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Voices from the Misty Mountain

By Staff | Jul 26, 2013

Shepherd University partnered with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in an effort to promote Appalachian heritage and culture in education curriculum.

“Voices from the Misty Mountain,” is a special seminar held at SU’s campus this month, that provided a select group of educators from all over the country with an opportunity to gain first-hand experience in Appalachian life.

Guided by professor of English and Appalachian Literature, Silvia Shurbutt, seminar students got a combined classroom and cultural experience.

According to Shurbutt, she was asked by Shepherd University’s Dean of Arts and Humanities, Dow Benedict, to participate in an NEH workshop on education over a year and half ago, that focused on alternative ways of teaching.

Given what she described as a “renaissance in Appalachian music and literature,” the University sought to work with NEH on this summer’s special Appalachian program.

“I think the most extraordinary writers in the country right now, are from Appalachia,” Shurbutt said.

With a curriculum focused on exposing students to Appalachian writers like

Lee Smith, Henry Louis Gates, Ron Rash, Denise Giardina, and Jesse Stuart, the seminar, gave participants at glance at work that Shurbutt said is, “shaping American literature.”

The NEH Summer Seminar was intended for K-12 teachers and graduate students.

Shurbutt said nearly 80 applied, though leas than half were chosen, with backgrounds ranging from elementary education to Spanish, to history, and even, library science

“There’s a wonderful balance,” Shurbutt said of the seminar’s diversity in participants.

Shurbutt said the educators came to the seminar looking for information they could incorporate into their curriculum, though some also came out of their own aspirations to be writers, or actors, or storytellers.

Seminar participants attended lectures on Appalachia, as taught by Shurbutt, as well as a host of guest experts including, Appalachian Storyteller Adam Booth and SU Performing Arts Director and Appalachian native, Rachel Meads, among others,.

Fitted alongside and working cooperatively with the Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF), participants were also privy CATF’s season plays and events.

CATF founder and Producing Director Ed Herendeen was on hand for the students first day of class.

Describing CATF as “cultural gateway,” to West Virginia, Herendeen both lectured students on writing and culture, and served as a host to participants.

CATF’s company of actors performed at a special stage reading of the yet published play “This is My Heart For You,” by Appalachian and Southern literature writer, Silas House.

Shurbutt explained that House served as the seminar’s “artist in residence,” as his work was included in its curriculum and he made himself to students throughout the seminar.

In addition to holding a “talk back” at the stage reading House, met with the NEH participants at one of O’Hurley’s General Store’s weekly Old Time Jam sessions, performing alongside local musicians and students.

A field trip to Charleston, West Virginia, and other cultural locations around the state in what Shurbutt called, “experiential learning and exploration of the Appalachian themes and works,” served as one of the seminar’s highlights.

All activities were designed to result in practical tools and knowledge for each teacher.

The NEH seminar in Appalachia will serve as the precursor to a graduate certificate in Appalachian Studies, that Shurbutt said is to be offered by the University in the fall.

More information about the “Voices from the Misty Mountain,” seminar can be found by visiting the Shepherd University homepage at www.shepherd.edu.