looked back.

There was so much support and such a terrific cast of writers and mentors, and I was always surrounded by wonderful people during my time in Morgantown. Renee and Natalie Sypolt were both important and influential mentors for me, and I must credit Mary Ann Samyn for teaching me the building blocks for every poem I’ve ever written. Without Mary Ann, none of this would have been possible. I was the editor-in-chief of Calliope my senior year, which was an incredible honor and later led to me co-founding Souvenir Lit, the online lit journal I co-curate today.

Keegan Lester Book

Photo Credit: www.KeeganLester.com

The majority of the poems in the collection focus on figuring out where I come from, with regards to physical, spiritual and mental landscapes. I always thought I was more like my dad, but over the last couple years I’ve realized that I’m much more like my mother and through the exploration of our physical and mental issues including depression and autoimmune disorders, I’ve learned we share a bond and a closeness I never realized before. The more I investigated my mother, the more I came to understand myself, and the investigation of our physical and mental spheres became a kind of road map that helped me see the world, and understand myself more clearly. It is also comforting to know that there is the other person going through the same things as you, and you have that person to talk to and share and scheme with.

At this moment I’m selling my book at a pre-order discount, and Slope Editions is graciously letting me keep the profits for tour expenses. So, if you buy a book now, from me, you are helping support the continuation of my touring this winter, which means all of my gratitude will undoubtedly cascade upon you. If you buy my book pre-order now and want to pick it up at AWP 2017 in DC or in Morgantown, WV at my book launch party which will take place Feb 18th at 123 Pleasant St., I will take an extra $2 of the price of the book.

You can preorder the collection on my website by clicking here.

Some early praise:
Mary Ruefle: “Falling in love while losing a loved one and watching the war news on TV? Life is difficult, and the poems in this marvelous collection ask a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human? Each poem supplies part of the answer—to go looking, to make mistakes, to be confused, to be wounded, to keep moving toward a new life. “The expression of our faces when we almost get to where we are going”—that is the expression we have while reading this book, which has the pace of an intense, anticipated journey, one that acknowledges that language is a problem, that art, science, and history are problems, but nonetheless many disparate lives, both past and present, somehow meld into one small life lived, and when that life speaks—”mouth deliver us to the present”—we sit up and listen, for the experience of reading has handed us a strange joy.”

Scott McClanahan: “Keegan Lester is one of the best young poets around. Tender and wild, this shouldn’t be beautiful/but it was/and it was all i had/so i drew it pops and bleeds with poems full of mothers and ghosts,time machines and asshole poets. This a book that knows it’s a hell of a lot better to write about Jenny Lewis or Abelard or a cousin who drops acid than something that doesn’t belong to you. It’s a book full of magic tricks and walking forward. Open it up and see. Don’t worry. It’s good to be free.”

Congratulations, Keegan! Keegan’s collection will launch right here in Morgantown on February 18th at 123 Pleasant.

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