Shannon Hitchcock Celebrates Appalachian Treasures

The Joy of Visual Storytelling
By Shannon Hitchcock
(with process photos by illustrator, Sophie Page)

      How I approach my life and the craft of writing took a dramatic turn during the pandemic. I realized I was on a hamster wheel—working, working, working, and only happy when I had either just signed a contract, or was in the process of launching a new book. I wasn’t enjoying the process, only the results.
I took a step back. I gave myself permission to sleep later, to pour more creative energy into my cooking, to read not only for research but for pleasure.
My reading focused on Appalachian people and traditions. Though I had previously been a novelist, I signed up for Tara Lazar’s Storystorm and The Writing Barn’s Courage to Create program. I became a student again and played around with writing picture books. I found renewed passion by switching gears. I wrote a manuscript about quilting, which will be published by Reycraft next year.
Picture books require more wordplay than novels. I spent time thinking visually about what an illustrator might draw to complement my words. Probably the biggest gift was the brevity of writing picture books. As the pandemic raged, life in general seemed so out of control that it gave me a measure of satisfaction to focus on projects that were easier to complete.
During our current Covid crisis, I have launched two picture books, Saving Granddaddy’s Stories—Ray Hicks, the Voice of Appalachia and She Sang for the Mountains—The Story of Jean Ritchie, Singer, Songwriter, Activist. Both these books are picture book biographies about mountain people I wanted to honor and introduce to the next generation. I feel an immense sense of satisfaction when I hold these books in my hands and see the way illustrator, Sophie Page enhanced my words with her art. Our books have a folk art feel to them. Sophie is a mixed media illustrator who crafts her images in two and three dimensions using paper, clay, fabric, and wire.
I hope readers of Saving Granddaddy’s Stories are inspired to listen to the stories of the older adults in their lives and to also tell stories of their own. As for readers of She Sang for the Mountains, my greatest wish is they’ll learn more about mountaintop removal and feel a responsibility to take care of our planet.
In a time when there is so much wrong in the world, my picture books have brought me joy. To quote Mother Teresa, “…no one can do great things, but everyone can do small things with great love.”

No comments: