Telling the Story of Appalachia: A writing program delves into 250 years of history | News

WISE — For more than two decades, the Appalachian Writing Project has helped teachers show students how to become better writers.

As the United States nears the 250th anniversary of its founding, AWP Director Amy Clark wants the program to re-emphasize the significance of central Appalachia’s contributions to the nation’s history.

The project won a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities National Writing Project, the only such grant awarded in Virginia this year and one of 38 nationally. Clark said some of that money came from federal U.S. bailout funds to help humanities programs recover from the impact of the pandemic.

The NEH grant theme, “Building a More Perfect Union,” also leads the way.

AWP is also partnered with the Southwest Virginia Museum in Big Stone Gap and the Appalachian African American Cultural Center in Pennington Gap, Clark said. The AAACC has added an additional $25,000 in funding for the project, she said. The AAACC’s museum and artifact collections will contribute to the AWP’s goal of showing how to use touchstones on the region’s history, she added.

“Part of the program will be to tell the story of marginalized voices in a region that has long been marginalized in the nation’s history,” Clark said. “We’ll be holding the program institute this summer at the Southwest Virginia Museum, and the artifacts there and at the Appalachian African American Cultural Center will be an important part of what we do.”

Clark said the AAACC grant from center directors Ron and Jill Carson was unexpected but valuable in helping attendees learn more about slavery and its impact on the region.

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“Ron and Jill’s work is such a big part of telling the story of the area,” Clark said. “I didn’t even know slavery existed in Lee County until I started looking for a cemetery on my family’s property in the county.”

AWP will select 25 teachers — grades 3 through 12 — from school systems in Southwestern Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, and Northeastern Tennessee for the week-long project institute of this year from June 6th. Participants will collect oral histories and cultural artifacts, interpret them, and discuss ways to include them in the classroom.

Clark said three teachers who participated in the program would help with this year’s training: Hope Cloud of Wise County Schools, Stephanie Cassell of Norton City Schools and Letcher County, Ky., teacher Lucas Shortt. She said she hopes to include student interns from UVA Wise in the program, which is not just for English teachers.

“We focus on those notes because that’s when the writing instruction really begins,” Clark said. “Teachers can come from any discipline, not just English teachers. Students will write interpretations of the artifacts they bring and create exhibits. We want to represent all aspects of Appalachia: environmental, cultural, historical.

Applications will be available in the coming weeks, Clark said, and notice will be sent to surrounding school districts and placed on the Appalachian Writing Project’s Facebook page. Teachers can also contact Clark at for an application.

Online: NEH Building a Grant for a More Perfect Union —

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