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A Culture of Creativity: The Ohio Appalachian Writers Project Showcases the Power of the Small Press

Growing up, Richard Hague did not give much thought to his hometown’s connection to the Appalachian region.

“Steubenville was like a mini New York City … It was tremendously diverse, and it was a bustling economic and industrial center,” said Hague, an author and poet. “So, to think of ourselves as belonging to Appalachian culture, nobody told us that we did.”

Richard Hague reads a selection from his newest collection of poems, Studied Days, at the Ohio Appalchian Writers Project book launchIt wasn’t until Hague was working on a book of poems about Steubenville and its history — his Master’s thesis at Xavier University in Cincinnati — that he began to understand what it truly meant to grow up as an urban Appalachian.

“I think that was when I first began to understand what it meant to have grown up in that place,” he said. “It was built on coal and steel. And my buddy’s dad collected ginseng and he’d dry it … I started to put all these little hints together: he collected ginseng, he was a coon hunter, he kept redbone and bluetick coonhounds … And I thought, ‘Oh, I guess there are some Appalachian things going on here.’”

Now, Hague’s pride in his Appalachian roots fuels his writing, as described in his article titled “Buddies: Two Stay or Go Stories.” Hague’s piece is one of many published in the 20th volume of Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, the annual literary journal by the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative.


The concept of Appalachian identity is also a main theme in Hague’s Studied Days, his newest collection of poems published by the Loveland, Ohio-based Dos Madres Press.


Founded in 2004, Dos Madres Press was established by poet, writer, and editor Robert Murphy and his wife, visual artist and designer Elizabeth Hughes Murphy. Dedicated to the idea that small presses are an integral part of a vibrant contemporary literary culture, the press has published 145 books by 93 authors in its 13-year history.

Through its Ohio Appalachian Writers Project, for which Dos Madres received an Ohio Arts Council (OAC) ArtSTART grant for FY 2018, the press is publishing work that celebrates the role Appalachian culture plays in many parts of Ohio.


“Although Cincinnati itself is not within the Appalachian region, Ohio has a very large and vibrant set of Appalachian counties and Appalachian people,” said Pauletta Hansel, a Kentucky-born poet who currently serves as Cincinnati’s first Poet Laureate. “Even though Dick and I now, and many of the authors in Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, are living in more urban situations, we are still part of that culture and part of that community, and we can help draw attention to it.”

In addition to the publication of three volumes of literature — Hague’s Studied Days, Hansel’s newest book, Palindrome, and Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, featuring work by 74 authors — the Ohio Appalachian Writers Project serves to engage audiences through outreach programs to colleges, arts organizations, and community centers.

Pauletta Hansel reads a selection from Palindrome, her newest collection of poetry published by Dos Madres Press“If we help to build this community of Appalachian writers, then we strengthen all Appalachian writers’ ability to go out and promote the work of the region in wider venues,” Hansel said. “Within Cincinnati and Ohio itself, we want to draw attention to the fact that both urban and rural Appalachian writing communities are a very big part of what makes the state’s arts so vibrant and alive.”

With a variety of public readings and author visits scheduled throughout the fall and more planned for the spring, the project’s spotlight on Appalachian literature serendipitously coincides with the 41st annual Appalachian Studies Conference, hosted by Cincinnati’s Urban Appalachian Community Coalition, April 5 - 8, 2018.

“There’s so many of us here who are connected to (Appalachia), even though we are living here in Cincinnati,” Hansel said, noting that Hamilton County is immediately adjacent to the Appalachian Region’s Clermont County. “That has been part of my identity, part of my community, and a part of what inspires me to keep writing and to keep publishing other people’s writing.”


“Robert and Elizabeth know that several of their writers are Appalachian and they are aware of how powerful the Appalachian traditions of literature and storytelling and music are,” he said. “Not only is there an eclectic embrace of many, many kinds of poetry, but I think it’s also based on personal relationships, as Appalachian issues almost always are.”


For more information about Dos Madres Press, visit


To learn more about opportunities available for arts organizations through the Ohio Arts Council, visit

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at 


Article by Amanda Etchison, Communications Strategist
Photos courtesy of Owen P. Cramer and Elizabeth Murphy

Featured image courtesy of Dos Madres Press

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