The second in a series of Fireside Chats from the Center of Women’s and Gender Studies at West Virginia University will examine the voice of women songwriters in Appalachia.

The presentation, “If You Love My West Virginia,” is free and open to the public at 4 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 4 in the Rhododendron Room in the Mountainlair on the Downtown Campus.

In January 2014, as many as 300,000 residents in the Charleston, West Virginia area found themselves without clean drinking water. An industrial spill caused a coal-cleaning chemical to flood the water supply, leaving many without safe water for weeks.

In April that month, residents voiced their opinions at a local town hall forum about potential new regulation for above ground tanks that, in theory, would keep a chemical spill from happening again. For Travis Stimeling, one voice stood out the most.

“She said ‘I’m Colleen Anderson, I’m from Charleston, and I’m going to respond the only way I know how.’ She started singing this gorgeous song, ‘If You Love My West Virginia,’” Stimeling said. “Immediately, I needed to know who this woman is.”

Stimeling, assistant professor of music history at West Virginia University, has since interviewed Anderson and discovered a powerful form of political voice: Appalachian women songwriters.

Since the early 20th century Mine Wars that raged in West Virginia and Kentucky, Appalachian women have used the power of their voices to sing protest songs that draw attention to the plights of miners’ wives. In the century since, Appalachian women have written powerful songs that address the economic, environmental, and health issues that they and their peers have faced.

“There are dozens of really remarkable women songwriters here in West Virginia, and Appalachia, that have spoken about things that are important locally, nationally, regionally,” he said. “They’ve spoken from the perspective of people who were maybe outside of the mainstream.”

These women used the power of song to capture the deeply personal implications of these political decisions, he said.

This presentation will examine the work of several significant Appalachian women songwriters, including Anderson, Hazel Dickens, Elaine Purkey and Morgantown’s own Shirley Stewart Burns, and will consider how they have engaged with the pressing political issues of their time.

“These are women who have used their voices to speak truth to power,” he said. “I’m really interested in examining the ways these women articulate very significant political arguments through song.”

Stimeling’s appearance is part of the 2015-2016 series of Fireside Chats from the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. It is being held in conjunction with Mountaineer Week.



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