Press & Reviews

Fresh and valuable… The Moundsville film, by Miller and Bernabo, presents the results in a way different from most other documentaries I’ve seen… worth watching. — James Fallows, The Atlantic 

Summarizes the core problem that many small cities and towns face in 21st century America. — Matt Stroud, Postindustrial

This sort of entrepreneurial revival is “one thing that’s happening in Appalachia that is not talked about enough,” says Miller. “There are young creative people doing different kinds of things, and building a new kind of future. And we’re not going back to the past. One thing the mound reminds us of is that civilizations and cultures do eventually move on, and change is inevitable.” — Bill O’Driscoll, WESA 90.5 (NPR)

The city’s rise and fall will be familiar to many who grew up in small, rust-belt towns — yet there’s something distinct about Moundsville, named for the ancient burial mound in the center of town. The Grave Creek Mound Burial Site — which dates so far into antiquity that little is known about the native Americans who built it — provides a physical and spiritual backdrop for the film. — Sean Collier, Pittsburgh Magazine 

Moundsville isn’t just a sad story… The film, indeed, presents the city in pleasant light. – Nora Edinger,

Miller became fascinated with how a town built on coal mining and steel would recover after the factories closed and its residents found themselves out of work. — Sherry Greenfield, Hagerstown Herald-Mail

Any hard conversation about America’s future needs to start with a shared understanding of our past and present, free of myth and easy narrative. When you’re trying to accept and understand change, the truth always helps. — John W. Miller,

“Since the 2016 election, the tension on main street between storyteller and subject has polluted public discourse and trust during a difficult and vulnerable time. Getting the story exactly right is always hard.” — John W. Miller, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“A gripping look at a fascinating West Virginia town wrestling with its past and fighting for its future, with lots of surprises along the way.” — Joe Barrett, Wall Street Journal 

“This film succeeds by allowing people to tell their own stories – with moments of nostalgia and pride interspersed with flashes of frustration and grief – just like real life. It’s hard to predict the future, but as a viewer (or reviewer, as the case may be), it’s impossible to deny that I’m rooting for Moundsville. These are good folks who certainly deserve a win.” — Tony Montana, United Steelworkers

“I feel energized by the thoughts that this movie has provoked. The way the story is told is brilliant. Communities throughout history like to think others’ success is the reason for their own woes. Rather, they need to look within to figure out how to have their own rebirth. This movie is a step in the direction of understanding.” — C. Donald Brasher, Jr., President, Trade Data Monitor, Inc.

“A provocative documentary about the economic geography of a West Virginia mountain town. It was fantastic! I’m still thinking about it.” – Dr. Bob Ross, Point Park University, Pittsburgh, PA

“A lot of stories about the Heartland are depressing, bleak, hopeless — or angry. It’s more complicated than that, and this movie finds a path between the extremes that gets you closer to reality. Everyone should take the trip to Moundsville.”– Joe White, Reuters

“Fantastic! A great job showing the multiple forces driving Appalachian thinking and acting.” – Dr. Jason King, St. Vincent College, Latrobe, PA

“A beautiful, thoughtful, and respectful documentary about my hometown of Moundsville, WV.” – Tracey Whorton, drummer from Moundsville

“Gets to the truth of the place by leaving Trump out of conversations.” Bob Davis, Wall Street Journal

“I highly recommend this absorbing and enlightening documentary about a small West Virginia town and its travails since the halcyon days of the 1950s.” — Paul Blustein, former economics reporter for the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, author of “The Chastening” and other books about global trade

“They carried earth in baskets” — Virginia Tech Researcher Jordan Laney Wins Moundsville Film Poetry Contest

Jordan Laney, winner of Moundsville poetry contest

Jordan Laney, a postdoc researcher at the Virginia Tech Dept. of Religion and Culture, has won the Moundsville poetry contest.

Poet Crystal Good says she was inspired by the documentary film (which you can rent for $3.99 here) to run the competition for national poetry month in April because of the film’s treatment of race, the cyclical nature of history, and the part we gave to West Virginia poet laureate Marc Harshman, one of her favorites.

The three poems she picked as winners — all meditations around the 2,250-year-old Native American mound — “were rich and lovely and I hope you enjoy reading them,” she says.

Laney, the first-place finisher, says she “entered the contest as a challenge to myself during National Poetry Month– to be more productive and public with my work.”

The film, she wrote me in an email,

had a story and cadence that reminded me of my hometown, Marion, North Carolina and our beloved “old Wal-Mart” (not to be confused with the new Wal-Mart on I-40). The “old Wal-Mart” that I went to as a child is now half Big Lots, half vacant building and sits on top of/in front of an indigenous burial ground. I was moved by the similar emotions of different generations throughout rural America can be seen through the stories you captured in Moundsville– the ability to stay for older generations (the hope the mill and mines offered) and the struggle to return and thrive for younger generations (despite a college education). Through the film, I enjoyed being reminded of the rich material culture in our small towns and the way the present moment interacts with history through both stories and the literal ground we walk on. I’m looking forward to visiting Moundsville, WV.

Here’s her poem:

To Know

They carried earth in baskets

        high          above furrowed brows

feet in Ursa Major, dragging

onward, to Polaris

wandering, making hollers

and ridges of skylines

For supper, soft round soil

silt     clay     sand

dirt between teeth, sweet on the tongue

swallowing, to know

what it means to be

of a place in a place

to be        a place

After long days of work

water wheel planting

Pelleted fertilizer, fire

deep in good dirt

pushing life into emptiness

backs bent and dreaming

At nightfall

we closed our eyes and we ate


glutinous by nature

When baskets were empty, stomachs

swollen (all water, organic matter gone)

we carried seeds in our teeth

         blood blistered lips to the ground

speaking life         into rows

tilling      ripping

subsoil        topsoil         red soil

peat        chernozems         loess

Praying, bleeding, waiting

          drought and flood

resigning.       until only

the gathering

the discovery recovery uncovering

is left

Second place goes to Nora Edinger, a writer for in Wheeling, who wrote one of the first reviews of Moundsville. (Disclosure: We had no say in the selection process.)

The Moundsville Method

They carried the earth in baskets.

One does what one can to make a forever mark.

Have a baby. Write a book.

Attract 90 million followers on You Tube.

Build a mountain where there was nothing but flatness.

Same difference.

And third place goes to Andrea Keller, a conservationist at the Grave Creek Mound and a participant in the film. (Same note as for number 2.)

Grave Creek Mound Contemplation

I stand looking up


                             Those who rest here


Three million loads of Earth

               Monumental creation


                                Those who rest here


I  wonder:

       Who will remember me

                                 When I rest

                                                       Eternally ?

All three winners will receive a free Moundsville DVD, and jewelry made by Crystal Good. Poets, she told me, “are keepers of the past, present and future. Poets look for the poem and Moundsville is full of them.”

John W. Miller

Review: King Lear as Allegory for U.S. Industrial Decline




I saw a preview last night of Quantum Theatre’s new Pittsburgh production of Shakespeare’s King Lear at the Carrie Furnace. (It runs May 10-June 2; tickets here.)

Lear is the story of a king gone mad in the sunset of life. Immediately, this stylish production by the Pittsburgh experimental theatre troupe hits the note in a political key: The actors march out chanting the 1931 miners’ union anthem “Which Side Are You On?” Is decline making America go crazy? Can Shakespeare help decode our moment of madness? Is Lear Uncle Sam?

The sets are two rounds — the first, industrial; the second, bucolic — carved out of the Carrie Furnace, now a National Historic Landmark and tourist attraction. The Furnace was part of a steel mill on the banks of the Monongahela river that was shut down in 1982. Within sight is U.S. Steel’s famous Edgar Thomson works in Braddock, still a working steel mill.

This production’s embrace of these themes of industrial rise and fall reminded me of Moundsville (which, yes, you can still rent for $3.99 here) and its characters’ wrestling with loss and identity.

In the program notes, director Risher Reddick makes this Rust Belt meditation explicit:

Our jobs our status, our wealth and possessions demand our attention and define us. We can come to believe that these traits are intrinsic to who we are, but what happened when one of these defining pillars of self is taken away? Who are we then? If Lear is not a king, who is he? If Pittsburgh is not a steel town, what is it?

In Lear, he continues

we witness a man stripped of everything that seemed to define him, and through that stripping, find out who he is. Painful as it is, Lear’s journey, like Pittsburgh’s, is not simply a story of loss; it is a story of transformation, redemption and ultimately, liberation. Lear’s story reminds us that in the end we gather – possession, status, relationships – we must let go, and in letting go, we find out what we hold dear.

Pittsburgh has not, in fact, completely let go of steel. From the Carrie Furnace, you can see the U.S. Steel mill in Braddock, a struggling hamlet made somewhat famous by the films of favorite filmmaker son Tony Buba and former charismatic reforming mayor John Fetterman, now lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania. (Pittsburgh-based) U.S. Steel is investing $1.2 billion in refurbishing the Braddock mill and its network of plants in the valley.

My companion last night was a writer friend in his 70s who grew up in Braddock during the booming 1950s. The reason the town is poor now, he pointed out, is “not that the factory closed but that the steelworkers in the 60s moved to the suburbs. That was the cool thing to do. My family looked into it, went driving around looking at houses, but my dad liked going for walks around here, and this is where his friends were, so we stayed put.”

In an email today, my friend added:

The town’s history, from olden times to its heyday, is a great thing. It’s worth preserving and building on, in way that you can. But for present purposes we’ve got to stop looking at this place as a 20th-century mill town in decline. This is a 21st-century community with state-of-the-art, 21st-century problems, and the people here need and want to find a better future that can work out from where they are now.

Outside of Braddock, Pittsburgh’s richer, whiter parts prosper, thanks to colleges, hospitals and a rich tech sector, sprouting condos, bakers and vegan restaurants. It is towns elsewhere in Appalachia and the Midwest — like Moundsville — that are having a harder time recovering from the collapse of manufacturing, and struggling with opioids, brain drain, and the resurgence of white supremacist movements.

The Quantum production is straightforward and strong, I thought, with period costumes and classic Shakespearian acting that was mostly very good, with a few flat tones. The play’s text was edited for length. We were back in our cars in under three hours.  The flourishes come from the surroundings and a few clever touches. The fool sings her song of wisdom as a blues number. (“Have more than thou showest…) In the opening scene, Lear walks out carrying his big, heavy cape adorned with the map of his kingdom he’s about to split apart.

Lear can’t handle decline, even as he divides his kingdom between his three daughters so he can

shake all cares and business from our age;
Conferring them on younger strengths, while we
Unburthen’d crawl toward death.

The negotiation splits the family and ostracizes the good daughter Cordelia who refuses to “heave [her] heave her heart into [her] mouth” and falsely flatter her father. She flees and leads the French army to wrestle back control of the kingdom from her two evil sisters.

The characters wrestle with decay, what to do when

love cools,
friendship falls off, brothers divide: in
cities, mutinies; in countries, discord; in
palaces, treason; and the bond cracked ‘twixt son
and father. This villain of mine comes under the
prediction; there’s son against father: the king
falls from bias of nature; there’s father against
child. We have seen the best of our time:
machinations, hollowness, treachery, and all
ruinous disorders, follow us disquietly to our

In King Lear’s case, traveling without his crown is a journey through madness, arrogance and victimhood – “I am a man more sinned against than sinning,” he says into humility and truth. The once vainglorious king is left to plead:

Pray, do not mock me:
I am a very foolish fond old man,
Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less;
And, to deal plainly,
I fear I am not in my perfect mind.

In the end, Lear loses the loving daughter Cordelia to civil war, and himself dies, but not before awakening to the depth of their bond and fostering, in the crisis, burgeoning wisdom from his son-in-law Albany:

The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.

Lear teaches us that loss is a trigger. The world spins. You rock. Fight. Cry. Journey. These things cannot be escaped. But we still have choices. If, like Albany, you keep your eye on reality, and love, you can hold on to something decent and sane, and keep going with a stranger strength. An old, useful truth to ponder in the shadow of a dead blast furnace that made steel for 20th century warships.

John W. Miller








Before The Star Was Born: The Legend of Lady Gaga’s Singing West Virginia Grandpa


Our story of how Lady Gaga was inspired by her West Virginia grandmother to “pick yourself up” during a difficult time is the most-read post on this site — with over 30,000 views.

People in West Virginia are proud of the family, even if Gaga’s mother Cynthia Bissett left the region for New York City in the 1970s, part of a wave of emigration described in our movie Moundsville, available for $3.99 here. (If you enjoy these posts, please consider supporting us by renting or buying the film.)

With Gaga making news this week with her stunning display of fashion at the Met Gala, it’s a good time to pass on a story we heard from readers who wrote in after our first post.

This one’s not about Gaga’s grandmother, which has been told many times– but instead a lesser-known tale about her grandfather, a man named Paul Bissett, Sr. who was a legendary West Virginia amateur crooner in the 1960s, singing at weddings, birthdays and public events.

Gaga gets her golden voice from him, people in Moundsville and Glen Dale like to say.

A woman named Mary Butler emailed me to tell the charming story of Mr. Bissett singing at her wedding.

Not only was Paul Bissett a State Farm Agent, he was gifted with a beautiful voice.  He sang in the McMechen Methodist Choir, but also in the McMechen Mens Chorus.  The chorus was directed by Ray Ponzo, bass player in the Wheeling Symphony, band director at Union High School in Benwood and later for Shadyside High School.  The chorus sang at many events around the Ohio Valley.  Paul sang The Twelfth Of Never at my wedding.  My uncle, Earl Summers, Jr. played the violin, making it a very musical wedding.

Gaga grew up in New York City, but often visited her proud grandparents. Sometimes, they would take her to talent shows, another reader wrote.

When Mr. Bissett died in 2013, his obituary noted that he was a “a very well known singer throughout the [Ohio] valley.” Amazingly, it makes zero mention that he was the grandfather of possibly the most famous singer on the planet.

Among his survivors, the obituary mentioned “his loving wife of 63 years, Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Ferrie Bissett”, and four grandchildren, including a woman named Stefani Germanotta — also known as Lady Gaga.

John W. Miller



Meet Marc Harshman, Proud Poet Laureate of West Virginia, Star of Moundsville


One of the most eloquent, defining voices in Moundsville (which you can rent for $3.99 here) is Marc Harshman, a former Moundsville resident, grade school teacher, storyteller, children’s book author– and the ninth poet laureate of West Virginia.

Since earning that title from Governor Earl Ray Tomblin in 2012 — after the death of Irene McKinney — Marc has traveled widely around the state to support poets, novelists, journalists and other artists. “Although we are a small state, it’s hard for me to imagine any state with a greater pool of accomplished artists—painters, sculptors, musicians, dancers, as well as, of course, writers,” he said in an interview with Zach Davis for Fluent Magazine.

Working with Marc was a treat. He was generous with his time when we met with him at his home in Wheeling last spring. We turned on the camera, and talked for two hours, on religion, small towns, economics, class, race, poetry, politics and American history.

Marc hit a lot of sweet, smart notes during our conversation, which is why he is featured so prominently in the film. Clearly, he had been thinking for decades about the stuff we had to ask him.

And, luckily for us, he really, really loves West Virginia, in a way that’s deep and thoughtful and true and impossible to fake.

For example, this poem is from his book “Woman In Red Anorak”, published by Lynx House, which you can order here:

after Tomas Tranströmer

Town is closed today.
Smokeless chimneys, rain-slicked and empty streets.
I don’t know why.
It hasn’t asked much of me lately.
Like a fever, perhaps, it will pass, open again tomorrow.
The sun glints on the damp pavements
and a few windows shine
in the dark face of the warehouse.

I haul myself up the ridge
to where my words race, then tumble, soundlessly
over the cliff.
I hold myself close, and listen,
and with my back to the wind,
lift my arms, and try again, say
the word feather, say the word soar.

The quiet answers with its own names.
I should do this more often,
and whether or not the peopled world below
goes on or not,
this older world remains
as these sun-drenched warblers testify
with their reedy whistling.
I should more often do, at least, this much.
I should this much do, as if even the least of us mattered.
I lift up a stone and watch it soar.
I can almost see where its feathers begin . . .

That book won the 20th Annual Blue Lynx Prize. “In Marc Harshman’s prize-winning collection,” the publisher says, “actual war, age, and disaster mingle with dream and hallucinatory sadness to produce an edgy sweetness few American poets have managed to give us.

That edgy sweetness is tinged with hope. This poem is from a book called “Believe What You Can”, published by WVU Press and available here.


The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. — Jackson Pollock

The starlings have again held their revival here.
The sidewalk below their power line pulpits
is stippled with rose and ivory starbursts.
A few linger near yet this morning, whistling,
as if they were unaware
of their art, unaware
of the limits of transcendence,
of the neighbors’ lack of appreciation
of mulberries, of art, of starlings with a purpose.

May we all be starlings with a purpose. Thank you, Marc.

John W. Miller



What Charles Dickens Wrote When He Saw the Mound, and Present-day Moundsville, West Virginia, in 1842


In 1842, Charles Dickens, already a literary superstar at age 29, traveled to America, a journey he recounted in his travel book, American Notes for General Circulation.

Dickens’ travels to Washington, Boston and Pittsburgh are familiar to 19th century literature lovers. Less know is his impression of what is today Moundsville, West Virginia, the subject of our recent documentary film. (Which you can still rent for $3.99 here.)

On April 1, Dickens took a steamer on the Ohio River, bound for Cincinnati. A bit after leaving Pittsburgh, he passed by present-day Moundsville, then known as Big Grave Creek.

“There are few places where the Ohio sparkles more brightly than in the Big Grave Creek,” he wrote.

Like later visitors, including me and filmmaker Dave Bernabo, Dickens was touched by the region’s deep Native American past, and the haunting echoes of a people pushed aside.

The very river, as though it shared one’s feelings of compassion for the extinct tribes who lived so pleasantly here, in their blessed ignorance of white existence, hundreds of years ago, steals out of its way to ripple near this mound.

The mound seemed to deepen Dickens’ awareness of the wider tableau of American history over time, and how the technological majesty of industry conflicted with the beauty of the country’s rich natural landscapes, which now included the ancient mound.

Through such a scene as this, the unwieldy machine takes its hoarse, sullen way: venting, at every revolution of the paddles, a loud high-pressure blast; enough, one would think, to waken up the host of Indians who lie buried in a great mound yonder: so old, that mighty oaks and other forest trees have struck their roots into its earth; and so high, that it is a hill, even among the hills that Nature planted round it.

Dickens had been a fervent supporter of the US; this journey changed his mind. “I am disappointed,” he wrote. “This is not the republic of my imagination.” In particular, he was disgusted by slavery, especially the sight of an African-American family being broken up for sale.

He really hated Washington, DC. The capital, he said, was the site of

despicable trickery at elections; under-handed tamperings with public officers; and cowardly attacks upon opponents, with scurrilous newspapers for shields, and hired pens for daggers.

Reading Dickens’ writing from this trip is another reminder that in America, the tension between angelic ideal and human reality – the proper German psychological word is Weltschmerz – has always been a necessary burden.

John W. Miller

VOTE — and SHARE This Post — to Lift Moundsville, West Virginia from 13th into Top 10 of USA Today Best Historic Small Town Contest — Voting Closes May 6 at Noon EDT


Moundsville, West Virginia (subject of our movie, which you can rent for $3.99 here) is still in the running for USA Today’s “Best Historic Small Town” contest, but there are only 5 days left until voting closes next Monday, May 6 at noon EDT.

You can’t see the leaderboard anymore, but last we checked, Moundsville was in 13th place (out of 20).

Moundsville needs your vote — cast your vote here — every day until May 6. You can also help by sharing this post and encouraging your friends to vote.

Let’s give Moundsville and West Virginia a boost and help get the town into the top 10!

Moundsville is one of 20 contestants, along with places like Granbury, Texas; Mackinac Island, Michigan and Willamsburg, VA. It’s the contest’s only town in West Virginia.

Here’s what USA Today says:

The town of Moundsville is home to one of West Virginia’s most fascinating historical attractions, the West Virginia State Penitentiary, dating back to 1876. The town also serves as the gateway to the Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex, one of the country’s largest conical burial grounds and a National Historic Landmark.

A panel of experts including travel writers Eric Grossman, Marla Cimini and Gerrish Lopez, and Deborah Fallows (co-author of Our Towns: A 100,000 Journey into the Heart of America with James Fallows who recently reviewed Moundsville in The Atlantic), and Anna Hider of Roadtrippers chose these towns because they have “big histories and small populations – fewer than 30,000 people as of the last census – making them fun and affordable ways to dive into our nation’s past.”

John W. Miller

“Moundsville” to Screen at Row House in Lawrenceville, Friday, May 3 at 7.05 pm



Pittsburgh, PA—Row House Cinema (4115 Butler St, Pittsburgh, PA 15201 in Lawrenceville) will show Moundsville on Friday, May 3 at 7.05 pm.

Filmmakers John W. Miller and David Bernabo will make a short presentation before the 74-minute movie.

You can book tickets ($10) on the cinema’s website

See for trailer, info, articles, and options to rent/buy.

Moundsville, which has been shown in New York, Pittsburgh and Moundsville, and is available to rent or buy online, is the economic biography of a classic American town, from the prehistoric burial mound it’s named after, through the rise and fall of industry, to the age of Walmart and shale gas, and a new generation figuring it all out.

Told through the voices of residents, the story covers an arc that includes Moundsville’s Native American origins, white settlement, Marx toy plant (it made Rock’em Sock’em robots), legendary prison, first African-American mayor, post-industrial decline, and current small businesses.

The constant is the 2,200-year-old mound left behind by a Native American people, a Greek chorus reciting time’s insistence on change.

By reckoning with deeper truths about the heartland and its economy, without nationalist nostalgia, liberal condescension, stereotypes, or talking about Trump, Moundsville plants seeds for better conversations about America’s future.

Row House Cinema is a single-screen theater in the historic Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Each week it selects a new movie theme. Its concession stand features natural popcorn with real butter & pure sea salt. In addition, it sells tasty chocolate popcorn, craft beer, locally made ice cream, pepperoni rolls, hot dogs, popsicles, coffee, tea, as well as vegan options.

For more information, contact John W. Miller on 412-298-0391

Moundsville Screening at Aull Center in Morgantown, Thursday, April 25 at 7pm



The Aull Center in Morgantown presents a free, public screening of the new documentary film Moundsville on Thursday, April 25 at 7pm. The screening will be followed by a Q&A and discussion with the filmmaker John W. Miller.

Moundsville, which The Atlantic called “fresh and valuable” (and which you can rent for $3.99 here), is the biography of a classic American town, from the prehistoric burial mound it’s named after, through the rise and fall of industry, to the age of WalMart and shale gas, and a new generation figuring it all out. By reckoning with deeper truths about the heartland and its economy, without nationalist nostalgia, liberal condescension, or stereotypes (or talking about Trump), Moundsville plants seeds for better conversations about America’s future. More at

The Aull Center is a branch of the Morgantown Public Library established in 2004 and dedicated to local history and genealogy. It’s located in the historic Garlow House. The house was built in 1907 and was home to the family of Aaron J. Garlow, president of the Second National Bank. Researchers are welcome to explore collections of books, photo albums, yearbooks, and a plethora of family histories. The Aull Center is also home to the J. D. Rechter Holocaust Memorial Library and a portion of the Appalachian Prison Book Project collection. It serves the public as a research center and forum for discussing the past. More at

LOCATION: 351 Spruce Street, Morgantown, WV 26505

TIME&COST: Thursday, April 25, 7pm. Entry free & open to the public.

MORE INFO: John W. Miller (412-298-0391) re Moundsville;

and Nathan Wuertenberg (nathan.aullcenter@gmail.comor 304-292-0140) re Aull Center

Moundsville Named as West Virginia’s Entry in USA Today Contest for “Best Historic Small Town” — Vote Here (Once Per Day) Before May 6


USA Today is holding a contest for “Best Historic Small Town” in the country, and Moundsville, WV (subject of our movie, which you can rent for $3.99 here) is one of the 20 contestants, along with places like Granbury, Texas; Mackinac Island, Michigan and Willamsburg, VA. (Full list here). It’s the contest’s only town in West Virginia.

Cast your vote here.

Here’s what USA Today says:

The town of Moundsville is home to one of West Virginia’s most fascinating historical attractions, the West Virginia State Penitentiary, dating back to 1876. The town also serves as the gateway to the Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex, one of the country’s largest conical burial grounds and a National Historic Landmark.

Votes are due by May 6, and you can vote once per day. The ten winning small towns will be announced on Friday, May 17.

A panel of experts including travel writers Eric Grossman, Marla Cimini and Gerrish Lopez, and Deborah Fallows (co-author of Our Towns: A 100,000 Journey into the Heart of America with James Fallows who recently reviewed Moundsville in The Atlantic), and Anna Hider of Roadtrippers chose these towns because they have “big histories and small populations – fewer than 30,000 people as of the last census – making them fun and affordable ways to dive into our nation’s past.”

John W. Miller




April is National Poetry Month: Write a Moundsville-Themed Poem, Win DVD, Jewelry, Publication — Hosted by Affrilachian Poet Crystal Good

West Virginia poet, activist Crystal Good. (Photo by Renee Ferguson)

For National Poetry Month, we’re holding a Moundsville-related poetry contest with African-American Appalachian (“Affrilachian”) poet Crystal Good. Email her your poem, to The winner, to be declared in May, will receive a free Moundsville DVD, a custom piece of Good’s sassafrass jewelry, and publication and promotion on this website. Submissions (which are free) are due by April 30.

To help, Good wrote 17 Moundsville “prompts”, short ideas intended to start or suggest a poem (if you haven’t seen the movie yet, you can rent it for $3.99 here):

  1. How to pronounce my hometown.
  2. A man/woman shouts “Top Of The Mourning” or “Morning” to you from a hill. Your response.
  3. The day you lost your job.
  4. Listen to this and write about your favorite childhood toy.
  5. Rockem Sockem Robots. The Red is one industry (coal) the Blue another (gas). Commentate the “fight”.
  6. You’re walking by a prison to get an icecream cone…
  7. Imagine you are a child being raised in a town by a ghost, a prisoner, an ancient “indian” and a pioneer frontier settler.
  8. A lullaby by Charles Manson’s mother.
  9. Tell the story about (you name them) who got drunk in the bar on top of an Indian Mound and rolled down. Spoiler: He dies.
  10. Write about your first ______.
  11. You are the Mayor of _______ville. (insert your name).
  12. First line: They carried the earth in baskets.
  13. Write a bilingual poem. One language is: West Virginia/Appalachian
  14. Take up a collection of words.
  15. You find a bone.
  16. What do old people eat?
  17. You meet a woman crying. You ask her why. She says: For labor.

An acclaimed activist and poet based in Charleston, WV, Good is the author of “Valley Girl”, a book of poetry. In 2013, she gave a thought-provoking Tedx Talk entitled “West Virginia & Quantum Physics” which posited that whether you think her state is “alive or dead” depends on the observer.

She tells me she likes Moundsville‘s treatment of race, its meditation on the cyclical nature of history, and the voice given in the movie to Marc Harshman, West Virginia’s poet laureate. “Marc is a fantastic poet and human,” she writes me in a follow-up email. This month, she plans to read his book “Believe What You Can”, which “explores the difficulty of living with an awareness of the eventual death of all living things”. Poets, says Good, “are keepers of the past, present and future. Poets look for the poem and Moundsville is full of them.”

She counsels not to be intimated by National Poetry Month — “a delightful way of dread if can dread can be delightful.”

The month creates anxiety in me to do the thing I love, write. The cause? Traditionally in writers circles the month challenges poets to write a poem a day. I have yet to write a poem a day in any month much less April. I do however enjoy the month by reading new poems as the month opens the door to so much poetry.

This year, says Good, “I have decided to write 30 poetry prompts for myself. The idea was sparked while receiving Moundsville.”

Besides email you can also find Good on Facebook (Crystal Good) or on Twitter @cgoodwoman

John W. Miller

PS: Here’s my entry:


Build and tell, show and burn

Towns ancient and modern 

All these stories in order

Fire the glory recorder

Spirits linger below and above 

We’re still trying to sort it out, love