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219 Writers’ Project documents rural America

AmeriCorps VISTA members creating historical guide to communities along U.S. 219

August 4, 2011
The Inter-Mountain

This month, the 219 Writers' Project begins its online fundraiser on as organizers prepare to create a historical guide to communities along U.S. 219 in West Virginia, based on the "Federal Writers' Project" guide to U.S. 219 that was published in 1942.

This project, organized by AmeriCorps VISTA Roxy Todd through Pocahontas County Free Libraries, is soon to have a new AmeriCorps member, Emily Newton, who is joining the team in September. Over the next year, the 219 Writers' Project will be traveling U.S. 219 from Deep Creek, Maryland, to Rich Creek, Virginia, talking with neighbors and gathering oral histories to include in its online and print guide of the Allegheny Mountains and the stories of those who have worked, traveled and lived along this road.

Published in 1942, a book called "West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State," will serve as inspiration as Todd and Newton travel this area. This book includes work from professional writers as well as school teachers, surveyors and journalists who found themselves out of work in the Depression and were employed by the Works Progress Administration's Federal Writers' Project. The 219 Writers' Project will incorporate this valuable writing with new work, photographs and multimedia in an online and print publication.

The 219 Writers' Project will document the historical, cultural and natural wonders along U.S. 219, including Tucker, Randolph, Pocahontas, Greenbrier, and Monroe counties in West Virginia.

The 219 Project also wants to hear from community writers, photographers and historians, and welcomes contributions, ideas and volunteers.

"We don't want to write about this area, we want to collect voices and impressions from community members who can help us document real life, real history, told by real people," explains Todd.

"This has never been done before. Some people across the country have reprinted the material from the Federal Writers' Project, but as far as I know, nobody, 'til now, has tried to update this material to be used as a present day guidebook," she said.

The fundraiser for the 219 Writers' Project, Documenting America is being launched Aug. 15 through Sept. 15. To learn more about the project, visit or call Todd at 304-636-8889 or 304-291-2569.

Several prizes, based on donation levels, are being offered. They include a handmade bag of wild West Virginia mint tea, a "Traveling Rt. 219" vanity license plate; West Virginia timber plaque; autographed artifact; a dinner and a movie at The Buckeye Drive Inn; and night at one of Todd and Newton's favorite places along U.S. 219.

Todd has been working as an Americorps VISTA to help get this project rolling since October 2010. She graduated in 2005 from Warren Wilson College with a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing. Since then, she has been exploring the mountains of Montana and West Virginia, and working on various writing and community projects. In 2006, she helped produce a musical comedy in Asheville that she wrote with Patrick Seick called "Osama Baby." She is also a fiction writer working on her first novel, "The History of Spectacles." She was born in Columbia, Tennessee, and grew up outside Nashville. West Virginia has become a place for her that feels more like home than anywhere she has ever lived or visited.

Newton graduated from the Dell Arte' International School of Physical Ensemble Theatre, where she studied community-based theater. Shortly after graduating, she was seen in the New York Clown Theatre Festival. Since then she has shifted her focus to rural and under-served regions of the United Sates, developing community-based productions all over the country. Recently back in her home state of Kentucky, she produced "War Brides," a shadow puppet play. She toured the Pacific Northwest with Tears of Joy Theatre in 2008 and spent 2009 serving with AmeriCorps VISTA developing a community-based theater project in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. She is currently devoted to the "219 Project, Documenting Rural America".



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