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JMU professor receives fellowship supporting Black Appalachian storytelling 

Crystal Graham
JMU professor L Renee
Image courtesy Becca Evans, JMU College of Arts and Letters

A James Madison University English professor who works in leadership at the Furious Flower Poetry Center has received a fellowship from an association that promotes Black storytelling in the Appalachian region.

L Renée, assistant director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center, received a Black Appalachian Storytelling Fellowship from the National Association of Black Storytellers.

The fellowships are awarded to one storyteller in each of six states in the Appalachian region: Kentucky, Ohio, North Carolina Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

“I am humbled to receive this fellowship, which will provide research support to further examine and document the rich histories of Black Appalachian storytelling in Virginia specifically in Tazewell County where my family lived,” said L. Renée.

The fellowship provides $5,000 to support L. Renée’s work as a Black Appalachian storyteller and culture bearer, and funds for travel and lodging at the 41st annual “In the Tradition…” Black Storytelling Festival and Conference in Salt Lake City in November.

The award aims to recognize artistic excellence in the representation of folk art and cultural heritage.

She is the descendant of “coal miners, tobacco farmers, bakers, washerwomen, bathtub brewers, guitar-pickin front porch dwellers and Bible quoters who labored and loved in hills and hollers,” said L. Renée.

“Storytelling is the way they, and so many other Black folk, have passed down knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual testimonies,” L. Renée said. “In the spirit of Sankofa, this tradition must be preserved especially in Appalachian regions where the lives, contributions, and experiences of Black communities are often missing from or incompletely represented by ‘official’ archives.”

The NABS Black Appalachian Storytellers Fellowship is made possible through partnerships and funding in part by Mid Atlantic Arts’ Central Appalachia Living Traditions Program and South Arts as part of the In These Mountains, Central Appalachian Folk Arts and Culture.

This second-year fellowship is an adjudicated award recognizing artistic excellence in the representation of folk art and cultural heritage.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.