Catherine Venable Moore — Writer & Producer

Archive for the ‘coal’ Category

“O Beulah Land” in Oxford American

In Appalachia, Audio, Black History, Cedar Grove, coal, Mary Lee Settle, Multimedia, Print, West Virginia History, Women's History on October 10, 2014 at 11:23 am

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O Beulah Land,” my wandering longform essay about writer Mary Lee Settle, the women of Cedar Grove, and Appalachian transition, was published in the summer issue of Oxford American: The Southern Magazine of Good Writing. Here’s their introduction to the piece:

There are many gorgeous passages in “O Beulah Land” by Catherine Venable Moore, an homage to Central West Virginia published in our summer issue.

Struggling to reconcile a landscape of paradisiacal beauty with its history of unheeded extraction since settlers arrived, Catherine—with the works of Mary Lee Settle as her guide—goes to Cedar Grove, that writer’s small hometown on the Kanawha River. She writes:

“Like Mary Lee, I went to the town digging for some present truth in the past, and knocked on the doors of ten women, up to a century old, who agreed to talk about their lives in Cedar Grove. All of them pay their hearts to the town in some way or another, filling their lives with service to a place where community ties are being severed by a fading industry that once drew its people close in solidarity. These women are and were the societal glue of Cedar Grove, the storytellers, the visionaries, the caretakers, and the advocates for the powerless. I asked them about home. I needed to know how we got here, and how we get out of wherever “here” is, without having to leave.”

The essay is a remarkable, holistic dive into the Transmontane of West Virginia, the land beyond the mountains—one of the first American frontiers and still a misunderstood region. “Recorded history is wrong because the voiceless have no voice in it,” said Settle, explaining the motivations behind her sweeping historical fictions. In “O Beulah Land,” Catherine takes up Settle’s mantle—the writer died in 2005 at eighty-three—reporting untold histories and interviewing women whose stories are essential to the identity of their homeplace yet seldom shared with a wide public. It’s an elegy for a lost time when “Everyone was a part of everything.”

They also published a companion web-only piece–an audio teaser to my forthcoming hour-long radio documentary and some photographs of Cedar Grove by my pal, the photographer Roger May.