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Byrd historian coming to W.Va. Book Festival

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- David A. Corbin will speak at the West Virginia Book Festival in October about his new book, "The Last Great Senator: Robert C. Byrd's Encounters with Ten U.S. Presidents." The book is scheduled to be released that month.

The book examines the relationships between Byrd -- the longest-serving senator in U.S. history -- and each president from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Obama, and Byrd's impact on major events during their administrations.

Corbin will speak at the Settle Session -- named for award-winning author and West Virginia native Mary Lee Settle -- at 10 a.m. on Oct. 13 at the Book Festival in the Charleston Civic Center.

Corbin worked in the Senate for 26 years, the last 16 for Byrd. He also served on the staffs of former Senate majority leaders George Mitchell and Tom Daschle.

"The first two chapters in my book will focus on the social and cultural background where Senator Byrd grew up," Corbin said Tuesday. "I also write about how close Byrd and John F. Kennedy became after Kennedy became president."

Byrd said he was honored when Kennedy presented him with his law degree during the June 1963 graduation ceremony at American University in Washington.

"Byrd held more Senate leadership positions than anyone else, including majority whip and majority leader, but he did not always have easy elections," Corbin said. "He often defeated very well-known senators for leadership positions, including Senators Joe Clark and Hubert Humphrey. He also defeated Ted Kennedy for majority whip."

Corbin hopes his new book helps place Byrd into historical and national perspective.

"Of course, it will stress all the things Byrd did for West Virginia. Both West Virginia and the Senate already miss his impact on the national scene," he said, "but Byrd also has a major place in American history. He made so much history that is left out of history books.

"Senator William Proxmire told Byrd he was the unsung hero of Watergate. He is the one who broke it open."

In 1989, Corbin published "Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields: The Southern West Virginia Miners, 1880-1922."

At the West Virginia Book Festival, Corbin will join other speakers, including Charlaine Harris, best-selling urban fantasy novelist; Christopher Wilkinson, a West Virginia University music history professor; and children's book author Marilyn Sue Shank.

The annual event will be held at the Charleston Civic Center Oct. 13-14. Admission is free.

The event is presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, the West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and Charleston Daily Mail and is sponsored by The Martha Gaines and Russell Wehrle Memorial Foundation, Pam Tarr and Gary Hart, the Friends of The Library Foundation of Kanawha County and Books-A-Million.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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