Telling Appalachia's Story Like a Girl & Reshaping Stereotypes Along the Way

Mar 13, 2015

Appalachia has certainly been stereotyped by many people in the media. But not all storytellers are the same, and the stories that are told about Appalachia are often complicated with layers of misunderstandings. 

It takes time, compassion and perhaps an inside perspective to delve deep and do justice to the people affected by the story. So much of this type of work- that which is reshaping how Appalachia is portrayed- is being rendered by women in the media.

In honor of International Women's Day this past weekend on March 8th, this week on Inside Appalachia we are dedicating the entire show to strong Appalachian women who are telling stories through multi-media.

Hollow, an Interactive Documentary

Sarah Ginsburg (left) co-hosts a new podcast with Elaine Sheldon (right).
Credit Kerrin Sheldon

In 2013, Elaine McMillion Sheldon, launched an interactive documentary called Hollow. Hollow earned Sheldon The Peabody Award that same year. During the project, Sheldon gave residents in McDowell cameras to shoot and tell their own stories. Residents then uploaded their stories to the Hollow website. Sheldon also spent time with residents in McDowell to help tell stories. We wanted to share a part of one of those stories, of yet another strong Appalachian woman. Markella Gianato is from McDowell County, West Virginia and built her own family business after her father passed away. 

Anna Sale's podcast, Death Sex and Money

West Virginia native, Anna Sale, is the host and managing editor of Death, Sex & Money at WNYC in New York City.

This podcast was named best of 2014 by iTunes in the new podcast category plus it hit the top of Buzzfeed’s list for the best 12 new podcasts that will make you a better human. Last May she interviewed West Virginia native Bill Withers, who recently was inducted into the Rock and Roll Music Hall of Fame.

Elaine Sheldon Speaks with Anna Sale

Anna Sale, host and managing editor of the podcast, Death Sex and Money
Credit WNYC

Elaine McMillion Sheldon recently launched a podcast called She Does Podcast. It just so happens that she and co-host Sarah Ginsburg recently had Anna Sale on her show.

Coal Towns Named for Women

Mabscott and Wickham, W. Va., Mining Towns
Credit West Virginia and Regional History Collection, West Virginia University Libraries

Today we’re featuring women from Appalachia who have made a name for themselves in the media industry. So for this week’s What’s in a Name, we wanted to remember one of the many women whose name is remembered through a town. Did you know that plenty of Appalachian towns were named after women? But many times, the names of the women are actually disguised within the name of the town. This week, we have a special triple shot treat for you. Can you figure out the women’s names who inspired the names of Glen Jean, Caretta, and Mabscott, West Virginia? This week Roxy Todd chatted with Ken Sullivan, executive director of the West Virginia Humanities Council to learn more. Listen to the show to hear the stories behind these town names. 

Appalshop Filmmaker Mimi Pickering 

Mimi Pickering has been reporting in Appalachia for more than 40 years. Her work focuses on injustice and inequality and explores the efforts of grassroots people to address community problems. Her work has been featured regularly on Inside Appalachia, including a story we aired, in part, last month about the The Buffalo Creek Flood: which was one of 25 films recognized by the Library of Congress in 2005. She is originally from California, but she made her home in Whitesburg Kentucky after spending some time in West Virginia.

Jean Snedegar of Elkins, producer of Inspiring West Virginians

Jean Snedegar, Elkins native, producer of Inspiring West Virginians

Next, we hear from a lady who's been reporting since she was 13 years old. For more than 20 years she worked as a freelance reporter on BBC Radio’s national speech network – Radio 4, and their international radio network, the BBC World Service. At the time she was one of the few North American voices on the BBC.

In 2002 Jean Snedegar came home to Elkins after more than 25 years in London. She said after she started to “hanker for the mountains of West Virginia.”  You often hear some of Jean Snedegar’s latest work here on Inside Appalachia. She’s now the producer of the radio documentary series called Inspiring West Virginians.

Credit Jean Snedegar
This week we are featuring a recent piece by Snedegar about Patrice Harris, yet another woman with Appalachian roots.

Patrice Harris and three other leaders in science and business are featured in the newest Inspiring West Virginians program.

Suzanne Higgins

Decorated and Talented Suzanne Higgins 

Suzanne Higgins works closely with Jean Snedegar on the Inspiring West Virginians series as its Senior Producer. But it’s not the first time Higgins has shined as a multi-media storyteller. In 2001 Higgins won the national Pew Charitable Trust’s Batten Award for Excellence in Civic Journalism, for a multi-media program called West Virginia: Beyond Coal, which combined television broadcast, a newspaper series, and internet components. She also won a regional Emmy for her work on a series called Aging with Grace and Dignity.  In one episode, she traveled to Tams, West Virginia, a once- booming coal camp community in Raleigh County where she visited with several elderly folks who were working to preserve a historic 87-year-old Baptist church. Since this story first aired in 2011, the church continues to have Sunday services, the roof has been replaced, and members continue the process to gain its placement on the National Register of Historic Places.