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Public Scholar Award

I’m honored to be the recipient of a 2021 National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Award, which I will use to finish my current book project, a narrative history of the West Virginia Mine Wars currently under contract with Random House. The Public Scholars program supports the creation of well-researched nonfiction books in the humanities written for the broad public. It’s intended for writers without an academic affiliation, like me. While I don’t work at a university, the West Virginia University Humanities Center Community Affiliates Program has provided me with access to an academic research library, literally making my book possible. The librarians at WVU have sent me dozens of books in the mail over the years, not to mention all the digital resources that appear at a keystroke. I hope that someday the paywall around scholarly work comes down, but until then — thank you to the Humanities Center for the borrowing credentials! And to the NEH for believing in this project…

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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Out of the Fire

Next year, West Virginia University Press will publish a rare 1973 manuscript, On Dark and Bloody Ground: An Oral History of the West Virginia Mine Wars, by Anne Lawrence, with a Foreword by me and an Afterword by none other than Cecil E. Roberts, President of the United Mine Workers of America. I’m pretty excited to share this treasure with the world! It will include some excellent maps and a few photos as well. Not to mention that Anne has graciously offered to donate all proceeds to the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum, where we work to preserve the archives and testimony of local communities affected by these early 20th century battles for unionization in the Central Appalachian coalfields.

“The difference working in a non-union mine and a union mine was like jumping out of the fire into a cool stream of water. Before it was every dog eat dog. When you go into anything collectively, everybody is striving to do the same thing. That’s the only way you can have peace in the coal fields.” –Kelly Buchanan, retired UMWA miner from Matewan, WV

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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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Letter to America

The literary magazine Terrain is preparing to publish an anthology of writings in response to the current national crises—political, environmental, ethical. They’ve been publishing a series of “Letters to America” ever since the 2016 election. These “letters” take various forms—epistles, poems, fables, even a bit of artwork—but they all respond to the changing American landscape so vividly illuminated by Donald Trump’s win. Writers, artists, intellectuals, activists—citizens of both the country and the planet—have, over the past two years, steadily contributed a variety of literary reactions to the world we all awoke to on the morning of November 9. I’m working on a letter for the anthology, which will sit in good company alongside writings by writer-heroes Robert Hass, Camille Dungy, and Bob Ferguson, the attorney general of Washington who is 17-0 against Trump in court.

UPDATE: “DEAR AMERICA: LETTERS OF HOPE, HABITAT, DEFIANCE, AND DEMOCRACY” NOW OUT

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Greensboro Bound

I’m headed to the Greensboro Bound literary festival next week, where the novelist Wiley Cash and myself will talk about contemporary Appalachian voices, the representation and the role of writers/journalists as witnesses, and other fun stuff TBD. Musician Laurelyn Dossett will open. Cash’s novel The Last Ballad, is a fictionalized account of the life of Ella May Wiggins, a North Carolina textile worker who tried to unionize and was murdered in 1929.

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Georgia Review

The writer Jessica Smith graciously reviewed The Book of the Deada new edition of Muriel Rukeyser’s famous poem cycle about the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Disaster–for The Georgia Review:

Admirers of Muriel Rukeyser have been waiting for a reprint of The Book of the Dead, long out of print, and West Virginia University Press’s new edition does not disappoint. Of course, it’s exciting to have Rukeyser’s seminal hybrid poetic work of social justice in its own affordable softcover volume (with French flaps!), but the great surprise for fans and scholars of Rukeyser is Catherine Venable Moore’s extended introductory essay, which comprises the first half of this volume.

Read the full review…

WV Wesleyan Teaching

This winter I’m a visiting nonfiction writer at the low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing at West Virginia Wesleyan. Back in December, I had ten days in residency in Buckhannon, where I taught a workshop and gave a seminar called “Nonfiction for Poets.” The campus looked nothing like the photo above, because winter, but the feeling was like those orange lilies; it was such a warm, welcoming crowd to get to know. The whole experience leaves me grateful to have found this talented crew of writers so close by, and I’m pumped to keep working with my advisees for the rest of the semester. Check out the program’s podcast, where you can hear seminars and readings by other visiting writers.