ELKINS, W.Va. (WBOY) — After teaching in West Virginia for more than 25 years, Davis & Elkins Professor of English Bill King passed away in July, just months before his first full-length book’s release date on Oct. 3, but his loved ones are making sure that his voice lives on.
“Bloodroot” is a book of poems, many of which were inspired by King’s days spent in Elkins and the Monongahela National Forest. King excitedly announced the preorder for the book back in late June; he lost his 12-year battle with appendix cancer on July 15 at age 58.
“The day Bill got the news that Mercer would publish ‘Bloodroot’, he danced in the halls of Albert Hall,” said D&E Professor of English Katherine Osborne, who is mentioned in the acknowledgments in “Bloodroot.”
“His elation that day was rooted in the knowledge that all those years of hard work had paid off, that readers would get to see the world as he saw it—and love it a tiny bit more as a result,” Osborne told 12 News.
King’s family said although the timing of his death didn’t allow him to see the impact of “Bloodroot,” a large part of him is immortalized in the book.
“As a family, we are obviously devastated by Bill’s passing, in general—of course—but also because of the timing: that he wasn’t given the opportunity to enjoy the impact of his book, or to explore what could have been just around the bend for him, as he continued to grow and to write,” said his daughter, Elizabeth Hoggard-King. “However, that’s exactly why ‘Bloodroot’ is particularly meaningful to us, because so much of who my dad was is in the pages of that book: so much of what he survived, what he contributed, and what he loved and lived for.”
Bill’s publisher, Mercer University Press, even rushed the production of his book so he could see “Bloodroot” in the hospital before he passed away.
“I have personally found great comfort in keeping his book close, because to read it, even to touch it, is to hold a part of him,” Elizabeth continued.
The loss of Bill was also heavily felt at Davis & Elkins College, where he taught from 1996 until his passing.
“There is a photograph I will always associate with Bill,” College President Chris Wood said in his weekly reflection on Sept. 21 which was dedicated to Bill. “It was taken in the early days of the pandemic when D&E’s classes had gone virtual. The picture shows Dr. King teaching via computer in his living room. His face displays great animation, his hands are gesturing, and his feet are crossed with his legs raised a foot off the ground. The photo exudes passion as Bill appears to be jumping through the computer screen to reach his students. Here is a professor who was not going to let a pandemic stop him from sharing that which he loved with those who meant so much to him. That was Dr. Bill King,” Wood’s release said in part.
During the fall semester of 2020, Bill took a power drill to campus and unbolted all the classroom windows on the third floor of Albert Hall so that they could be opened and he could still teach in person safely despite his health issues.
“He spent the last 12 years determinedly fighting his cancer, never once asking ‘Why me?’ all while still teaching and mentoring students, writing, and living his life,” his wife Beth told 12 News.
During his time at D&E, Bill started “Writer’s Week,” an annual week of readings and workshops that celebrates written art by highlighting an author. This year, the now-named “Dr. Bill King Writer’s Week,” will feature Bill’s first book and discussion by Bill’s family and loved ones.
“Bill thoughtfully organized his works in ‘Bloodroot’ to reflect how he saw the world and what he held dear during his 58 years—I hope it is as impactful for readers as it clearly was for him. It certainly means the world to us,” Beth told 12 News.
“Bloodroot,” which is an articulation of life grounded in the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains, is available for purchase on the Mercer University Press website as well as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. There will also be copies available to purchase during “Dr. Bill King Writer’s Week” on Oct. 23-25 at Davis & Elkins College.
“Whenever he published his writing, he wanted nothing more than to share his love of nature and words with the world, but those of us who know him and his work know that his poetry—and ‘Bloodroot’ in particular—has the potential to offer so much more than he ever allowed himself to imagine,” Elizabeth said.
Davis & Elkins College has also started a fund for “Dr. Bill King Writer’s Week” with the goal of raising $25,000 to support the annual event. Donations can be made online or checks can be made payable to Davis & Elkins College Dr. King Writers’ Week and sent to Davis & Elkins College, Advancement Office, 100 Campus Drive, Elkins, WV 26241.
For students, faculty, staff and community members who are interested in attending an event in this year’s “Dr. Bill King Writer’s Week,” the schedule is as follows. A full and detailed schedule of the events will be posted on D&E’s social media accounts when it becomes available.
- Opening remarks and readings – Monday, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. in the Senate Commons
- Poetry workshop – Tuesday, Oct. 24 from 5-6:30 p.m. in the Community Room
- Panel discussion of “Bloodroot” – Tuesday, Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. in Senate Commons
- Creative nonfiction workshop – Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 5 p.m. in the Senate Commons
- Aurora (student magazine) open mic – Thursday, Oct. 26 at 8 p.m. in the Icehouse