People from Appalachia are frequently portrayed as uneducated, poor, and rough around the edges. “The Women of Appalachia Project” helps dispel those negative stereotypes through the arts.
Kari Gunter-Seymour's poem, "I Come From a Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen,” is one piece included in "Women Speak," the spoken word of "The Women of Appalachia Project".
Gunter-Seymour, Ohio’s poet laureate is the executive director and founder of the “Women of Appalachia Project,” a non-profit arts organization. She got tired of submitting her poetry and fine art for publication and getting rejections with comments that didn’t make sense to her.
“Something like, ‘trying to be too ethnic or too regionally colorful, just really weird comments that said to me they were not understanding my work because when someone says you’re too ethnic when you’re writing from your heart, you kind of feel like, whoa, what is that about?” asked Gunter-Seymour.
The artist decided to put on her own art show with the support of the folks at Ohio University’s multicultural center. She said the staff there agreed that people from Appalachia are frequently stereotyped and looked down on. The poet set out to prove those stereotypes wrong.
“People from the Appalachian area are not undergroomed, overfed, undereducated. That we are indeed the opposite. That we are talented and as my tagline says, ‘we believe that all women are capable, courageous, creative, and inspired’,” said Gunter-Seymour.
The “Women of Appalachia Project” has been going strong for over a decade. Its mission is to encourage and empower Appalachian female artists and our communities through presentations of spoken word and fine art. Women submit their work, it’s juried and those who are juried go on to travel throughout Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky to share their work to audiences of hundreds of people. The work is then published in an anthology called “Women Speak.”
It’s Tina Parker’s third year as part of the “Women of Appalachia Project.” She grew up in Bristol, Virginia, and now lives in Berea, Kentucky. Three of Parker’s poems are included in the anthology “Women Speak volume 6.”
“What I've learned is how powerful our stories are and how much rich talent there is in our region. It's been inspiring for me to know that there are artists out there in every small town, every holler, telling their story getting their work out there," said Parker.
The 45-year-old said she saw the opportunity to apply for the project and was immediately inspired by the notion of telling the story of Appalachia from a women’s perspective. Parker said she feels like she’s been misunderstood as an Appalachian Woman.
“Growing up, I didn’t know I was from Appalachia. I knew that I loved to write, I loved to read, I loved to listen to people talk. As I got older, I learned that part of what I loved about listening to people talk is the cadence of their voices, the way that they sound, like the place I call home. And I weave those voices and that music into my poetry,” said Parker
Her poem, “Radiation Therapy: A Baptism” is autobiographical. It weaves together themes like growing up in the southern Baptist church and receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Sixty poets and writers are divided into two groups and typically perform six or seven times a year at venues in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia. This year, due to COVID performances are virtual.
Last year was Cecile Dixon’s first time with the project. Her writing has appeared in several publications including, “Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.”
“I come from a long line of storytellers. We can’t just give you a one-word answer. The important part of being a writer and putting those stories on paper now is because we’re a minority,” said Dixon.
The Irvine, Kentucky resident is a retired nurse who’s been writing her entire life. She’ll read her short story “Rabbit” at a “Women Speak” virtual event this spring. “I think it’s important that we show the rest of the world the talent that we have in these hills,” said Dixon.
The next spoken word performance is scheduled in May and will be hosted by Towngate Theater in Wheeling West Virginia.
Listen to Cecile Dixon read her story, "Rabbit".
Listen to Kari Gunter-Seymour's poem, "I Come From A Place So Deep Inside America It Can't Be Seen".
Listen to Tina Parker's poem, "Radiation Therapy,A Baptism".
Listen to McKenna Revel readh her poem, "How To Make An Appalachian Woman."
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