Oct. 18, 2005
By Cara McCoy
Appalachian culture is rich and varied; so much so that the focus of the Women of Appalachia conference extends beyond the realm of academia into the arena of arts and culture. Organized to tout the history, sisterhood and culture of Appalachian women, the seventh annual conference will take place Oct. 28 through 29 at Ohio University-Zanesville.
Speakers invited to the event include author Gretchen Moran Laskas, singer/songwriter and journalist Kate Long and University of Kentucky Appalachian Center Director Evelyn Knight. In addition to this impressive list, the Zanesville Campus will host a variety of art events to celebrate the women of Appalachia.
The conference will open Friday with a juried art show to showcase artwork from women around the region. The run of the art show extends past the dates of the conference -- it will continue until Nov. 17 in Herrold Hall on the Zanesville campus. In addition to the art on display, original pieces of pottery, jewelry, quilts, paintings and baskets will be available for purchase.
This year's featured musical guest is Vernon McIntyre & the Appalachian Grass Band. This five-member group includes three female bandmates: Kitty McIntyre on fiddle, Emily Baehr on mandolin and Tammy Strong on upright bass. They perform Friday at 7 p.m., providing some old-fashioned entertainment for conference attendees.
In terms of the overall aims of the conference, its organizers hope to promulgate the achievements and successes of women in the region. "It's a way to showcase women of Appalachia--the art, the talent, the research, the knowledge…it's just a way to highlight their accomplishments," said Candy McBride, director of continuing education at Ohio University-Zanesville. McBride, along with her staff, has helped organize the conference for the past several years.
The original architect of this unique conference is former Zanesville Campus Dean James Fonseca, who hoped to vivify the accomplishments of Appalachian women on a national scale. According to McBride, Fonseca felt that the Zanesville Campus was in the perfect position to bring such prominent attention to women in the region. Looking at the overwhelmingly popular response and seven years of success, one could say Fonseca's dream has been realized.
"We try to keep abreast of what's happening in Appalachia in terms of current topics or folks in positions, and we try to bring in folks that will be of interest to the broader audience," McBride said. Indeed, Zanesville's Women of Appalachia conference has a notable lineup of speakers. Gretchen Moran Laskas, a native of Phillipi, W.Va., will be discussing her novel "The Midwife's Tale."
Her book is about several generations of midwives and takes place between World War I and World War II; but, more than that, it is a story of West Virginia at that particular time. "West Virginia is a state that's sort of caught in the middle -- it's not north, or south; east or west," Laskas said. "It's also the whole idea of how midwives are caught in the middle between the mother and child." Laskas currently lives in Gainesville, Va., where she is a professional author and mother.
In addition to talking about her book, Laskas will be discussing the language women use when they talk to one another and also issues of women's healthcare.
Other presenters of note include Kate Long, an award-winning singer-songwriter and journalist who lives in her home state of West Virginia. "In Their Own Country," her award-wining radio series showcasing West Virginia writers, will be available at the conference on CD for purchase. Long's project for West Virginia Public Radio is a series of hour-long interviews with 14 writers who tell about their lives and their connections to Appalachia, in addition giving advice about writing and reading from their work.
Long will be rounding out the conference with humorous insights about life in Appalachia. She will weave in readings from a novel she is currently writing about a young Appalachian girl, and entwine them with stories about other Appalachian women writers.
The Appalachian Center at the University of Kentucky, in existence for the past 25 years, serves as an institute dedicated to bettering the communities in Appalachian Kentucky as well as the greater Appalachian region. Evelyn Knight, the center's director, will be present at the conference to discuss the future of the program.
"Evelyn Knight, as director of the University of Kentucky's Appalachian Center, will really interest the crowd," McBride said. She explained that the center is an important focal point of the academic study of Appalachian culture, so conference attendees will find her future plans for the center especially interesting. Knight began her directorial duties in May 2005.
Despite the small size of the Zanesville campus, the conference has a big pull. McBride said the conference brings approximately 150 participants from about 10 different states to Zanesville. Many of the attendees are repeat participants, generally in the field of academia. Additionally, although the focus of the conference is Appalachian women, men are invited and encouraged to come, McBride said.
The Women of Appalachia conference takes place the last weekend in October. It is possible to register online at the conference Web site. For more information, call (740) 588-1401, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cara McCoy is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.