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Scarborough Society celebrates Appalachian heritage with awards presentation

By Staff | Oct 5, 2018

Appalachian Heritage Festival award winners are pictured at the Scarborough Society awards ceremony and lecture at the Erma Ora Byrd Center on Sept. 27. From left, 2018 WV Fiction Competition Award third place winner Tisha Six, of Huntington; West Virginia Center for the Book representative Karen Groff; 2018 Appalachian Heritage Writer's Award winner Karen Spears Zacharias; 2018 WV Fiction Competition second place winner Ellen Skirvin, of Morgantown; and Committee's Choices Award winner Alaira Hudson, of Harmon. 2018 WV Fiction Competition first place winner Kelley Altizer, of Barboursville, was not present at the event. Photo by Tabitha Johnston.

SHEPHERDSTOWN — The 2018 Appalachian Heritage Festival has now come to a close, after a full week of events featuring Appalachian writers, storytellers, artists and musicians.

Although the schedule of events began on Sept. 21 and ended on Sept. 28, the festival’s culminating ceremony was held on Sept. 27. Sponsored by the Shepherd University Foundation, the Scarborough Society and West Virginia Center for the Book, the event featured the festival’s writing awards presentation and Scarborough Society lecture by 2018 Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence Karen Spears Zacharias.

Scarborough Society President Ramon Alvarez kicked off the evening by welcoming the event’s attendees, including awards recipients from around the state.

“The Scarborough Society has been honored for years to host this event,” Alvarez said. “The Scarborough Society’s mission is to raise money to enhance learning opportunities in our community. This whole week of the Appalachian series gives character and identity to our university. We are a dynamic university, and have worked hard to create exceptional programs like this that bring outstanding people like Karen Spears Zacharias to our university.”

Alvarez thanked Professor of English Sylvia Shurbutt for her work across the country on behalf of Appalachian heritage. Shurbutt is also the director of Shepherd University Center for Appalachian Studies and Communities, the establishment this year of which was celebrated during the event. The center is now in charge of directly overseeing Appalachian heritage-related activities at the university, including the Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence Project, the West Virginia Fiction Competition, the annual Anthology of Appalachian Writers, the Appalachian Heritage Festival and the interdisciplinary Appalachian Studies Minor.

“We are bringing the under-appreciated achievements of Appalachia into the spotlight. We see Appalachia does exist, both as a creative range, and as a region. Those creations, unfortunately, are rarely viewed for their cultural achievements,” said Shepherd University Provost Scott Beard. “We’re here to celebrate the work of Karen Spears Zacharias, and we’re proud to know she will be featured all across the state because of being the 2018-2019 West Virginia One Book One West Virginia Common Read author. I would like to say congratulations on tonight’s program, and I encourage you to continue to innovate and celebrate all that is wonderful in our region.”

Shurbutt then awarded Zacharias with the Appalachian Heritage Writer’s Award. Other award recipients included 2018 West Virginia Fiction Competition Award winners Kelly Altizer, of Barboursville, who won first place for “Metropolitan”; Ellen Skirvin, of Morgantown, who won second place for “Pretty Poisons”; Tisha Six, of Huntington, who won third place for “Wonder Bread”; and Committee’s Choices Award winner and Tucker County High School student Alaira Hudson, of Harmon. For the first time in the festival’s history, photography winners were awarded for their submissions to the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, according to Shurbutt.

“It’s all to celebrate the power of storytelling. It all started with the Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence,” Shurbutt said. “The reason we have given this award to Karen is multi-faceted. How very important books are, and how very important language is, and how very important truth is — we live in dangerous times, but Karen is doing her best to speak the truth through her writing.”

Zacharias closed the evening with her brief lecture, “The Search for Kinship, The Stories of Karen Spears Zacharias.” Zacharias discussed her feeling of being an outsider throughout her life as a military child whose father died in the Vietnam War. Since her childhood, Zacharias said she has found kinship, not in her own family, but with other people who have struggled with the feeling of being an “other than.”

“The search for kinship is the search for identity, a search for belonging. Our search for kinship is the search for community,” Zacharias said. “The story of Appalachia is the story of community. Here, the exploited, the refugee, the immigrant, have found a home in these mountains and these woods. Here, they see the world as a welcoming place, the way things were meant to be.”