Playwright, Poet, Novelist, Historian
A native of McDowell County, West Virginia, Jean Battlo is a writer of rare talent. The youngest daughter of Italian immigrants who came to find work in the coal fields of Appalachia, Jean has produced an eclectic body of theatrical, literary, and historical work. Initially a poet, winning awards in 1997-1999 for her books of haiku, Bonsai and Modern Haiku, she moved effortlessly to other genres.
Her plays have been performed by professional, community, and college theatrical groups in several states. Her Appalachian roots are apparent in much of her work. Her characters tend to be composites of people she knows and talks with everyday in her small town of Kimball. When asked how she began writing plays she relates the reality of her community. "I had published two books of poetry, so everyone knew me as a writer. Some people in the area wanted to form a theatre group, but couldn't afford to pay royalities to big publishers, so they asked me to write them some plays. I'd never written plays or even thought about writing plays until then."
She started with what she knewher community. A HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL WEST VIRGINIA BUSINESS and CAVES are two examples of the lengths to which proud mountain people will go to overcome deplorable economic conditions. Those kinds of characters appear again in A LITTLE THEATER'S PERFORMANCE OF 'HAMLET' (published by Samuel French, Inc.) and THE MORNING GLORY TREE. Battlo is intent on dispelling the negative images that tend to pervade the American media when it comes to West Virginians. "These people are not caricatures, not 'mammy Yokums', not hillbilly stereotypes," she emphasizes. "These are people I live with. They're real. They watch CNN. They know what's going on the world. They just haven't lost touch with their roots." In fact, some of her principal characters are "yankees" who discover just that.
It wasn't long before news of Jean's plays escaped the bounds of McDowell County and she left her position as an educator with the McDowell County school system to become the Writer-in-Residence from 1987-1989 with Theater West Virginia, based in Beckley, WV. While in that role, Jean wrote two plays, not representative of her Appalachia, but more literary in nature: FROG SONGS and SHAKESPEARE: LOVE IN STAGES, the latter which she shares authorship with Alma Bennett, professor emeritus of theatre arts at Alderson-Broaddus College in Philippi, WV. Scenes from each of these plays were published in Getting Started In Theater by Linda Pinnell, National Textbook Company, Illinois, 1996.
In 1992, Jean was commissioned to write BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, a musical about Pearl S. Buck in honor of the Nobel winning novelist's birth centennial. It's premier performance took place at Buck's birthplace home in Hillsboro, West Virginia.
That was not her only historical drama, however. In 1990, her most noted play about a Jewish family just prior to the Holocaust, #8, was selected as a finalist in Camel-Sea, optioned by off Off-Broadway StageArts, and was a finalist in the Eugene O'Neill National Playwright's Competition. Battlo's historical interests also are apparent with the play THE HOUSE ON SECOND STREET about the Lizzie Borden case. That piece was a finalist in the Forest-Shiras Competition (1988). In addition, Jean approached the history of a family even more familiar to herher own. LIFE: A CELEBRATION (a play with music) chronicling the joys and struggles of an Italian immigrant couple and their family from 1920 to 1988, premiered to rave reviews from southern West Virginia audiences in 1999.
More recently, Jean was awarded with a seed-grant from WV Humanities Council to research the Sid Hatfield murder (1921) for an outdoor drama intended as a tourist attraction on the Hatfield-McCoy Trail in southern West Virginia. That drama, THE TERROR OF THE TUG, was first performed in Landbridge, West Virginia in McDowell County in the summer of 2000. An original film, "Smilin' Sid," was produced especially for this play by filmmaker Danny Boyd. The film has been independent film festival fare in addition to composing an integral part of Jean's play. TERROR is currently under the exclusive control of McArts, McDowell County's community arts organization for which Ms. Battlo is artistic director. It was performed again in September 2002 in McArt's newly constructed outdoor amphitheater. It is expected to become an annual event.
Over the years Battlo's plays have been performed by such groups as the Southern Appalachian Repertory Theater in North Carolina, the Tennessee Stage Company, the Charleston (WV) Stage Company, Theatre West Virginia, among others. Her first mystery novel The Mahotep Synod was published in 2002 by McClain Printing Company.
Battlo is again working with Theatre West Virginia teaching workshops on playwriting, an endeavor she says she loves. She is also awaiting the publication of another history book, a pictoral history of her beloved McDowell County. When she's not writing she can be found in her garden, feeding the ducks in the river behind her home, and spoiling her many cats.
Jean Battlo has a B.A. and M.A. from Marshall University with studies in history, dramatic arts, English literature and a minor in philosophy. She has also completed 35 hours of classical studies at William and Mary College.