UVA Wise writing project seeks teachers for newly-funded Appalachian storytelling program

With $75,000 in new funding, the Appalachian Writing Project (AWP) will work with local schools to collect and share the diverse and seldom told stories of the region.

This month, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded funding to the National Writing Project which, through a competitive process, handed out subgrants to state writing projects. 

Of those subgrants, the only program in Virginia to receive funding was AWP which received $50,000. For more than 20 years, AWP has provided an array of writing programs designed for professional development and training of Southwest Virginia K-12 teachers and young writers. AWP is a non-profit affiliated with the University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

A portion of the funding comes from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 as part of the NEH’s Building a More Perfect Union program. This program helps U.S. humanities organizations recover from interruptions to operations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The grant also develops programs for the upcoming celebration of the 250th anniversary of the United States.

“This grant gives us the opportunity to showcase central Appalachia’s story and contributions to our nation,” said Appalachian Writing Project Director Amy Clark, the UVA Wise professor of communications and Appalachian studies who wrote the grant proposal. “We are thrilled that we can continue serving our region’s teachers by giving them the opportunity to build this program in their schools.”

The year-long grant project is focused on the theme: “(Re)Telling Our Stories: Central Appalachia’s Cultural Contributions in Oral History and Artifact.” Clark, the co-director of UVA Wise’s Center for Appalachian Studies, wrote the proposal which was selected through a competitive, peer-reviewed application process.

The Southwest Virginia Museum in Big Stone Gap and the Appalachian African American Cultural Center (AACC) in Pennington Gap are partnering on the project. In fact, AACC provided an additional $25,000 earmarked  to focus on telling the untold stories of slavery in Central Appalachia, founder Ron Carson said.

AWP’s project will help share central Appalachia’s diverse cultural and civic stories. Teachers and students will collect and transcribe oral histories. They will also gather and interpret cultural artifacts donated by students and community members.

The work will eventually be displayed in temporary exhibits in schools and a virtual museum online.

“The Central Appalachian story is much more complex than people may realize. We do have diversity. Histories matter and we want to tell the stories of marginalized voices,” Clark said.

Only twenty-five teachers, third through 12th grade, from across central Appalachia—including Eastern Kentucky, East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia—will selected in a competitive merit-based process to participate in the year-long project from fall 2022 through spring 2023.

“We are focusing on those grades because that is when writing instruction really begins. Teachers can come from any discipline, not just English teachers. Students will write up interpretations to artifacts they bring and create exhibits,” Clark said. “We want to represent all aspects of Appalachia—environmental, cultural, historical.”

If accepted, teachers will attend a week-long summer institute starting June 6. They will also go on field trips to museums and attend other culturally relevant programs during the year.

Teachers will work with an educational specialist at the Southwest Virginia Museum to learn about artifact curation, preservation and interpretation.

Eventually, teachers will implement their ideas at their school districts during the academic year. They will work with other teachers, librarians and staff to encourage school-wide or district-wide programming and exhibits.

“Each project contributes to a shared national conversation in important ways,” said Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, Executive Director of the National Writing Project. “Building a More Perfect Union recognizes the unique role that local, regional, and cross-regional humanities organizations play in understanding and making visible fuller stories of our national experience.”

“The National Endowment for the Humanities is grateful to the National Writing Project for administering American Rescue Plan funding to help local and regional humanities organizations recover from the pandemic,” said NEH Chair Shelly C. Lowe, a member of the Navajo nation and the first Native American to lead the federal agency. “These ARP awards will allow archives, libraries, museums, historic sites and other institutions around the country to restore and expand public programs that preserve and share the stories of the communities they serve.”

The project hopes to include UVA Wise student interns.

Local teachers interested in participating in the project will be able to apply in the coming weeks. They should be on the lookout for emails from their districts and watch the Appalachian Writing Project Facebook page. They can also contact Clark at aclark@virginia.edu for an application.

To learn more about the Building a More Perfect Union grant please visit: https://www.nwp.org/building-a-more-perfect-union-grant-awards


About the Appalachian Writing Project: The AWP was founded in 20021 as a member of the National Writing Project and one of several writing project sites in the state of Virginia. The organization offers professional development programming for teachers in all disciplines at all levels, Young Writers’ Camps for students, and community programs for all writers/thinkers. They are supported by the National Writing Project, UVA Wise and the Slemp Foundation.