West Virginia University to host ‘Women Speak’

MORGANTOWN – West Virginia University will host the 11th annual Women of Appalachia Project (WOAP) “Women Speak” performance, a juried presentation of story, poetry and song showcasing women artists from Appalachia, on Saturday.

The event will be held in the Milano Reading Room at the Downtown Campus Library from 1-3 p.m.

This is the third year that WVU will host “Women Speak.” The event is co-sponsored by the Women’s Resource Center, WVU LGBTQ+ Center, and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies.

According to founder and executive director Kari Gunter-Seymour, WOAP is unique in that it is an arts organization specifically focused on addressing discrimination directed at Appalachians. “Many people have an image of an Appalachian woman, and they look down on her,” Gunter-Seymour, herself a poet and photographer, said. “The mission of WOAP is to showcase the way in which female artists respond to the Appalachian region as a source of inspiration. We bring together women from diverse backgrounds, ages, and experiences to show the whole woman beyond the superficial factors that people use to judge her.”

The WOAP “Women Speak” jurors for the 2019-2020 season were Randi Ward and Savannah Sipple. Ward, a Wood County native, is a poet, translator, lyricist and photographer. Her work has been featured on Folk Radio UK, National Public Radio, and PBS NewsHour.

Sipple is a writer from east Kentucky. Her debut poetry collection, WWJD and Other Poems (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2019), explores what it is to be a queer woman in Appalachia. She is the recipient of grants from the Money for Women/Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and the Kentucky Foundation for Women.

The 2019-2020 Women of Appalachia Project features a number of Mid-Ohio Valley writers such as Danielle Kelly, Debbie Richard, Lois Spencer, Sherrell Wigal, Lisa M. Pursley and Barb McCullough.

Danielle Kelly, an instructor of English at WVU-Parkersburg, said she decided to submit to the WOAP after attending a “Women Speak” event. “I wanted to be part of a group of strong female voices since much of my work is centered around female voices,” Kelly said.

“This project means being able to be involved in creating a more complex picture of the Appalachian woman, her strength and resiliency that is often overlooked. WOAP also introduces me to a group of strong and caring artists who challenge one another to further push past the stereotype of what it means to write and live in Appalachia today,” Kelly said.

Along with West Virginia University in Morgantown, WOAP performances will be hosted at six other venues: Northern Kentucky University (Fort Thomas, Ky.) Ohio University Multicultural Center and Baker Theater (Athens), Berea College (Berea, Ky.), Marshall University (Huntington), Clarksburg-Harrison County Library (Clarksburg), and the Dairy Barn Arts Center (Athens).

The WVU event is free and open to the public. Individual donations for the Women of Appalachia Project will be accepted at the door. Light refreshments will be served.

For more information go to womenofappalachia.com, visit WomenofAppalachiaProject on Facebook, or email womenofappalachia@gmail.com.