Catherine V. Moore — Writer & Producer

Archive for November, 2012|Monthly archive page

Listening to Mary Lee

In Audio, Cedar Grove, Current Projects, Mary Lee Settle, West Virginia History, Women's History on November 29, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Listening to archival tape of writer Mary Lee Settle today, I found a few gems that I wanted to put out there. They’re from a series called “Tell It On The Mountain,” hosted by poet Nikki Giovanni and produced in the mid-90’s by Maxine Kenny at WMMT, the public radio station of Appalshop in Whitesburg, K.y. The series featured women writers who call the southern Appalachian Mountains home.

From Giovanni’s Intro: …Settle grew up in the coal fields of Eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia and she dabbled in acting and high fashion modeling before turning to a lifetime of writing. Now in her 70s, National Book Award winner Marry Lee Settle has lived through some turbulent years in American and European history, much of which she documents in impeccably researched historical fiction. Five of her acclaimed novels are called the Beaulah Quintet. These collected works trace the history of several Appalachian families from their roots in Cromwell’s England to the coal towns of West Virginia. Settle’s most recently published novel, “Choices,” follows one woman’s involvement in the great social movements of the 20th century. In her work, Mary Lee Settle proves everyday events are not always what they seem, and that economics, history, and class dominate our everyday lives. Having been born to it, she delights in criticizing the class of people she calls the “mountain gentility.”

 

On the “Mountain Kingdom” and why she writes historical fiction

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In my lifetime, I saw what had been a virgin country decimated by industry. I think I was marked by it. And also, I got sick of the legends of history. I think the reality of our history is so much stronger. So much more to be proud of, and ashamed of, than the sort of pacified, cleaned-up legend of our history. I wanted to know where I came from, what I was doing here, why I had the attitudes–the trained, received attitudes that I had. I questioned a lot of them, and a lot I threw out. (…) I’ve always said there’s a mountain kingdom in this country, and it goes from Wheeling down to east Tennessee. And we all belong together. We’re all more alike than we are like other people. My husband says you can’t rule anybody born above 5,000 feet. I think that in the mountain kingdom, this is true.

On strip mining

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My husband and I went to Harlan and Bell counties a couple of years ago. I was doing some research on book I just finished. And there aren’t any beautiful mountains anymore. Mr. Peabody’s coal train has hauled them away. (music) I think what’s happened in the mountains is tragic. You know that song? Oh, I tell you, I remember sitting in the back of a boat in the Aegean, and we’d all been diving. And it was somebody from the American Consul in Istanbul had brought some bluegrass music and I was crying, sitting in the stern of this boat in the Aegean, listening to Peabody’s Coal Train. (…) My father’s first job as a mining engineer was in a mine in the Kanawha Valley where there was not one word of English spoken. It was all Italian. And he said that those Italian people that came over made gardens and walls and raised vineyards, everything, up in those hollers. And my God you should see them now. Stripped out and ruined. I feel fairly strongly on this subject.

The Me That Came Back

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The me that came back was the me that had grown up there, to myself. But to other people, I was somebody who had gone away and got a lot of high falutin’ ideas and wasn’t behaving like a Sweetbrier girl anymore and asking too many questions. Once there was a German girl called ‘The Nasty Girl.’ That’s what I was treated like. It was an appalling experience. And now of course I go back and they give me prizes like that damn thing up there, and 3,000 people come to hear me talk. If they realized that when I leave, I just want to go, ‘pffff.’ People treat their own very badly in this country. You know when we were talking in the beginning about something called the creative impulse and how it’s dangerous? That’s what I meant. For a southerner, it tends to be dangerous. Especially for a mountain southerner. Because you don’t break the genteel rules. We have barriers to get over. They aren’t barriers–almost moats, aren’t they? Of understanding. I remember when working on ‘The Scapegoat,’ I was in a pool at Warm Springs and somebody that I knew whose husband was a very rich coal owner said, ‘I hope you tell the truth about the coal industry, I mean, our side.’ And I thought, there isn’t any side. There isn’t any side.

Cedar Grove Update!

In Announcements, Appalachia, Audio, Black History, Cedar Grove, Current Projects, West Virginia History, Women's History on November 6, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Awesome news came in the mail today! The West Virginia Humanities Council has awarded the documentary “Cedar Grove” a $15,000 matching grant for production and promotion.

“Cedar Grove” is an hour-long radio documentary that explores acclaimed WV writer Mary Lee Settle’s ancestral homeland as it is presented in her 1998 memoir, “Addie,” and as it is today. With the support of top scholars and community advisers, “Cedar Grove” will re-center marginalized narratives of women and African Americans in Appalachia; explore the history of the Kanawha Valley; and create a greater awareness of Mary Lee Settle’s literary work.

Allegheny Mountain Radio is my partner on the project, along with a whole bunch of amazing scholars, local historians, and community members.

Here’s a rundown of the project, from our grant application:

First, we will deepen our audience’s understanding and appreciation of Mary Lee Settle’s historical nonfiction by exploring its imaginative source in the Upper Kanawha Valley. Cedar Grove will create a greater awareness of Mary Lee Settle’s literary work among a captive audience of West Virginians and Appalachians, growing the author’s readership. We hope that it will also prompt renewed study of that work among the general public and a new generation of scholars.

In addition, we will present an evocative, responsive, and intimate portrait of a real, concrete place—Cedar Grove—that stands on its own terms. By reaching into the past for context, as well as listening to those living there today, Cedar Grove will explore in a nuanced way the personal, social, political, economic, geographic, and gendered dynamics at play in an early 21st century Upper Kanawha Valley town, reaching for a better understanding of the present.

By connecting past with present, and by connecting our audience with one of West Virginia’s most powerful and accomplished writers, Mary Lee Settle, we will deepen their connection with and understanding of home. In the process, we seek to reinforce pride in a local community and in the literary heritage of our state.

With a special focus on the narratives of women and African Americans in the Upper Kanawha Valley, this project will re-center these groups’ historically marginalized stories. By framing women’s work as part of a historical narrative, for example, we expand the audience’s notions of what history is and does. And by including the voices of African Americans from Appalachia—who have so often been written out of history—we promote and dignify their rich contributions to the region’s heritage.

In the process of producing this documentary, we will capture and preserve the oral histories of several generations of West Virginian women as a resource for future audiences and researchers. The stories of these women, who range in age from 55 to 100, will add to the richness of the WV State Archives audio collection. 

Finally, this radio documentary will lay the groundwork for a future series of audio works based on Mary Lee Settle’s Beulah Quintet, providing biographical and place-based context for her historical fiction.

In addition to the radio documentary, producers will create shorter cuts for placement on national public radio programs; build an interactive web site; and donate all recorded material to the WV State Archives.