How is accurate history recorded? Guest historians, novelists and poets will come together for a two-day symposium at Converse College to answer that question.
The two-day “Writing in Past Tense: Southern Appalachian Women Symposium” will be held March 14 and 15 in the Barnet Room of the Montgomery Student Center. Presenters will explore literature about life in Appalachian mining communities during the early 20th century. The symposium will also focus on the culture of women who ran the households and communities while miners went to work, and who were often left behind when their husbands died in the mines. Evening readings and lectures are scheduled for 8 p.m. both evenings and will be preceded by receptions at 7:15 p.m. Events are free and open to the public.
“A fiction writer can rearrange events, make up characters and animate them in a way that brings them to life for the reader. They may not stick strictly to the facts, but they can reveal a larger truth by playing with the facts a bit,” explained Dr. Melissa Walker, associate professor of history at Converse. “Historians, however, approach a past event by looking at primary sources that are produced by people who witness or experience events. Primary sources-which can be quite extensive-can include newspapers, government records, personal diaries, letters, photographs and oral history interviews. All of these sources are, of course, incomplete and produced by a person with a particular viewpoint or an agenda. So the historian has to locate a variety of primary sources, put them together, sift through them for inaccuracies, and try to reconstruct the past.”
The March 14 event will include readings by David Corbin, author of Life, Work and Rebellion in the Coal Fields: The Southern West Virginia Mine Wars, 1880-1922; and Diane Gilliam Fisher, poet and author of Kettle Bottom. Rick Mulkey, chair of the Converse English Department, will moderate a post-reading discussion.
The March 15 event will feature Grace Edwards, director of Appalachian Regional Studies Center and chairperson of the Appalachian Studies Program at Radford University; and Denise Giardina, novelist and professor of writing at West Virginia State University. A post-reading discussion will be moderated by Dr. Walker.
The symposium is sponsored in part by The Humanities Council SC, a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities; by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Friends of Literary Arts at Converse.