Literary Festival

The 41 st Annual Emory & Henry Appalachian Literary Festival 

September 19-20

Honoring Documentary Filmmaker

Elaine McMillion Sheldon

The Emory & Henry Appalachian Literary Festival celebrates the many forms of Appalachian narratives, including fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, memoir, digital storytelling, and the creative arts.

The Festival offers a student-centered, publicly accessible opportunity to celebrate the work of a particular artist or artists, and to teach from and about narratives rooted in Appalachia.

The Appalachian Center for Civic Life coordinates the Literary Festival


Photo by Steven Bridges/University of Tennessee Photo by Steven Bridges/University of Tennessee

A native of Southwest Virginia and West Virginia, Elaine McMillion Sheldon is an Academy Award-nominated and an Emmy and Peabody-winning documentary filmmaker. She has been nominated for six Emmy awards. She is a 2021 Creative Capital Awardee, a 2021 Livingston Award Finalist, and a 2020 John Simon Guggenheim Fellow. While the range and scope of her work is extraordinary, all of it is built on telling the stories of places and their people with honesty, nuance, and grace, addressing the most urgent questions of our time.

In 2013, McMillion Sheldon released Hollow, an interactive documentary that examines the future of rural America through the eyes and voices of West Virginians, particularly in McDowell County. Hollow received a Peabody, News and Documentary Emmy Award nomination and 3rd Prize in the World Press Photo Multimedia Awards.

Her 2017 film, Heroin(e) was nominated for a 2018 Academy Award and won the 2018 News and Documentary Emmy Award for Outstanding Short Documentary. The short film premiered at the 2017 Telluride Film Festival and went on to screen hundreds of times across America as part of a community-driven impact campaign.

Among McMillion Sheldon’s other work is Tutwiler, focusing on experiences of motherhood inside an American prison. Coal’s Deadly Dust examined the dramatic rise of black lung disease among coal miners. Recovery Boys is an “intimate look at the strength, brotherhood, and courage,” required of four young men to overcome addiction.

In collaboration with her husband, filmmaker Curren Sheldon, McMillion Sheldon has directed and produced documentaries for Sesame Street in Communities and the New York Times. Their 2013 For Seamus was a reflective profile of the poet Seamus Heaney that appeared in the New York Times as part of its coverage of the Noble Laureate’s death. The couple also directed the official music video for John Prine’s “Summer’s End,” offering a mediative reflection on the grief and loss associated with the epidemic of opioid overdoses.

The 2023 Emory & Henry Appalachian Literary Festival will feature a screening of McMillion Sheldon’s latest film, King Coal. McMillion Sheldon has described King Coal as “part documentary, part fable” that is a “complicated and bittersweet love letter to this place…that draws upon the lives of us living here today.”


Student Documentary Showcase

Since its founding, the Emory & Henry Annual Appalachian Literary Festival has benefitted from its engagement with Emory & Henry students. Underscoring the Literary Festival’s commitment to the creative telling of Appalachian stories, the 2023 Festival includes a two-day workshop with Elaine McMillion Sheldon for student documentarians. This workshop was also open to students from across Appalachia. Each participating student workshopped with Elaine a two-to-three-minute video produced in response to a common prompt: “Tell a story of a place important to you. What would you like to change in your place? What are your dreams for your place’s future?” The workshopped videos will be showcased prior to and following the screening of King Coal on Wednesday evening, September 20, in the Copenhaver Lobby of the McGlothlin Center for the Arts. These documentaries will also be available through the digital Iron Mountain Review and will be eligible for inclusion in The Watershed Project.

Participants in the Stories of Place Documentary Workshop:

Dani Babcock, Emory & Henry

Bryce Cobler, Emory & Henry

Abby Conder Lussier, Ohio University

Brandon Cox, Emory & Henry

Anthony Smith, Emory & Henry

Hannah Spainhour, Emory & Henry

Charlotte Tristam, Emory & Henry

Ryan Vaughan, Emory & Henry

Colton Williams, Emory & Henry