Through a recent NPR News story, listeners to DeKalb-based WNIJ (89.5 FM and www.wnij.org) got a taste of the world of snake handling in Appalachia’s Pentecostal churches. WNIJ’s new “Community Read Project” delves deeper into this culture through an upcoming radio feature and interactive online discussion.
“We sing, we preach, we testify, take up offerings, pray for the sick, everything like everybody else does. ... Just, every once in a while, snakes are handled,” Preacher Coots said in the NPR story.
Knox College professor and novelist Robert Hellenga paints a similar scene in his most recent book, set in southern Illinois. “Snakewoman of Little Egypt” puts religious snake handling at the center of a story about love, death and the search for freedom. Hellenga’s book is one of five works selected for local radio features this December as part of WNIJ’s “Winter Book Series.”
Morning Edition host and book series editor Dan Klefstad was so taken with “Snakewoman of Little Egypt,” he decided to involve listeners and other local readers in a broader conversation through social media. Interested participants are urged to tweet questions and comments about the book using the hashtag #readwithWNIJ, post questions to WNIJ’s Facebook page, or email them to ReadWithWNIJ@gmail.com.
“As you read, use #readwithWNIJ to engage in conversation with WNIJ staff and fellow readers,” Klefstad said in a news release.
At 10 a.m. Nov. 16, WNIJ will host a virtual book discussion with author Hellenga, drawing from questions and comments collected through WNIJ’s email and social media platforms.