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Shurbutt receives second NEH grant to host summer seminar for teachers

ISSUED: 14 September 2015
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Shepherd University has received a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to offer a summer seminar in Appalachian studies for public school teachers. The $118,868 grant written by Dr. Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt, Appalachian studies program coordinator, and Charles Blachford, director of grant support, will support the seminar “Voices From the Misty Mountains: Appalachian Writers and Mountain Culture,” which will take place July 11-20, 2016 and will bring 16 teachers from across the country to Shepherd to learn more about Appalachian literature and culture.

“We’re quite excited about it,” Shurbutt said. “We’ve got some wonderful guest artists and it’s going to be a great three weeks for 16 middle and high school teachers from across the country who’ll come to Shepherd. Hopefully their teaching will be impacted by what they learn here.”

Shurbutt said the teachers who attend the conference will be selected through an application process. They will come from all disciplines and grade levels from across the country.

Kentucky writer Silas House, who participated in the 2013 seminar, will return to teach at this one. Frank X Walker, Kentucky’s 2013-14 Poet Laureate and the 2014 NAACP Image Award winner for outstanding literary work in poetry, will also participate.

“Frank X gives us not only wonderful poetry but he also gives us a diverse point of view,” Shurbutt said. “He’s very good about giving us these kind of lost figures from history and he tells their story poetically and gives them a voice. If it’s ‘Voices From the Misty Mountains’ certainly his is one we want to add for the poetry involved.”

The seminar will team up with the Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) to offer readings of a play written by House and Walker’s poetry and a workshop on creative drama. Adjunct faculty members Adam Booth, who is also a storyteller, and Rachael Meads, director of the Performing Arts Series at Shepherd, will offer presentations on Appalachian storytelling, music, and culture.

Shurbutt said the seminar will culminate in a road trip that will include visits to the Culture Center in Charleston, the Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley, the once-thriving railroad town of Thurmond in the New River Gorge, and Hawk’s Nest, the site of one of the worst industrial disasters in U.S. history. Shurbutt said one of the required readings for participants will be Denise Giardina’s “Saints and Villains,” which is about the Hawk’s Nest disaster.

“NEH participants will make a circle around West Virginia on the road trip and they stop for some really interesting programs,” Shurbutt said. “I think these kinds of practical experiences, as well as classroom experiences and the interaction they have with artists and actors, is a wonderful way for these teachers to become enthusiastic about incorporating Appalachian studies into their lessons.”

Shurbutt said the teachers will plan a project that they will use in their classrooms when they return to school in the fall, at a conference presentation, or in a publication.

“I hope they will be enthusiastic about this subject matter so that it will impact their teaching because of it,” she said. “What teachers get out of a summer seminar like this is not only a finite amount of knowledge about Appalachian writers and Appalachian culture, but I think they benefit immensely from networking with their colleagues from across the country.”

Teachers who attend the seminar will be eligible to receive graduate credit through Shepherd’s Division of Graduate Studies. This is the second NEH grant Shurbutt has written. In 2012 Shepherd was awarded $99,000 to host a similar seminar, which took place in July 2013.

Shurbutt will attend a two-day NEH workshop in Washington, D.C., in October to prepare for the summer seminar. She said information about the seminar and how to apply will be available in late November. For more information, contact Shurbutt at

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