Appalachain Narratives symposium concludes with panel discussion


Michaela Crittenden

Crystal Good, Elaine McMillion Sheldon and Roger May spoke about the stigmas of Appalachia and their artistic mediums.

The Appalachian Narratives symposium presented by assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication Tijah Bumgarner and assistant professor in the School of Art and Design Daniel Dean concluded at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Memorial Student Center with a panel discussion featuring Crystal Good, Roger May, Elaine McMillion Sheldon and moderator from West Virginia Public Broadcasting Roxy Todd.

The panel began with opening remarks from the artists about their lives and work.

Roger May, an Appalachian Narrative photographer and writer, spoke about his photo exhibit displayed at Marshall University titled “How to Get Home Again,” displaying 23 photos of his home in Appalachia.

“I literally couldn’t get home again,” May said. “Many of us could never get home again because our home had changed so much, and I wanted to document the rapid change.”

Elaine McMillion Sheldon, a documentary filmmaker, focused on her Peabody award-winning documentary “Hollow” an interactive film about McDowell County West Virginia and Academy-nominated documentary “Heroin(e)” about the opioid crisis in Huntington.

“When you constantly see the destruction opioids cause constantly, you become sort of numb to it,” McMillion Sheldon said. “For the documentary I didn’t want to talk to experts who would talk about the issue from far away, I wanted it to be more personal.”

Crystal Good, an advocate, entrepreneur and poet, mentioned how she got her start being a published writer and how her first book “Valley Girl” came to be.

“I published my first book at Kinkos,” Good said. “The reason I tell that story is because I want people to know anything can happen.”

The panelists then discussed their experiences working and being from Appalachia.

“I have to work harder because people tend to underestimate me because of where I’m from,” McMillion Sheldon said.

Good had a different point of view on the stereotypes of being from the region.

“I don’t fight the stigmas people have about me because of where I come from, I choose to embrace it,” Good said.

The three panelists were all advocates for Appalachia and artists staying in the area to work and create.

McMillion Sheldon said she thought many regions were dying due to population loss, like McDowell County.

“We’re taught from a very young age that if you want to become anything you have to go somewhere else, and it’s sad but it’s reality,” May said.

All three artists agreed that though it was hard and staying in the region meant working a day job along with being creative, it was worth it to be home.

“I stay here because this is where I want to tell stories,” McMillion Sheldon said. “I have to work through grants which isn’t the best way to do it, but my work brings me joy, so I’ll keep working to do it.”

The poet, filmmaker and photographer all shared the same views about loving their work and their minds constantly working towards their next projects.

“I’m haunted by the poems I haven’t written,” Good said. “I’m trying to be patient, because they sometimes just take a bit more time to come out.”

Michaela Crittenden can be contacted at [email protected].