Category Archives: Appalachia

WVU Press Re-publishes “The Book of the Dead”

“Written in response to the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel disaster of 1931 in Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, The Book of the Dead is an important part of West Virginia’s cultural heritage and a powerful account of one of the worst industrial catastrophes in American history. The poems collected here investigate the roots of a tragedy that killed hundreds of workers, most of them African American. They are a rare engagement with the overlap between race and environment in Appalachia.

Published for the first time alongside photographs by Nancy Naumburg, who accompanied Rukeyser to Gauley Bridge in 1936, this edition of The Book of the Dead includes an introduction by Catherine Venable Moore, whose writing on the topic has been anthologized in Best American Essays. Read more at West Virginia University Press…

Turning Coal Mines Into Farms

On a surface-mine-turned-farm in Mingo County, West Virginia, former coal miner Wilburn Jude plunks down three objects on the bed of his work truck: a piece of coal, a sponge, and a peach. He’s been tasked with bringing in items that represent his life’s past, present, and future. Read more in Fall 2017 issue of Yes!…

WV Mine Wars Museum Wins NEH Grant

On August 2, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced that the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum is the recipient of a $30,000 challenge grant for The Blair Centennial Project, our long-term plan to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Blair Mountain in 2021!

The NEH grant committee called the Blair Centennial Project “A bold and collaborative effort to use the humanities to foster cultural tourism and give a challenged community hope for the future through respect for the past.” Read More…

CJR

AFTER THE 2016 ELECTION, the calls and emails rolled into West Virginia, as the press scrambled to make sense of a place that hadn’t occupied this much space on the national political stage since John F. Kennedy’s 1960 primary.

“We’re looking for a family in a trailer park.”

“We’re looking for a holler. How do we get there?”

“I need a Trump-supporting son of a coal miner who doesn’t think coal is coming back. Do you know one?”

Even before Donald Trump’s election, Appalachia was treated as a kind of Rosetta stone for deciphering rural white poverty in America. Read More…

Best American Essays

The Book of the Dead“—my essay on the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Disaster and the poet Muriel Rukeyser from the Fall 2016 issue of Oxford American—will be included in the The Best American Essays 2017. One of my favorite writers, Leslie Jamison, edited this year’s collection. From the publisher’s listing:

The best-selling essayist Leslie Jamison picks the best essays from hundreds of magazines, journals, and websites, bringing her incredible ability to “stitch together the intellectual and the emotional with the finesse of a crackerjack surgeon” (NPR) to the task.

Crackerjack! Preorder your copy

CVM in CJR on WVPB

While public radio stations across the country fret over the threat of federal-level funding cuts, West Virginia Public Broadcasting has its mind on other matters. A state-level proposal to zero out half of its $10 million budget had the network on the defensive this month. In West Virginia, which national media often portray as Trump Country Ground Zero due to its high proportion of Trump voters, you might expect that the rift is ideological. But the $4.6 million cut was proposed by Democratic governor Jim Justice—a billionaire coal operator who coincidentally owes $4.4 million in back taxes to the state—and some Republicans in the legislature have been quick to come to the network’s defense. Read more…

“The Book of the Dead”

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Above the Hawk’s Nest Dam on the New River. Photo by Lisa Elmaleh.

My longform nonfiction piece about the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Disaster, “The Book of the Dead: In Fayette County, WV, Expanding the Document of Disaster,” is now available online at The Oxford American‘s website. It was originally published in the magazine’s fall issue and recently won a Commendation from the Stack Awards.

My online archive of Hawk’s Nest Tunnel workers, hawksnestnames.org, is a companion project that houses primary source documents and victims’ names.

Finally, check out this “Photographer’s Day Book” feature from The Oxford American, in which Lisa Elmaleh tracks her pursuit of Hawk’s Nest images for the magazine. I’m so thankful to Lisa for making these photos.

Stack Awards

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The Stack Awards recognize the best work in independent magazines from all over the world. I was short-listed for a Stack Award in Nonfiction for my essay, “The Book of the Dead,” published in the Fall 2016 issue of Oxford American. 

West Virginia-based photographer Lisa Elmaleh was commissioned to provide art for the story. A new website archives some of this history: The Book of the Dead: An Archive of Hawk’s Nest Tunnel Workers. 

Kentucky Hemp in “Yes!” Magazine

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At the birth of any industry, uncertainty abounds. So does opportunity, say Kentuckians like Joe Schroeder of Freedom Seed and Feed, who is among those growing industrial hemp and advocating for others in Appalachia to do the same.

“It’s really speculative,” says Schroeder. “But people are making a lot of money, and that money is real.”

But don’t take that talk of money to mean Schroeder is greedy. At a time when the region’s collapsing coal and tobacco industries have left gaping holes in central Appalachia’s economy, at least some of Kentucky’s hemp experimenters want to maximize the benefit to as many local people as possible.

Read more of my story on industrial hemp at Yes! Magazine…

Cedar Grove Radio Documentary

Cedar Grove is a story about transition–bridging the past and the future. The hour-long radio documentary reveals surprising hidden histories through the work of renowned novelist Mary Lee Settle and the voices of women from her hometown of Cedar Grove, WV. The piece was co-produced by me, Allegheny Mountain Radio, and West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Settle is the author of 21 books, including her five volume fictional opus, The Beulah Quintet, which spans two continents and 300 years of Appalachian history. Beulah Land is a fictional place grounded in the reality of Settle’s family homeplace at Cedar Grove, a town in West Virginia struggling amid coal industry decline. West Virginia native Catherine Moore visits Cedar Grove and interviews the “real” residents of Beulah Land, searching for stories of survival and resiliency in the face of enormous challenges.

The scenes and characters that emerge take us through wilderness, Underground Railroad operations, the coal mine wars of the early 20th century, and John F. Kennedy’s visit to the Cedar Grove in 1960.

A collaboration with photographer Roger May also produced a robust visual document of life in present-day Cedar Grove. Original music by Caleb Samples. Funding provided by the West Virginia Humanities Council and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

For audio, photos, and more, visit the project website.