Author Archives: admin

Digitizing the Treason Trials

I’m excited to share that all 9,000+ pages of transcripts of the Battle of Blair Mountain Treason Trials are now available for download from West Virginia University Libraries. Several years ago, I worked with my friend Tyler Cannon to scan each and every page–a huge effort made possible by funding from MacDowell / the Calderwood Fund for Project Grants to Journalism Fellows. We donated the scans to WVU, which has now made them publicly available in a blog post as downloadable PDFs. This is an incredible resource for those of us interested in American labor history in the Progressive Era, and until now it has been locked away on reels of microfilm in the library’s vaults, only available to those researchers with the time and resources to come to Morgantown and read them on a special machine. The accounts of events given in these pages by eyewitnesses and others have greatly informed the story I am telling in my forthcoming nonfiction history of the West Virginia Mine Wars, providing detail, texture, and humanity to an otherwise hidden history.

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Coal & The Way Forward

This year, a series of radio stories I edited for West Virginia Public Broadcasting, “Coal & the Way Forward,” won first place in the “Series, Division A” category of the Public Media Journalists Association awards.

From the conflicts of the Mine Wars-era, to the new fight to survive amid shifts in energy needs and deepening calls for environmental reform, West Virginians have long been searching for a way to make a life alongside–and beyond–coal…But who is presenting a clear path forward here in Appalachia? That’s what we’re asking in our new series, “Coal and the Way Forward.”

One of my favorite pieces in the series, by producer Roxy Todd, examines how coal mining regions in other parts of the world have handled their transition away from coal, and how Appalachia stacks up. Listen here.

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MASS MoCA

For most of December, I spent afternoons wandering through a maze of galleries at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in North Adams, MA. Thanks to the Assets for Artists program, I spent a month in residency at the Studios at MASS MoCA, which gave me time and space for a deep dive into my research on Mary “Mother” Jones, a labor organizer and the spirit presiding over my book-in-progress, Disunion: West Virginia Coal Miners and America’s Other Civil War.

Pictured above is one of my favorite pieces at MASS MoCA: The Optics Division/Metabolic Studio’s Hoosic: The Beyond Place, an image of the museum taken with a camera made from a shipping container and developed with the assistance of the Hoosic River.

Whiting Nonfiction Grant

My book-in-progress, Disunion: West Virginia Coal Miners and America’s Other Civil War, was selected for a 2021 Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant, given yearly to eight writers completing books of “deeply researched and imaginatively composed nonfiction.” Whiting curated a chapbook with excerpts and descriptions of each of the winners’ projects, which include a history of policing in Oakland, CA; a collection of interwoven diaries from Nazi-occupied Netherlands; a biography of the mother of modern Black nationalism; and an argument for the decriminalization of sex work.

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Best and Most Bizarre

A selection of first-person testimonies from On Dark and Bloody Ground was included in the “Readings” column of Harper’s, where the magazine reprints “excerpts from the best and most bizarre new books.”

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Public Scholar Award

This year I was awarded a grant from the Public Scholars program of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which supports the creation of well-researched nonfiction books in the humanities, written for the broad public by authors without academic affiliation. I’ll use the funds to finish researching and writing my book-in-progress, a narrative history of the West Virginia Mine Wars.

Smithsonian’s “Sidedoor”

Smithsonian’s “Sidedoor” podcast recently released a full episode on the history of the Battle of Blair Mountain. It’s an approachable and thoughtful introduction to the topic, featuring interviews with myself and my fellow WV Mine Wars Museum board member Chuck Keeney, along with several other historians…

One hundred years ago, in the hills of West Virginia, Black, white, and European immigrant coal miners banded together to demand better pay and safer working conditions and were met with machine guns. While the story made headlines in 1921, it didn’t make it into the history books. In our final episode of the season, we unearth this buried history to help mark the centennial of the largest labor uprising in American history.

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On Dark and Bloody Ground

Now for sale from West Virginia University Press! This set of oral histories from 1972 circulated for many years as an informal typescript volume, acquiring an almost legendary status among those intrigued by the subject. Key selections appear here for the first time as a published book, supplemented with introductory material, maps, educational resources, and photographs. Published to coincide with the celebration of the Blair Mountain Centennial in 2021, the book includes a preface by me and an afterword by Cecil E. Roberts of the United Mine Workers of America. All proceeds benefit the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum.

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Kudzu Punks

Larah Helayne (left) wears a Girls Rock Whitesburg shirt while holding a banjo and a protest sign at the Blackjewel blockade in Cumberland, Kentucky. Helayne visited the blockade to show support for the protesting miners and their families. (Photo by Lou Murray)

I’m an editor at Inside Appalachia, a weekly themed radio program based at WV Public Broadcasting. We recently published a story that I’m particularly proud of, produced by folkways reporter Nicole Musgrave. The story follows two campers at Girls Rock–a summer music camp in Whitesburg, KY, for female, gender-fluid, non-binary, and trans youth–as they discover how the rich Appalachian tradition of protest music sung by women maintains its relevance today.

On the surface, songs like Florence Reece’s labor anthem, “Which Side Are You On?”–which draws on the ballad and old-time music traditions–might not seem to have much in common with the punk tradition that inspire many Girls Rock campers and organizers. But there’s more in common than meets the ear. Listen here…

Lucas Visiting Author

This April I’m stoked to serve as Lucas Visiting Author at Marietta College. I’ll be talking about nonfiction with creative writing classes and giving a public reading on Tuesday, April 7, at 5pm in the Legacy Library. “Heavy Appetizers” are promised. *HEAVY* In case that’s not enough, and I’m not sure why it wouldn’t be, I’ll be reading from my current project, a nonfiction book that examines the history and legacy of the Battle of Blair Mountain. – POSTPONED UNTIL SPRING 2021

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