Novelist John Michael Cummings grew up during the 1960s and ‘70s in Harpers Ferry, at a time when the roads were smaller, the cars were slower and Washington, D.C. was a winding 65 mile-trip across the mountains.

The Jefferson County native has tapped into his childhood among locals, tourists and “transplants” from Maryland and Virginia, to create his second book, “Ugly to Start With,” chronicling the highs and lows of a boy as he tackles adolescence in a small town.

The book, which is being published by West Virginia University Press, is a compilation of Cummings’ short stories that have been printed in various literary magazines across the country over the last 15 years.

“Being published by WVU Press is more of an honor to me than being published by a huge publishing company in New York, and something that makes my family more proud of me than anything,” Cummings said.

“To be published by a press that is in the state that helped form my writing is a blessing, and I have been so attended to here. They care about my book.”

Cummings said he used his own experiences to tell the tale of the character Jason Stevens and his desire to experience life beyond his hometown. The book begins with 10-year old Jason, and ends when the boy is 17.

His first book, “The Night I Freed John Brown,” also set in Harpers Ferry, was praised nationally in reviews, including five award-winning literary journals, and was recommended for Black History Month by USA Today.

West Virginia has always been center stage in Cummings’ pieces, and he said the Mountain State has had such an influence on him that he can’t imagine writing about any other place.

WVU Press will release “Ugly to Start With” on Oct. 1.

For more information, contact Abby Freeland, WVU Press marketing manager, at (304) 293-6585 or



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