CHARLESTON — Eight West Virginia literary figures were chosen through the inaugural West Virginia Literary Hall of Recognition Project on Aug. 6, including two locals, David Prather and Susan Sheppard.
The West Virginia Literary Hall of Recognition Project was overseen by Kandi Workman (Boone County), Program Manager and Grant Writer for the Tamarack Foundation for the Arts, and Marshall University English Professor Cat Pleska (WV Native).
The purpose of the project is to increase the visibility of literary figures that are not as well recognized within the state of West Virginia.
“We wanted to do the project for visibility of a diverse group of people,” said Workman. “We didn’t want it to be merit based, so we made it community based and asked people ‘Hey, who do you know who should have their work be recognized?’”
Eight out of 24 nominees were chosen during the more than month-long voting process from June 15 to July 31. Once voting commenced, almost 770 votes were counted.
“I learned of the nominations only after the voting list came out,” Prather said about his discovery of his nomination. “Once the results were in, the person who nominated me finally notified me. The person who nominated me was fellow writer Laura Treacy Bently. I was dumbfounded, I thought ‘Wow, that’s amazing!’”
The 2023 Honorees include Norman Jordan (Anstead, WV), Katherine Manley (WV Native), Susan Sheppard (Barbour County, WV), Mary Lee Settle (Charleston, WV), Eliot Parker (Charleston Native), Cora Hairston (Logan County, WV), David Prather (Parkersburg Native), and Charley Hively (from Nitro, currently lives in Harrison County, WV).
“When I learned about the portrait, I thought it was really cool,” said Prather on finding out about being an honoree. “The portraits are going to be done by a wonderful artist from West Virginia.”
The honorees will have their portraits painted from Oct. 1 to Nov. 25 by West Virginia artist Sassa Wilkes. Wilkes is a transgender artist working to challenge and expand the cultural understanding of gender in Appalachia. He will be painting the portraits of the nominees over the span of eight weeks for a portrait a week alongside getting to explore the artist’s literary work. Wilkes will also be sharing his process and his discoveries of each artist via social media during the eight-week project. Wilkes previously completed a project where he painted 100 portraits in a 100 days during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is such an honor to have the opportunity to bring visibility to West Virginia writers with my work,” said Wilkes. “I can’t wait to dig into the paintings, but I’m equally excited to learn about the chosen writers and read and share their work with others.”
“The goal from the beginning has been the portraits,” Workman said. “I worked with the Waymakers Collective and that was how we received the $10,000 grant to make the portraits for the project happen. Along with the creation of the portraits, we’ll be interviewing the artists or their family and friends if they’ve passed on.”
The West Virginia Humanities Council also awarded $1,500 towards the Tamarack Foundation for the Arts to support the West Virginia Literary Hall of Recognition Project for Pleska’s contribution to the project.
“What I love about being involved in the Literary Hall of Recognition is the opportunity to sing the praises of anyone marginalized and to tout those voices little heard from or remembered,” said Pleska. “Everyone wants to be heard, and we all deserve to be heard. Each person possesses values that can change how we think about our world for the better, for inclusion, and to help us all remember we cannot progress alone.”
The honorees’ portraits will be on display at the Coalfield Development’s West Edge Factory in the mezzanine of the Black Box Theater, currently under construction. The West Edge Factory is a community focal point for artisans and creative businesses located in Huntington.
“We are planning to hold a spring reception next year at the West Edge Factory, but we don’t have any dates set,” said Workman. “The project is still so fresh and new, but we’ve been finding different ways to collaborate with people for it.”
Gretchen Dowler can be reached at email@example.com