Shannon Bell speaks to students at Washington and Lee University in March 2014. Photo by W&L University photographer
Shannon Bell, former Shepherd Program student at Washington and Lee and currently an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Kentucky, has just published Our Roots Run Deep as Ironweed: Appalachian Women and the Fight for Environmental Justice, and it has already received a silver medal for Nautilus Book Awards. Nautilus recognizes “Better Books for a Better World.” Bell is on the Shepherd Consortium faculty-team at the University of Kentucky. She began her work with the Shepherd Alliance as a summer intern at Cabin Creek Health Center (CCHC) in southeastern Kanawha County, WV, in 1999, and later served on the staff of CCHC as a public health community organizer from 2000 to 2005. She supervised four Shepherd Alliance interns during her time in Cabin Creek. Bell went on complete her Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Oregon, writing her dissertation on environmental injustices related to coal extraction and the grassroots environmental justice movement that has risen up in Central Appalachia. Not surprising, this native of Frederick, Md., was drawn back to the Appalachian region for her academic career.
Our Roots Run Deep as Ironweed, published by the University of Illinois Press in 2013, gives voice to 12 women environmental justice activists who are fighting against mountaintop removal coal mining and its devastating effects on public health, regional ecology, and community well-being. Bell maintains that the story of these activist-women “has not been adequately acknowledged or fully examined” in past scholarship on the topic. In this book, Bell foregrounds the voices of her interviewees, so that they may speak for themselves. Each woman narrates her own personal story of injustice and tells how that experience led her to activism, revealing the ways in which these women are motivated to protect their families, homes, communities, and mountains from mining practices, despite the social pressures they face to stay silent. The book, Bell contends, challenges dominant expectations and stereotypes about Appalachian women’s agency and strength.
Bell accepts invitations to speak about her book and research on college campuses, including her alma mater, where she spoke at a variety of classes and forums in March 2014. She would no doubt be favorably disposed to accept invitations to speak to Shepherd Consortium schools.