“Coal Mountain Elementary” preview (with photo)


Special thanks to the InterMountain newspaper for publishing this preview.


Davis & Elkins College’s Theatre Department will open its spring production “Coal Mountain Elementary,” a powerful new play by poet Mark Nowak, Thursday at 8 p.m. in the Boiler House Theatre. Other performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

A result of Nowak’s extensive research and writings on the Sago Mine explosion in 2006, “Coal Mountain Elementary” combines survivor testimony, poetry and theater to create a genre-defying account of mining around the world. The production is part of D&E’s Spring Writers’ Series, which includes workshops with the play’s author and touring performances of the new work in Pittsburgh and Sutton by the D&E cast. For tickets, call 304-637-1212.

“Our intention in presenting this piece is to give voice to the men and women who risk their lives each day so that we can turn on the lights, power our computers, cook our meals and heat our homes – essentially power our lives,” said April Daras, D&E assistant professor of theater and director of the new production. “We hope to celebrate the spirit of humanity and brother/sisterhood that thrives above and below ground at the mines. We are striving to speak with respect and authenticity about some of the influences of the coal mining industry in our communities.”

The production features Davis & Elkins College students under the direction of Daras with production design by D&E Professor of Theatre Arts Terry Hayes and D&E Costumer Susan Hayes. Elkins community member Dr. Craig Hyre is also part of the cast. Student members of the cast and crew include: Dawn Amber Milstead, Cindy Gunning, Andre Soussan, Katherine Barnett, Marion Edgemeyer, Heather Newhouse and Peter Trigg.

Writer Howard Zinn writes, “‘Coal Mountain Elementary’ is an imaginative and shocking reminder of what it means, in the most human and poignant terms, to be a miner, whether in this country or in China, or for that matter anywhere in the industrial world. It is also a tribute to miners and working people everywhere. It manages, in photos and in words, to portray an entire culture. And it is a stunning educational tool.”

Described as one of America’s most innovative political poets, Nowak remixes verbatim testimony from the surviving Sago miners and rescue teams, the American Coal Foundation’s curriculum for schoolchildren, newspaper accounts of mining disasters in China and full-color photographs of Chinese miners by renowned photojournalist Ian Teh. Nowak is a poet and labor activist heralded by Adrienne Rich for “regenerating the rich tradition of working class literature.”

His most recent collection, “Shut Up Shut Down,” was a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice and a finalist for the James Laughlin Award, Minnesota Book Award and Balcones Poetry Prize. He regularly leads transnational poetry workshops between American and international trade unions and has recently written about the intersection of poetry and labor for the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog. He is a visiting writer at Davis & Elkins College this month as part of the College’s annual Spring Writers’ Series, which was co-organized by Daras and D&E Professor of English Dr. Bill King.



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