Imagine becoming a published author before graduating high school – or even middle school. Over 2,300 Southwest Virginia students have experienced this accomplishment thanks to The Origin Project(TOP), a year-long, in-school program to encourage lifelong writing skills and pride in students’ Appalachian heritage.

Co-founded by Author Adriana Trigiani and Executive Director Nancy Bolmeier Fisher, The Origin Project inspires students in grades four through twelve to find their voices through essays, poems, stories, and other creative works that explore the history, traditions, and natural beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.

“The beauty of this program is that they are talking about their own personal histories and learning who their people are,” said Trigiani. “They are connecting to words, to reading, to thought, to their intellect – really their soul.”

Now in its fourth year, The Origin Project culminated in a packed event at Mountain Empire Community College on May 16, where 20 select students gave public readings of their favorite work to an audience of approximately 400. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia spoke to attendees via Skype and Gov. Terry McAuliffe sent a video message congratulating and encouraging the students to continue their writing careers.

Each student received a printed copy of The Origin Project’s third edition featuring their published creations, underwritten by Gupta Family Foundation.

Starting out with 40 ninth graders at a single high school, The Origin Project has grown to nearly 1,000 students between Powell Valley Middle School, Norton Elementary School, Eastside High School, Lee High School, Flatwoods Elementary School, Appalachia Elementary School, and Abingdon High School. Many of these young authors have won and placed in literary competitions including the John Fox Jr. Literary Festival, the Barter Young Playwrights Festival, and Poetry Out Loud (sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts/VA Commission for the Arts).

Participating students have also had the unique experience to meet and learn from authors including David Baldacci, Mary Hogan, Meg Wolitzer, and Margot Lee Shetterly. In a video message to students, Shetterly, acclaimed author of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, shared how much she enjoyed working with the students and congratulated them on the publication of The Origin Project’s third volume. “I’ve only published one book,” Shetterly said, “I’m trying hard to catch up with you guys!”

Although Trigiani and Bolmeier Fisher have primarily financed The Origin Project independently for the past four years, educational professionals have advised them to establish a flow of external funding to perpetuate the program’s growth. TOP will be spending this summer evaluating a long list of additional schools throughout Southwest Virginia that have indicated desire to join the program, along with pursuing third-party financing. Donations toward The Origin Project’s educational legacy can be made here.