November 30, 2014

Cat Pleska for West Virginia

For the past couple of years, I’ve been adding this phrase to my bio:
I am a seventh generation West Virginian.

It is increasingly uncommon to hear that phrase from anyone. America has always been a moveable feast of individuals or families: to something more lucrative, more suitable, something to make them better, happier, or to run away from who knows what. 

In wondering why my family has stayed so long in one place, a fanciful answer came with the recent discovery of my maiden name’s etymology: Hodges. It comes from the patrimonic name Hodge, and is traced to Middle English, meaning: a rustic, a farmer. Both my parents’ families have been tied closely to the land as a way of surviving, even given the uneven ground in our mountainous state. Gifted at finding flat, fertile land up hollows and around bends, my ancestors bought large acreage and made it all work in agrarian or timbering pursuits until mid 20th century, when the working men sought work in the gas and aluminum industries in order to support their families. 

But as in many states, the natural resources and industry fell away or changed, leading to a road elsewhere
for many, even in my family. But they miss it so much! The beauty of our state is well known; still, it is economically depressed and lands at the bottom of most lists for everything from incomes to health. I’ve often thought, and I’m hardly the only one, that if our focus was on making this state an adventurous wonderland, with rafting, biking, hiking, camping, climbing, and leaf-peeping, we’d finally lift ourselves from the bottom of those lists. And we could do this, as long as we were good stewards of the land.

Until we launch a greater effort to caretake this great state, West-by-God Virginia, as we fondly reference it, take a gander as you pass through. And if you linger a bit longer, you’ll see the true wealth—our  people: friendly, considerate, warm and fuzzy, as a friend from Pennsylvania calls us. We can be as rumpled and
uneven as our land, but overall, we’re a pretty swell group. Come on over and see for yourself.
While you’re studying our land and us, take a read of our literature. We have world-class authors from here: Mary Lee Settle, Jayne Ann Phillips, Denise Giardina, Jeanette Walls, to name a few. Maybe it’s the rugged land and gentle valleys that create a juxtaposition that fosters dichotomies and dialogues. We know how to mix it up in our stories. We aim to entertain, from the pages to the land and back again.

Just recently, I learned West Virginia University Press is going to publish my memoir, Riding on Comets: a memoir. Pretty cool! In it, you’ll see what I’m talking about: Lots of working class family stuff, mixing it up and taking it on, relationships on the edge and family members who are just .  . . edgy. I grew up and loved and continue to love every one of these giants growing up in this amazing state. You’ll find much of what I’m talking about in my memoir, and it’ll be available April 2015. and (West Virginia Literary Soul Blog). 
(all info provided by author)


  1. Cat,

    Congrats on your book being published! I love your photos.
    It's great that you have such strong roots in West Virginia. Best wishes.

  2. Thanks, Jacqueline! Appreciate your comments :)

  3. If your book is as good as your post, you are a fabulous writer, and your memoir will do well. I will look for it.

  4. West Virginia bears many similarities to my own region of Pennsylvania. I agree, the people more than make up for any other deficiencies. Congrats on your book.

  5. Your state is definitely one of the ones I intend to camp in when we get more time. Thanks for the pictures of the natural beauty of the land. My feet yearn to wade in that stream!

  6. Wow, I'm impressed! I'm a third-generation Montanan, but no longer live there! Congrats on your upcoming memoir. Sounds like it'll be wonderful!

  7. Hope you know how much I am looking forward to reading your book! God Bless you during the coming Christmas season. Great photos!

  8. Can't wait for Cat's memoir. She is a fine writer and has wonderful stories to tell.

  9. Cat, thank you for this look at beautiful West Virginia. My mom's family was from there, and I lived in Charleston, WV until I was 7. I consider Tennessee home, but West Virginia holds a special place in my heart.

  10. Cat: Thank you for celebrating West Virginia in this fabulous blog. It truly is a remarkable state: gorgeous, welcoming, gracious...often to our detriment. I honestly believe that our future is bright-bright-bright. Can't wait to hold your memoir in my hands!


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