Of banjos and pasta sauce

Shepherd's writer-in-residence works reflect Italian culture in Appalachia

Shepherd's writer-in-residence works reflect Italian culture in Appalachia

September 25, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W. Va. -- Women's fiction writer Adriana Trigiani will receive the Appalachian Heritage Writer's Award at Shepherd University for her accomplishments as a writer and for her Italian take on Appalachian life.

Trigiani will be recognized Wednesday, Oct. 1, at Erma Ora Byrd Hall, near Ram Stadium.

Shepherd English professor Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt, director of the Appalachian Writer's Project, said the award is given to contemporary Appalachian writers.

The Appalachian Heritage Writer's Award and writer-in-residence program was developed by Shepherd's English department in 1998, Shurbutt said. The program is strung around a week's worth of events in the fall and coincides with the Appalachian Heritage Festival, scheduled for Friday, Oct. 3, and Saturday, Oct. 4., at Shepherd's Frank Center Theater. Ralph Stanley & His Clinch Mountain Boys perform Saturday.

"We want people to understand the diversity of Appalachia, that it's not all Scotch-Irish," Shurbutt said.

Last year's recipient was Henry Louis Gates Jr., an African-American scholar from Harvard who was born in West Virginia and had family that lived in Cumberland, Md.


Shurbutt said Trigiani's novels show the influence of Italians on Appalachian culture.

Trigiani, a writer, TV producer and filmmaker, is the author of the "Big Stone Gap" series, about the life of Ave Maria Mulligan MacChesney. She filmed a documentary "Queens of the Big Time," about a yearly event in Roesto, Pa., a town founded by Italian immigrants.

Growing up in southwest Virginia -- where the "Big Stone Gap" series is based -- Trigiani said she thought she and her family were the only Italians there and that there wasn't much of an Italian presence anywhere in Appalachia.

But she would discover that not only was there a strong Italian population throughout Appalachia, but Italian culture was thriving. Viewers get a glimpse of this in "Queens of the Big Time," which will be shown Monday, Sept. 29, on campus.

"This is what's fascinating about America," Trigiani said.

Trigiani now lives in New York city and is currently casting for a film adaptation of "Big Stone Gap."

Trigiani said she looks to her family's stories and her own experiences as material for her novels.

"The way people are, those are the things that interest me," she said.

She likes to examine familial relationships like the mother-daughter bond, the father-daughter bond, and sibling ties. She also has an interest in romantic relationships.

"People will write about exploding bombs and war but to me, the most dynamic decision is who you choose to walk in this world with," Trigiani said.

If you go...

WHAT: Appalachian Heritage Writer's Award program with recipient Adriana Trigiani

WHEN: 8 p.m Wednesday, Oct. 1

WHERE: Erma Ora Byrd Hall, near Ram Stadium at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W.Va.

COST: Free

MORE: Trigiani will present the keynote address and the West Virginia Fiction Competition awards. Read more Trigiani at

Highlights of this year's
Appalachian Writer-in Residence events

Most events listed below are at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va. The full schedule is at

Monday, Sept. 29 -- Screening of Shepherd Writer-in Residence Adriana Trigiani's documentary "Queens of the Big Time." 7 p.m., Reynolds Hall, off King Street and between German and High Streets.

Tuesday, Sept. 30 -- "The Critics Corner and Talking about Big Stone Gap," 7 p.m. Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies, off High Street and between King and Princess Streets. Panelists are Ethan Fischer, Sarah Eberle, Charles Walker, and Brittney Scaccia. There will be a reception and book signing for "Appalachian Writers Guild Anthology."

Thursday, Oct. 2

10:30 a.m. -- Reading and reception at Martinsburg Public Library, 101 W. King St., Martinsburg.

3 to 4 p.m. -- "The Writing Life with Adriana Trigiani," Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies

Appalachian Heritage Festival

Concerts start at 8 p.m. and will be held at Frank Center Theater, in the portion of campus west of Duke Street. Single-concert tickets cost $20; $15, seniors and Shepherd University staff; $5, youths younger than 18; free for Shepherd students with Rambler card. Order tickets at

Friday, Oct. 3 -- A reading from the winner of the West Virginia Fiction Competition and a concert featuring The Fox Hunt, Chance McCoy, Chelsea McBee and John Lilly.

Saturday, Oct. 4 -- A performance by Ralph Stanley & His Clinch Mountain Boys.

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