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Diane Sawyer: You Should Watch Tonight's Big PBS Series on Why Appalachian Mountains Matter

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As the nation was pulling itself out of another Depression, legendary novelist Thomas Wolfe returned to his home in the Appalachian mountains in the 1930s, and so stunned by the plunder of his native forests, he asked America "to hear again," and called on his mountaineers "to go out from these hills and find and shape the great America of our discovery."

This Thursday, April 9th, as the nation finds itself dealing with another Depression and a planet in peril, PBS will premiere the first in an extraordinary four-part series called Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People. Narrated by actress Sissy Spacek, this important PBS series explores Wolfe's challenge with a stunning series of portraits about our nation's environmental and cultural backbone. Years in the making by filmmakers Jamie Ross and Ross Spears, who won acclaim for their Academy Award-nominated biopic on James Agee, Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People transcends the usual media portraits of poverty, pity, depravity and the picturesque in America's most misunderstood and maligned region, and delivers a breathtaking view of Appalachia's extraordinary role in shaping our country.

This PBS series is a landmark event for television, and it couldn't be more timely.

Listen here, Diane Sawyer.

Did you know that years before Thomas Jefferson completed the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, a backwoods Appalachian community had drawn up their own articles of independence and stunned the British Crown with its "dangerous example"? Or that an alliance of southern Appalachian insurgents orchestrated their own attacks on the British-led troops and turned the tide of the American Revolution? Or that a humble band of preachers and writers in Appalachia published the first abolitionist newspaper in our nation, and inspired William Lloyd Garrison? Or that a Cherokee inventor created the first syllabary in modern times? Or that a backhills woman from western Virginia astounded the Boston literary elite and gave birth to literary naturalism in our country in 1861? That a young publisher from Chattanooga took over the New York Times and set its course for world acclaim? That the "High Priestress of Soul" Nina Simone put a spell on her audiences in New York with ballads from her backwoods Appalachian hamlet? Or that a self-proclaimed "radical hillbilly" trained the shock troops of the Civil Rights Movement in his eastern Tennessee school? Or that the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature was recognized for the literary mastery of her family memoirs about West Virginia?

Detroit may be sinking these days, but few observers recall that the Motor City's "most dangerous man"--United Auto Workers leader Walter Reuther--hailed from Appalachia, and often invoked the vanguard role of labor from his native region; or, that the most important work of fiction about Detroit's industrial rise, The Dollmaker, by Appalachian novelist Harriet Arnow Simpson, was hailed as "our most unpretentious American masterpiece," by Joyce Carol Oates.

As a paean to our nation's oldest and most diverse mountains, the PBS series reaches back millions of years to examine the upheaval clash and subcontinent collision that made the very mountains that would ultimately define the nation's frontier.

Did you know that more plant, tree and animal species can be found in one acre in the North Carolina Blue Ridge mountains than in all of Europe's forests?

Featuring some of our country's most notable writers, scientists, and scholars, including novelists Barbara Kingsolver and Denise Giardina, Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist Edward Wilson and historian Ron Eller, Appalachia takes viewers on a breakthrough journey through our nation's burning ground of discovery, colonization, industrial development, social revolutions, and cultural and artistic endeavors .

Divided into four parts--Time and Terrain, New Green World, Mountain Revolutions, and Power and Place--the PBS series will be broadcast over several weeks.

For more information, see the film's website: http://appalachiafilm.org/series

The series ends with an engaging and informative look at mountaintop removal, the disastrous form of strip mining that has destroyed over 500 mountains in the region. Here's a clip of novelist Denise Giardina discussing the controversial method, which has emerged as a pressing issue for the Obama administration: