Gretchen Laskas Gretchen Moran Laskas: 2012 Writer-in-Residence - “Building Bridges, Past and Present: Gretchen Moran Laskas, a West Virginia Storyteller”'

2012 schedule of events

September 24-October 17

Photography Exhibit, Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Ron Rash Volume IV, Scarborough Library Reading Room.

Monday, September 24

7:00 p.m. Screening of Sundance Grand Jury Prize-Winner, Winter's Bone, with Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes, Reynolds Hall, the event and community discussion co-sponsored with the Shepherdstown Film Society, Dr. Amy DeWitt discussion leader.

Tuesday, September 25

4:00 p.m. "Midwifery in the Mountains: an Appalachian Community Network," Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies. Sponsored by the Appalachian Studies Program at Shepherd, Dr. Pam Edwards.

7:00 p.m. "Waking: A Celebration of Appalachian Storytellers and Musical Prelude": The Anthology of Appalachian Writers and Photographers, Ron Rash Volume IV, Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies, the event sponsored by The WV Center for the Book.

8:00 p.m. Anthology Reception, Book Signing, Photography Exhibit, Scarborough Library Reading Room.

Wednesday, September 26

9:00 a.m. Visits with Martinsburg, Jefferson, and Berkeley Springs honors students at Martinsburg High School.

10:30 a.m. Laskas Reading at Martinsburg Public Library and Reception.

Noon Lunch with AHWIR Project Director and Friends.

7:00 p.m "The Writing Life, with Gretchen Moran Laskas," Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies, event sponsored by The WV Humanities Council and The Shepherd University Foundation (the writer discusses her work, her writing process, and her journey toward authorship and publication).

Thursday, September 27

3:00-4:30 p.m. Writers Master Class with Gretchen Moran Laskas, Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies.

6:00 p.m. Dinner at Yellow Brick Bank with Fiction Competition Winners.

8:00 p.m."Building Bridges, Past and Present: West Virginia Storyteller, Gretchen Moran Laskas," Scarborough Society Lecture and Awards, Erma Byrd Hall, event sponsored by The WV Humanities Council and The Shepherd University Foundation (Laskas receives Appalachian Heritage Writer's Award and presents her keynote address, followed by reception and book signing. The WV Fiction Competition awards will also be presented by Laskas).

Friday, September 28

8:00 p.m. Evening reading of award-winning WV work of fiction at the 17th Annual Appalachian Heritage Festival Concert, Frank Theater.

Saturday, September 29

Appalachian Heritage Day-Long Festival and 8:00 p.m. Concert, Frank Theater.

Gretchen Laskas Works

The midwife's tale

The Midwife's Tale

is a book that takes readers deep into the heart of Appalachia and into mountain mythology. It portrays a way of life long past but still prescient and poignant today in its lessons about tolerance and acceptance. Elizabeth Whitely is a young woman from a long line of mountain midwives, devoted to serving the women and children of the coves and hollers of West Virginia. Elizabeth may be destined to be a midwife, but she has not gone lightly into that profession, taking some time to understand the complexity of the women's lives in her mountain community and revealing her own degree of rebellion from her mother's profession, just as her mother had rebelled against the destiny her mother had nurtured for her. On a night when Elizabeth is called to help deliver the child of the Ivy and Alvin Denniker, the latter whom she has always loved, a miracle occurs that saves the child and forever connects the lives of Ivy, Alvin, and Elizabeth. This miracle child is Lauren. The book follows these fascinating characters and develops many of the ideas that Laskas is interested in: storytelling, the importance of every person's having a story and telling it his own way; the conflict between science and mystery; overcoming prejudice; and the complexity and miraculous nature of love. Motifs such as letting go, following one's destiny, mothers and daughters, and science and signs make the novel a rich read and an extraordinary reflection on the lives of Appalachians both in the past and today.

The Miner's Daughter

The Miner's Daughter

is a coming-of-age story about the Lowell family, a coal-mining family, as seen through the point of view of sixteen-year-old Willa Lowell. The story takes place in 1932, when most of America, particularly people living in Appalachia and company towns like Riley, West Virginia, are struggling merely to survive from day to day. While Willa's brother Ves is hopeful that the new Roosevelt administration will bring change to the country, Willa, a promising scholar who has had to drop out of school to help her family, is not so optimistic. When a little library opens in the mining town, Willa's eagerness to find solace in language, in the words that fire her imagination, rekindles her growing sense of self and love of learning.

In 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt, acting on behalf of the President, is invited to visit several coal mining camps in West Virginia. The poverty she sees touches her, while the strength of families like the Lowells helps her understand the tenacity of mountain people. Returning to Washington, Mrs. Roosevelt helps to reinvigorate the Homestead Act, attempting to re-settle hundreds of families into new, planned towns like Arthurdale, West Virginia. This massive social experiment is labeled a "failure" by Congress and the press, but for those Appalachian families given a new lease on life, it means a new beginning and a chance to join the middle class. On the other hand, Willa's best friend, Roselia, whose family is viewed as outsiders, as immigrants whose skin is just a little darker and whose accents are just a little thicker, is not invited to participate in Arthurdale. Roselia tells her friend, "I changed my name so I would be more American … Me, who was born in this state the same as you. You can go to Arthurdale, Willa Lowell, but don't you ever forget that no matter where my family came from, I'm as American as you."

Laskas weaves other historic events into her story of the miner's daughter, including the Hawks Nest mining disaster. The tale she creates is fascinating and gripping, one that portrays the depth of human perseverance, the complexity of human integrity, and the uneasy moral issues that confront us all. The Arthurdale experiment, for example, is without question a complex event in West Virginia history, an issue commonly viewed as a stain on the state; and Laskas' connection is personal. She writes: " … my family came to Eleanor Roosevelt's town of Arthurdale, WV in 1943. My father was born there. The Miner's Daughter is an attempt to set the record straight—to reexamine that 'failure' through the eyes of those who lived it. It is a chance to shine a light on a forgotten—and decisive—moment of American history."