ISSUED: 4 September 2019
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens
SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Shepherd University’s annual Writer-in-Residence program and 24th Annual Appalachian Heritage Festival will take place September 20-28, featuring the work of Affrilachian poet and storyteller Crystal Wilkinson and music performances from a variety of Appalachian artists.
Wilkinson is serving as Shepherd’s 2019 Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence (AHWIR). Throughout the year, she has collaborated with the AHWIR committee in constructing resources and teaching tools for public school teachers and colleges students who will read and study her poetry and prose. Wilkinson has also selected winners of the West Virginia Fiction Competition and assisted in the planning of programs that will be featured during Appalachian Heritage Festival week, which is supported by the West Virginia Center for the Book, West Virginia Humanities Council, Shepherd University Foundation, and Shepherd University Center for Appalachian Studies and Communities.
Wilkinson grew up on her grandparents’ 64-acre farm in Casey County, Kentucky. Her grandparents, Silas and Christine Wilkinson, one of the few African American families living in the mountain community, raised tobacco, corn, and sorghum. Wilkinson recalls having an “enchanted childhood” where she was given the freedom by her grandparents to explore nature and the world around her and to write down her thoughts and feelings about that world. In 2000, Wilkinson published her first volume of short stories, “Blackberries, Blackberries,” which received a Chaffin Award for Appalachian Literature. This collection was followed by magazine and journal publications and her second book, “Water Street,” which was nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction and placed on the short list for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. In 2016, she published her novel “The Birds of Opulence,” which received the Weatherford Award for Appalachian Fiction and the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence.
“Water Street” was selected as the 2019 West Virginia State Common Read. Wilkinson will receive the Appalachian Heritage Writer’s Award on Thursday, September 26, and her work will be the centerpiece for the 12th annual Anthology of Appalachian Writers. The theme of Wilkinson’s 2019 residency is “Everybody’s Street and Being Black in Appalachia.” Wilkinson is currently an associate professor at the University of Kentucky.
Musicians performing during the festival and at the Showcase Concert on Saturday, September 21, include Chelsea McBee and the Whomevers, Corey Harris, and The Main Line Gravy Soppers.
Shepherdstown native McBee performs old-time West Virginia banjo tunes, as well as vocal harmonies with her mother, TeresaMcBee, and sister, Melody Massimino. McBee has been performing and writing since 2006. While there are many artists and styles of music that have influenced McBee, the beauty and history of Appalachia remains the strongest.
Corey Harris, a blues guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and band leader, has recorded many old songs from the blues tradition, while also creating an original vision of the blues by adding influences from reggae, soul, rock, and West African music. In 2003, Harris was a featured artist and narrator of the Martin Scorcese film “Feel Like Going Home,” which traced the evolution of blues from West Africa to the southern U.S. In 2007, he was awarded a $500,000 MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The annual grant described Harris as an artist who “forges an adventurous path marked by deliberate eclecticism.”
Old-time string band The Main Line Gravy Soppers features Rebecca Adams on clawhammer banjo, vocals, and dance board; Jeffrey Adams on guitar; Shepherd professor Jason Miller on fiddle, vocals, and banjo; Jørgen Miller fiddle; and Gary Baker on stand-up bass. The band’s songs range from fast raucous vaudeville numbers to haunting old fiddle tunes.
Events scheduled during the festival and writer-in-residence program include:
Friday, September 20:
- 7 p.m., Reynolds Hall, Shepherdstown Film Society Screening of “Beloved,” followed by a discussion led by Dr. Julia Sandy, associate professor of history.
Saturday, September 21:
- 11:30 a.m., Reynolds Hall, “Rise Up Singing: Story-Songs, Sacred Music, and Songs of Struggle,” a community sing of old-time, gospel, country, and bluegrass.
- 1 p.m., Reynolds Hall, “The String Band Tradition in Appalachia,” an introduction to the old-time string band tradition with The Main Line Gravy Soppers.
- 2:30 p.m., Reynolds Hall, “Roots of the Blues in Appalachia,” Corey Harris will lead a workshop tracing the role that the blues play in Appalachian music.
- 7 p.m., Showcase Concert, Frank Center Theater, featuring Corey Harris, Chelsea McBee and the Whomevers, and The Main Line Gravy Soppers. Tickets are $15/general public, $10/ senior citizens and Shepherd employees, $5/children, and free to Shepherd students with a valid Rambler ID. Tickets are available at the Shepherd University Bookstore at 304-876-5219.
Monday, September 23:
- 3-5 p.m., “Unraveling the Novelist’s Secrets with Karen Spears Zacharias,” Four Seasons Books, 114 West German St., writers’ workshop. Cost is $50 for the public, free to Shepherd students with a valid Rambler ID. To register, call 304-876-3486.
- 7 p.m., Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education auditorium, “Mama Just Won’t Accept This: Mental Illness in the Black Community,” with Dr. Alfiee M. Breland-Noble.
Tuesday, September 24:
- 7 p.m., Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education auditorium, “A Celebration of Appalachian Storytellers, Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Volume XI,” music by Dr. Georgiann Toole, associate professor emeritus of education, and readings by 2018 West Virginia Common Read Author Karen Spears Zacharias and West Virginia Poet Laureate Marc Harshman, sponsored by the West Virginia Center for the Book and the Shepherd University Foundation.
- 8 p.m., Scarborough Library Reading Room, photographic art exhibit and Anthology reception. The exhibit will be on display through September 30.
Wednesday, September 25:
- 9:30 a.m., Martinsburg High School, book discussion with high school honors students.
- 11 a.m., Martinsburg Public Library, 101 West King St., Crystal Wilkinson reading.
- 7 p.m., Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education auditorium, “The Writing Life, with Crystal Wilkinson,” followed by a reception and book signing.
Thursday, September 26:
- 3-4:30 p.m., Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education auditorium, Writers Master Class with Affrilachian Poet and Fiction Writer Crystal Wilkinson.
- 8 p.m., Erma Ora Byrd Hall auditorium, Scarborough Society lecture keynote and awards ceremony, followed by a reception. Crystal Wilkinson will receive the Appalachian Heritage Writer’s Award and present the Scarborough keynote address, followed by reception and book signing. Wilkinson will also present the West Virginia Fiction Competition awards.
Friday, September 27:
- 6 p.m., Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education auditorium, “Tumbling Monuments, Fractious Politics, Post-Obama and Black Lives Matter: A Community Discussion with Dr. Chiquita Howard-Bostic.”
- 7:30 p.m., Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education auditorium, “An Evening of Storytelling: Appalachian and Affrilachian, Where the Twain Shall Meet,” with storytellers Adam Booth and Diane Macklin.
For more information, visit https://www.shepherd.edu/ahwirweb/wilkinson/ or contact Dr. Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt, director of the Center for Appalachian Studies and Communities, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Rachael Meads, assistant director of student engagement, at email@example.com.
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