Shaun Slifer’s 'So Much to Be Angry About' Explores 1960s Appalachian Radicalism And Its Use Of A DIY Press
Since the color writers of the late 1800s, there’s been no shortage of writing about Appalachia by those visiting the region — but it’s a lot rarer to find Appalachians who set out to tell their own stories.
That’s exactly what happened beginning in the late ‘60s in Huntington, West Virginia, when a group of young people began printing pamphlets under the publishing label Appalachian Movement Press. Shaun Slifer inadvertently came across one of the press’s pamphlets a few years ago — which led him on a journey to learn more about the press. The result is a new book, titled “So Much to Be Angry About: Appalachian Movement Press and Radical DIY Publishing, 1969 - 1979,” published by WVU Press.
Slifer read a blurb from the press that functioned as a sort of manifesto — a statement of purpose that often ran alongside its catalog offerings.
“Appalachia is a colony,” read Slifer. “Our wealth is daily stolen from us. Our natural resources and our labor are exploited by giant corporations whose owners do not live here. Not only do these owners not live here, they make no contribution to the process of production. Our natural resources rightfully belong to all of us, and it is by our labor alone that they are made useful to us in the form of products. Yet today we receive no value from our resources and a mere pittance for our labor.
“The greatest share of what is produced from our resources and labor goes into the pockets of these corporate owners who do nothing at all to earn it. They live and have become the richest people in America by exploiting us. We at the Appalachia Press are dedicated to putting an end to the exploitation of our land and labor,” Slifer read — in words many would appreciate still today.
Slifer reflected in an interview about what the book revealed and how he had tapped into this history.
“The process with Appalachian Movement Press really started from being handed one of their pamphlets at a wedding that I was at at the Appalachian South Folklife Center in Pipestem Resort State Park a few years back,” Slifer said. “I was very curious on the back, it said ‘Appalachian Movement Press,’ and I knew about movement presses in the 1960s and 70s, as part of the left in the United States.”
The movement press was a group of people who owned the means of production for printing their own posters, pamphlets and sometimes books. The coal miner’s pick on the press snared Slifer from the moment he saw it.
“I just thought, ‘That's cool,’” said Slifer. “I took a picture of the logo and texted it to a couple of friends of mine who run a publication called ‘Signal,’ which is a global survey of political graphics and graphic culture. I thought they would at least know what it was, but they said, ‘Wow, I've never heard of this,’ and challenged me to go dig up the history of it.”
Slifer’s subsequent research revealed that the people behind “Appalachian Movement Press” were a group of college students around Huntington’s Marshall University who originally spent years trying to get the college to recognize their chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, a late ‘60s radical group. They began the press to publish their newsletter, but soon picked up a lot of republishing work as “Appalachian Movement Press.”
The press was distinguished by the fact it was by Appalachians, for Appalachians. The group kept its work simple and stripped down. It was focused on its print content, with the objective of keeping the price low for buyers of all kinds.
“Everything about it was focused on the information itself, and so that created a design aesthetic. What I mean by that is that the design aesthetic felt very stripped down very of the moment. They were neither in communication with other movement presses, nor did were they particularly concerned with what those presses were doing. It was about central Appalachia.”
Slifer’s book includes a historical explanation and several reprints. The book, "So Much to Be Angry About,” is available from WVU Press.