Catherine Venable Moore — Writer & Producer

Archive for the ‘Current Projects’ Category

The Road That Howard Built

In Appalachia, Audio, Current Projects, Fayette County, Paint Creek on October 10, 2014 at 11:32 am

Excited to present the first rough cut of the first piece of The Paint Creek Audio History Tour–a collection of tales about a storied place called Paint Creek, WV, from the voices of people who live along its banks. The history tour will be available via a GPS-activated mobile app and a website, coming in summer of 2015. The project is supported by the WV Humanities Council and the National Coal Heritage Area Authority.

In this segment, Pax native Howard Hughes–one of the founders and leaders of the Paint Creek Scenic Trails Association–tells of the bane of his youthful existence. Howard’s great-great grandfather, a surveyor, founded Pax. Howard’s grandfather was an accomplished stone mason who built many beautiful structures still standing today. His father was a hard-working coal miner who helped fuel American industry during WWII. And Howard, well, Howard built something too.

Produced by Catherine Moore & Jessie Wright-Mendoza. Edited by Catherine Moore.

Moving Parts

In Appalachia, Black History, Cedar Grove, Current Projects, Mary Lee Settle, Uncategorized, West Virginia History, Women's History on September 23, 2013 at 6:02 pm
A crude mind map of the Cedar Grove documentary, later refined during a week at the Center for Documentary Studies...

A crude mind map of the Cedar Grove documentary, later refined during a week at the Center for Documentary Studies…

Cedar Grove Spring Update!

In Announcements, Appalachia, Audio, Black History, Cedar Grove, Current Projects, Mary Lee Settle, West Virginia History, Women's History on May 21, 2013 at 2:17 pm

IMG_3756By way of a refresher, “Cedar Grove” is the working title of BMS’s hour-long radio documentary that tells the story of an Upper Kanawha Valley town through the voices of generations of women who have called it home. The piece, funded by the West Virginia Humanities Council, also brings focus to writer Mary Lee Settle’s memoir, “Addie,” which unfolds over generations in Cedar Grove, W. Va.

This spring we’re in full production mode, and you can read about what we’re up to below. Come summer, we’ll be scripting and cutting audio, getting ready for a two week marathon editing session at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University in August.

* May Weekends at the Tompkins Mansion — Thanks to the generosity and graciousness of Patty & Elbie Thurmon, I’ve been spending my May weekends at Addie’s house, in The Pink Room. These days the Thurmons–both Cedar Grove natives–run a rest home called The Haven out of the 1840s-era mansion. I can personally attest to the incredible level of care they give to their guests. Elbie makes homemade dinners every night–fried squash, beans, cornbread, the works. Patty plays the piano in the evenings as guests drift off to sleep.

These weekend stays have made it possible for me to really dig into the project and get some great recordings–including a recent Gospel Sing in Ward and interviews with local children who Elbie mentors (featured recently in a Daily Mail article). Patty has also allowed me to scan rare photos and documents related to the mansion’s history from her collection, which I plan to include on the website. My recorder hasn’t detected any ghosts in the mansion so far, only the crackle of monitors in the rooms of The Haven’s elderly guests…but I’ll keep listening!

* 11 Women Interviewed — Patty (Ellis) Thurmon, Shirley (Ellis) Stennett, Peggy Coleman, Katherine Atwater, Carol Saunders, Paula Clendenin, Sharon Hemmings, Jean Lamb, Jean Cary, Linda Saunders, Lynnette Hudnall. Thank you for your stories.

* Website & Music Are Cookin’ — I’m really lucky to be working with Drew Tanner on a project website, and Bob Webb on scoring & technical aspects of audio. It has been fun to brainstorm and dream with both of them about how to make the project come alive on the web and in listeners’ ears. Stay tuned…

* Cedar Grove Town Council & Other Partnerships — Recently, the mayor and council of Cedar Grove were informed of the project and invited to nominate a woman to be interviewed. They were extremely supportive and encouraging, and many good leads came out of the discussion. Some had not read “Addie,” and so I shared copies with them. I will continue to work with the town during the outreach and distribution phase as we host listening parties in the community.

Other organizations that have expressed their support for the project and volunteered to help in various ways include: Goldenseal Magazine, WV Public Broadcasting, West Virginia Archives and History, Daughters of the American Revolution (William Morris Chapter), Midland Trails Scenic Byway, Virginia’s Chapel Board of Directors, Kanawha Valley Historical and Preservation Society, Appalachian Heritage magazine, and of course our number one supporter and project partner, Allegheny Mountain Radio/Pocahontas Communications Cooperative, without whom this project would not be possible.

* Slavery & Salt, Rare Archive Finds — Thanks to a brilliant friend and Charleston native, Cyrus Forman, who is researching slavery and salt production in the Kanawha Valley for an academic thesis, we’ve got our hands on two fascinating documents related to slavery in the Cedar Grove area. One is a riveting account of the escape of a couple of dozen enslaved people on the Underground Railroad via boats built at the Cedar Grove Bote Yards. The other is a story of a slave “conjurer” in Malden who converts to Christianity. Cyrus and I plan to collaborate on a short radio piece that tells these stories.

HOW YOU CAN HELP — Send me names and email addresses of more folks who should know about this project, so I can keep them in the loop. And share news of this project with other radio- and history-lovers you know…

Thanks to the women of Cedar Grove, thanks to spring mornings on the Kanawha, and thanks to all you wonderful folks for your support!


Golden Gospel Gems

In Cedar Grove, Current Projects, Mary Lee Settle, Uncategorized, West Virginia History on January 3, 2013 at 1:01 pm

IMG_3616On a recent visit to Cedar Grove, I visited Virginia’s Chapel, a.k.a. The Old Brick Church. Inside, I found a pile of “Golden Gospel Gems.” These simple hymnals are adorned with a sketch of the church on the cover, but an original hymn inside is the real find. “The Old Brick Church,” written in 1948 by one M. Homer Cummings, fondly describes the speaker’s childhood church by the side of the road and the inspiring songs he sang there.

(Oh, the dearest spot on this earth to me Is the church of my childhood days! … Gospel songs and hymns we would often sing: “Beulah Land” and “Amazing Grace”)

He continues on to list several other favorite hymns, but what’s interesting is that the first he mentions is “Beulah Land,” also the title of one of the novels in Mary Lee Settle’s Beulah Quintet. It makes me wonder whether childhood church services at Cedar Grove also inspired Settle’s naming of her project. Or whether she, too, found a stray copy of “Golden Gospel Gems” on a visit to Cedar Grove.

Turns out Cummings was a hymner born in 1890 near Pickaway in Monroe County. A 1916 bio from “A History of Monroe County” refers to a self-published hymnal called “Echoes from Beulah.” Seems he and Settle had a shared interest.

Beulah is a Biblical reference from Isaiah 62:4: Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.

The verse inspired a hymn by Edgar Page Stites. Here’s the chorus, also an epigraph to Settle’s 1956 novel, O Beulah Land:

O Beulah land, sweet Beulah land!
As on thy highest mount I stand,
I look away across the sea
Where mansions are prepared for me
And view the shining glory shore
My heaven, my home forever more.






A Brief History of Cedar Grove

In Cedar Grove, Current Projects, Mary Lee Settle, West Virginia History on December 13, 2012 at 11:30 am

Peggy Coleman, one of Cedar Grove’s resident historians who is involved in the Cedar Grove documentary I’m working on, recently lent me a pamphlet: Cedar Grove Salutes the Kanawha County Bicentennial (1788 to 1988). It’s full of historical photos and text outlining the history of the town and includes several pages titled, “Do You Remember?”

The Miners March on Logan in the early 1920’s?

When all the streets of Cedar Grove were dirt?

When bacon was 15 cents a pound?

When steamboats named the Cotton Blossom, the Majestic, the Princess and the Water Queen tied up at the lower end of town and put on shows?

When the rag, a bone and a hank of hair was found in the Old Brick Church yard?

When all the girls went down to the train depot on Sunday afternoons to meet train number 36?

When the Kanawha and Hocking Coal and Coke Co. dumped “buck jimmies” over the middle tipple in Cedar Grove?

The list goes on and on.



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.


Fayette County Schools

In Appalachia, Current Projects, Education, Fayette County, Print on July 26, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Walker School, Fayette County

I’m surrounded by several box feet of newspaper clippings chronicling the past 30 years of the Fayette County School system, leafing through the yellowing history of a troubled agency, playing catch up and attempting to make some kind of sense of its struggles. In 2010, the state took over Fayette’s schools, citing curriculum and facilities problems, but the system has been in crisis for much longer. Here’s an overview of a new series I’ll be working on this summer and fall for the Beckley Register-Herald:

A recent study ranked West Virginia’s schools at 47th in the nation. ranks Fayette County at 53rd of 55 county systems in West Virginia, based on student proficiency and attendance/graduation rates. This bottom-of-the-barrel status calls for an in-depth look at what went wrong, and what’s needed to see positive change moving forward. The series assumes that improvement is needed. It will build a narrative charting the system’s past, present, and future. It will also explore the alternatives parents are choosing over the public system, and some of the major issues currently in play, including finances, school closures, and economic development. It will cultivate parents, teachers, administrators, board members, state department of education officials, experts, and the students themselves as sources. The series will deploy data analysis, as well as strong story-telling and personal interviews, to give readers all the tools they need for an informed and actionable opinion.

Talking with my education sources sometimes feels like entering a strange, upside-down world with a language and culture all its own. Wish me luck, and hope to see you on the other side…

Searching for Mary Lee

In Appalachia, Audio, Current Projects on May 1, 2012 at 2:01 am

The Beautiful Mary Lee Settle

When I first read prolific WV novelist Mary Lee Settle‘s memoir, Addie, I felt kind of like I felt after reading Denise Giardina’s Storming Heaven (Denise has called Mary Lee her “literary mother”). Like someone had spun out in beautiful, poetic language the answers to all my questions about home.

Set in Settle’s ancestral land of Cedar Grove, WV, the book weaves together the story of Settle’s childhood, the life of her mythic grandmother, and the waves of resource extraction that have surged through the Kanawha Valley since it was first settled by whites.

I had never read Settle before (how could I have missed her?), but thanks to Gibbs Kinderman over at Allegheny Mountain Radio, I am now embarked upon what we hope will become a series of hour-long audio documentaries based in her work.

The first installment will be an audio treatment of Addie that will include interviews with those close to Settle, thoughts from present-day inhabitants of Cedar Grove, readings from the book, archival tape, ambient sound, and narration.

Right now I’m contacting potential interviewees, reading a lot, and getting a handle on what kinds of archival tape might be available. I’m contracted to have a treatment for the documentary done by July.

I’m dying to talk about this with someone else familiar with Addie, so get in touch if that’s you!

Farm to Youtube

In Appalachia, Current Projects, Multimedia, Past Projects on May 1, 2012 at 1:59 am

This spring, I’ve had the good fortune to work with two organizations that aim to strengthen West Virginia’s local food economy and support the farmers who make it all happen.

I helped the fine folks over at the WV Food and Farm Coalition put together “Fresh Ideas in Action,” a series of audio slide shows highlighting what’s already working in our food system. From schools to veteran’s hospitals, more and more West Virginians are seeing the benefits of growing and eating fresh local produce, and these videos prove it! The organization’s director, Savanna Lyons, says she’s heard a lot of positive feedback from the project. Sometimes people need to be reminded of their successes! See the complete series.

I’ve also been helping the Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia transcribe, edit, and catalog their video collection. The Collaborative runs–a website that connects farmers to consumers–as well as several other initiatives, like the yearly Cast Iron Cook-off at the Greenbrier. They are working to expand their catalog of video training modules so that a new generation of young farmers can understand the benefits of sustainable agriculture.

I’m proud to be working with both of these organizations on projects I believe in.