Davis & Elkins College symposium to feature lecturers

Two prominent West Virginians will take part in Davis & Elkins College’s First-Year Symposium this week.

Dr. Robert O. Rupp will discuss “JFK and the 1960 West Virginia Presidential Primary” on Tuesday, and Denise Giardina will present readings from two of her books on Thursday.

Both events will take place at 7 p.m. in the Great Hall of Halliehurst on the Davis & Elkins campus. They are free and open to the public.

Rupp, professor of history and political science at West Virginia Wesleyan College, has extensive knowledge of John F. Kennedy’s campaign throughout West Virginia and the impact it had on the primary election.

Rupp is under contract with West Virginia University Press for his book “The Primary That Made a President: Kennedy and the 1960 Battleground in West Virginia.” The work examines the state’s role in helping the Massachusetts senator secure the democratic presidential nomination.

In the four weeks leading to the May 9 primary, Kennedy was in West Virginia for 18 days, visiting more than 50 cities and making multiple trips to larger cities.

When he returned as president for the state’s centennial celebration in June 1960, he said, “I would not be where I am today without the help of West Virginia.”

Rupp has taught a course on the 1960 primary, and last year, his students produced scripts for West Virginia Public Radio that explained the state’s role in helping Kennedy win the presidency in 1960.

Rupp continues to pursue his political interests outside of the education arena. He is chairman of the State Election Commission and previously served as president of the Upshur County Board of Education. He has written several publications, including four entries on state politics in the West Virginia Encyclopedia; he has written scripts and narrated documentary films, and he has presented lectures at conferences and meetings throughout the country.

West Virginia author Denise Giardina, who will be featured at Thursday’s public event, is a native of McDowell County. Her works have received multiple accolades, and she has five novels – “Good King Harry” (Harper and Row, 1984), “Storming Heaven” (W.W. Norton, 1987), “The Unquiet Earth” (W.W. Norton, 1992), “Saints and Villains” (W.W. Norton, 1998), and “Emily’s Ghost” (W.W. Norton, 2009). She is also the author of a play, “Robert and Ted” (2012).

Her talk will focus on a series of short readings that follow the fate of the fictional Trace Mountain in “Storming Heaven” and “The Unquiet Earth.”

“Storming Heaven” was a Discovery selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club and a New Voices selection of the Quality Paperback Book Club, and it received the 1987 W.D. Weatherford Award for the best published work about the Appalachian South.

“The Unquiet Earth” received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, and the Lillian Smith Award for fiction, the oldest literary award in the South.

“Saints and Villains” was awarded the 1999 Boston Book Review Fisk Fiction Prize and was a semifinalist for the International Dublin Literary Award.

Giardina’s op-ed pieces have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Charleston (WV) Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail. She has published in The Nation, Southern Exposure, Emmy and the Village Voice. She also wrote an original half-hour screenplay, “The Gift Horse,” which was filmed by West Virginia Public Television in 1996.

Giardina was the writer-in-residence at Hollins College in 1991 and 2004.

She is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College and a recipient of creative writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1988 and 1996. In March 2007, she received the Hillsdale Prize for Fiction for her contributions to Southern literature from the Fellowship of Southern Writers.

She resides in Charleston, is retired from West Virginia State University, and is an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church.

Davis & Elkins College inaugurated its First-Year Symposium, focused on democracy, in January 2013. The three-week session takes place during the college’s Winter Term, Jan. 6 through Jan. 24, and is a requirement for all first-year students seeking a baccalaureate.

Rupp and Giardina were invited to take part in the first week of First-Year Symposium, which is modeled on an academic conference where students learn the multiple dimensions and tensions,of democracy.

During the second week of the symposium, students put theory into practice and participate in a week-long simulated legislative session. The third week is focused on reflection and connection.

This year, students will visit Washington, D.C., and tour legislative chambers. When they return, they will submit mini-portfolios documenting their learning. Throughout the experience, faculty and staff serve as facilitators and guides.

More information is available at www.dewv.edu or by calling 304-637-1243.