National Writing Project

Putting NWP Voices on the Map: Rural Voices Radio III Launches

By: Laura Paradise
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 7, No. 2
Date: March-April 2002

Summary: The radio series Bill Moyers calls "unforgettable" has just launched its third installment of teachers and students writing about place.


Putting America's young voices on the map. That is the chorus that resonated among the teacher-coordinators who gathered at the University of California, Berkeley, January 18-21, to launch the next cohort of the National Writing Project's Rural Voices Radio series.

This will be the third release in the Rural Voices Radio series—a collection of radio programs featuring the original writings of students and teachers from rural writing project sites. The series has already produced ten programs on two CDs. The first set of programs, an exciting outcome of the Rural Voices Country Schools project, received encouraging praise from public radio stations and notable media personalities including Bill Moyers and Studs Terkel. The second set of programs is due to be released in spring 2002. It will be distributed to all writing project sites and available at no charge to public radio stations nationwide.

Like its predecessors, Rural Voices Radio III will showcase rural writing project sites—this time from southwestern Texas, eastern Kentucky, North Dakota, and northeastern Nevada. The teacher-coordinators representing those locations at the launch included: Dave Charlebois of the Great Basin Writing Project (Nevada); Kim Donehower of the Red River Valley Writing Project (North Dakota); Nancy Peterson, site director, and Liz Mandrell of the Morehead Writing Project and Jane Dixon of the Mountain Writing Project (both are Kentucky sites); Paula Parson of the Sabal Palms Writing Project and Carol Brochin from the South Texas Writing Project (both of Texas).

The programs will once again be directed by the now-veteran Rural Voices Radio team of Deborah Begel, producer; Kim Stafford, narrator and director of the Oregon Writing Project at Lewis and Clark College; and NWP staff members Laura Paradise and Iana Rogers.

This third set of programs may be the most ambitious yet, as two of the programs will be developed by teams from different sites: "Voices of Kentucky" brings together the Morehead and Mountain writing projects; "Border Voices" will involve a collaboration between the Sabal Palms and South Texas writing projects.

To lay a solid basis for their work, each of the visiting teacher-coordinators spread out maps and told stories of their homes. The group listened to cowboy poetry from Nevada, examined artifacts from Kentucky coal mines and tobacco fields, and feasted on "chippers" (chocolate covered potato chips) from North Dakota and sour tamarind from south Texas.

But most of the weekend's time together was spent listening carefully to radio selections that convey feelings of place and the power of voices, and working on short pieces of writing that could be included in the group-sampler tape.

By the end of the weekend, the crew had written, edited, recorded, and mastered a 12-minute CD, complete with powerful writings and musical selections from the sites. This sampler CD will give teachers and students at the home sites an instructive example of what makes for NWP's unique blend, Rural Voices Radio.

As they say in radio parlance, stay tuned. You'll soon be able to download copies of Rural Voices Radio II from the NWP website, and the third set of programs is due to be released in November 2002. In the meantime, excerpts from the launch weekend are printed below, and the group's entire introductory piece will be available online by early spring. (To hear excerpts from the first CD, go to

"Where does your story begin? How do you tell a friend or stranger about that place?" Kim Stafford wonders in his introduction to the Rural Voices Radio III preview.

Below, in short samples of writing-turned-radio-program, writers from Nevada, Texas, North Dakota, and Kentucky answer that question with "stories, questions, and cherished mysteries" from home, teasing listeners with ideas of what is yet to come on the full CD.

Scrap Iron
by Jane Dixon

As she stepped off the bus, a small, admiring crowd of locals, overalls or gallused, gathered around.

"Hey, how's Detroit been treatin' you, Della?"

"Oh, it's a wonderment, fellas. But you wouldn't know how to act."

Della's short skirt and too-small sweater were especially tight at the seams this trip. Her fingers were crowded with rings, wrists heavy with bangles. A red-slicked nail adjusted a bleach-blonde curl behind one ear, setting in motion a shiny, dangling earring.

"I'm just here," she said, "to see my daddy and bury Aunt Crittie."

Divine Intervention
by David Charlebois

Sometimes love, lust, and religion were all the same to me. I don't know why, but I always seemed to meet the Church of Christ girl who, because of a certain inner strength, was able to convince me that my amorous feelings would be better received if I went to church with her on Sundays. It always seemed to work . . . for a while. Then the pagan in me would surface, revealing my pseudo-religious fervor for what it was, and the relationship would be struck by a fatal, God-sent lightning bolt.

Dakota in Grayscale
by Kim Donehower

Dull ash, glinting silver, a soft cloud—gray, like dirty cotton. Winter skin reflects no light. Variations on a theme of silence, whisper of a plane, it is so far overhead, but the cold thin air transmits the sound the same way I can hear a freight train miles away.

Wind makes music in the summer grass, but in winter, there are no leaves to blow. The barrier of snow absorbs all sound.

My grandmother painted the same bit of creek every day for weeks one year. The trick, she said, is to see something new in the same view. It is a trick I need now.

An Ex Con
by Paula Parson

He needed a job, he said. My husband asked if he knew how to lay tile. Yes, he'd laid tiles. First day, he's lining the tiles along one wall. I tell my husband he's not doing it right. He needs to stretch twine across the floor to find the center to lay the first tile and work outward. A short consultation. No, there's more than one way.

You need to get him those spacers, I tell my husband. Another short consultation. No, he has his own way—he uses a ruler. Two-thirds of the floor is laid—crooked. He asks for spacers.

The bathroom floor doesn't align, I insist, it must line up across the floor from one door to the other. It's too much cutting, my husband says. I insist. He tears them out and relays them as I push him to.

I noticed tattoos up and down both his arms. I ask my husband—what was he in prison for? He dynamited a house—he was upset.

Ciero Mis Ojos
by Carol Brochin

It's the smell that breaks my heart. The somebody-forgot-to-flush-the-toilet-for-several-days smell that fills my lungs and makes me gag.

Cuando cruzo la frontera, I see the tires hiding along the banks of the Rio Grande. Ciero mis ojos pero el olor no me deja olvidar.

On days when the stench floats out of the river, it travels north for miles. I picture the rusted pipes that dump the sewage into the water. The Mexican women who inhale chemicals all day in the maquiladoras and the people who migrate north but never make it.

Me doy cuenta que es real: basos de styrofoam, planks of wood and bodies float south with the rest of the basura.

How many miles do the bodies travel before they sink? Why doesn't the water soak up the smell the way it does my heart? Does it flow into their blood the way it does mine, heavy and thick?

When Guelita died, we drove her to el otro lado. Ahora descanza en su proprio pais. Where do the souls of the sinking bodies rest?

The Sleepwalker
by Liz Mandrell

In the middle of the night, my mother used to walk on the housetop, so all the doors had to be locked. But then she started going out windows, so Poppaw put bells on all the windows except the one that led to the smokehouse roof, because that's where Spotty the cat came in at nights.

They say she danced along the peak of that little salt-grease barn until she fell off on the other side and finally woke up.

Now I'm sleeping in that same room my mother used as a girl. I hear Uncle Ronnie coming up the stairs to play Ernest Tubb records over and over on Cousin Tina's stereo. He's an every-other-week drunk, which is better than an all-the-time drunk. I can smell the mimosa tree outside and the smokehouse and the orange crush he mixes with old Fitz, and I think maybe my mother wasn't a sleepwalker after all. She was an escapee on the roof, bald tired of her brother's foolishness that her mother excused and her daddy allowed, so she went dancing in the moonlight, the salt hanging off the pigs beneath her feet, flutter of her nightgown like wings, over and over to the edge.

by Nancy Peterson

"When you're born too early, you don't look right," the maternity nurse told me after my son was born two weeks early, taken from my belly by Caesarean section on the third day of full-blown toxemia. Henry was long and perfect, but spare, his skin sagging around his wrists and knees and ankles. His bottom wasn't there at all. He looked like a baby bird, all bones and beak. But he ate, as they say in west Texas, like a big dog, and soon his baggy body was tight and pink and springy to the touch. My kisses stopped pulling at his wrinkles, his plump cheeks and dimpled hands almost kissing back. I love to kiss them still, already regretting the time when his fat will become muscle and bone.

About the Author Laura Paradise is a program associate with the National Writing Project.

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