VOW Pilots New Storyteller Initiative with Country Queers

Country Queers interview
Photo credit: Mike Snyder
The VOW Storyteller Initiative is a new program from Voice of Witness that aims to support editors from marginalized communities, regardless of their level of experience, who may be struggling to find mentorship or afford the time commitment that the long, slow work of oral history requires. Through the initiative, VOW will assist community storytellers to plan, develop, or execute an oral history project of their choosing.

For a scaled-down pilot of the full-year fellowship, Voice of Witness recently began working with Country Queers, a multimedia community-based oral history project documenting rural and small-town LGBTQIA2S+ experiences. We partnered with Rae Garringer, founder and executive director of Country Queers, in drafting an impactful book proposal and production plan featuring the stories collected by the ongoing multimedial oral history project. Rae reflected:

The guidance was incredibly supportive and clarifying… I am very grateful for this experience and would not have written a proposal or submitted it without the support of Voice of Witness… The knowledge gained through this experience will be applicable for future projects beyond this Country Queers book.

Rae, the project lead, is a queer, nonbinary writer, oral historian, and audio producer who grew up on a sheep farm in southern West Virginia and now lives a few counties away on traditional S’atsoyaha (Yuchi) homelands. Rae is committed to rural people and places—especially the central Appalachia region and its rich organizing legacies and future possibilities. Country Queers, founded by Rae in 2013, was created out of frustration with the lack of easily accessible rural queer stories at the time.

The only accessible stories of queer people in rural spaces and trans people in rural spaces that were available [as I was growing up] in the early 2000s were the stories of the murder of Matthew Shepard and the murder of Brandon Teena.

Garringer told WYNC, earlier this year.

The project seeks to preserve rural LGBTQIA2S+ histories and ​​push back against the narrative that queer people can only thrive in metropolitan spaces, as well as foster connections across geographical distance to withstand isolation and to build rural queer community. Since the project began, it has grown to include a collection of over 90 oral history interviews, a traveling gallery exhibit featuring images and oral histories, and a podcast.

With VOW’s support, Rae produced a book proposal for Country Queers: The Story of a DIY Oral History Project and mapped out its development and production.

We’re thrilled to announce that Haymarket Books accepted the book for publication!

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