UPDATE: Sadly, this event has been cancelled. I’ll let you know if/when a future performance is scheduled.

Women Speak, part of the Women of Appalachia Project, features Appalachia-based women in a series of performances. I’ll be reading my poem “Samba” during the performance at Towngate Theater in Wheeling, West Virginia, on May 21 from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. “Samba” appears in the anthology Women Speak, Vol. 7, edited by Ohio Poet Laureate Kari Gunter-Seymour.

I’m not only excited to perform and to be published, but I’m also looking forward to visiting the area, as I have ancestral ties there. My 5th great grandfather, Robert Robinson, left Ireland and settled there in the 1800s. As best as I can gather (if my research is valid), Robert was from the Poor Law Union of Omagh in County Tyrone, North Ireland. He came to America with his growing family in 1838 at the age of 26. He died at 70, and he and my 4th great grandmother, Sarah, are buried in Wheeling, along with a few other relatives. I hope to visit the gravesite while there to soak in a sense of my history.

As one who was neither born in Appalachia nor lived here for most of her life, as one who lacks the sense of place that runs centuries deep for so many, it feels strange to take part in Women of Appalachia Project’s Women Speak activities. As a resident of Appalachia, I qualify, but what moves me about being involved comes down to ancient roots that run across many parts of Appalachia–West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee and North Carolina–and then spread out to “somewhere else.” Living here, I often sense a connection, recognize what we retained of Appalachian culture generations after moving away.

Just as I and so many of my ancestors had a distant connection to Appalachia, my poem “Samba” connects my Tennessee home to another far-away place: Brazil. My California-based brother-in-law, Bruce, has a jazz radio show most Wednesdays from 8:00 – 11:00 pm Eastern, where he plays a variety of jazz tunes. One Wednesday a tune from his playlist struck me. I had to write. In appreciation, I dedicated this poem to him.

For some of us in Appalachia, roots run centuries deep. For others, they run wide. Whether deep or wide, roots always run back to the source. If you live or will be in Wheeling on May 21, I hope you’ll join us at the Towngate Theater and enjoy a couple of hours as Appalachian women speak: tell stories, make music, and share poetry.

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