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Ohio Underground Railroad Whistle-Stop Poetry Tour Kicks Off in Portsmouth

The Ohio Poetry Association (OPA) in partnership with Poets Against Racism & Hate USA (PARH USA) will conduct a whistle-stop poetry tour of historic Underground Railroad stations throughout Ohio. The inaugural program takes place from 10 AM to 5:30 PM on Saturday, February 24, at the Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center, 825 Gallia Street, Portsmouth.

With the help of the organizations’ members and community partners, OPA and PARH USA will present a series of poetry readings at historic sites throughout 2024. Each site will feature poets and poems that honor Ohio’s legacy on the Underground Railroad and that raise awareness of issues of social justice, hate, and prejudice. A special capstone event will take place on December 7 at the Ohio History Connection in Columbus.

The event will include morning poetry workshops for adults and children, followed by poetry readings and a presentation on the history of Portsmouth’s role in the Underground Railroad. A walking tour of several historic sites is planned. All the programs are free and open to the public.


  • 10 AM–12 PM: Poetry workshops—adult workshop led by Brew Wilson-Battles, children’s workshop led by Rikki Santer and Chuck Salmons
  • 12 PM–1:30 PM: Lunch break
  • 1:30 PM–3:30 PM: Poetry reading featuring local poets Chandler-Ryan Campbell, Maria Payne, Chelsea Watkins, and Portia Williams
  • 3:30 PM–5:30 PM: Local history presentation and walking tour (weather permitting) led by Andrew Feight


Registration for the adult and children’s workshops via Eventbrite is required and space is limited.
Click here to register

Complete information, including site locations and dates, is available on the OPA website Donations to support the project are gratefully accepted.


Brew Wilson-Battles is a creative writing, literature, and composition instructor at Shawnee State University where she also works as the director of the campus writing center. She holds a BA in English from Shawnee State University and an MFA from Kent State University.

Chandler-Ryan Campbell is a Scioto County native who attends Shawnee State University in pursuit of a Bachelor’s in Communication. Yes, in this economy. Chandler-Ryan can be found amongst the arts scene in Portsmouth, often making appearances in local performances to play original music or read original poems that ring true to the queer Appalachian experience. Denizens of the theatre may have seen him in a myriad of SSU’s recent productions. And on occasion, he may be spotted in drag, a clown costume, or both. In addition to his love of the arts, Chandler-Ryan is an avid activist on campus and in the community for diversity, equity, & inclusion.

Maria Payne is a graduate of Shawnee State University where she earned her Bachelor’s in Biology. Since then, she has returned to work at her alma mater as a natural science lab technician. She and her husband are parents to three cats and one dog, all of whom are loved to smithereens.

Chuck Salmons is a poet and has served as part of the leadership for the Ohio Poetry Association for more than a decade. His poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Pudding Magazine, The Fib Review, Evening Street Review, The Ekphrastic Review, and Poets to Come: A Poetry Anthology in celebration of Walt Whitman’s Bicentennial. He has published two chapbooks, Stargazer Suite and Patch Job. Chuck is recipient of a 2018 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award for poetry, and he performs with the poetry trio Concrete Wink.

Poet Rikki Santer has been described as “a rad and ready alchemist who is expert at excavating the universal and the personal in the popular and remixing it all into a glorious concoction that tingles the tongue as it reflects, refreshes and nourishes.” Her poetry has received many honors including Pushcart and Ohioana and Ohio Poet book award nominations as well as a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She is also a member of the teaching artist roster of the Ohio Arts Council, a vice president of the Ohio Poetry Association, and a member of the poetry troupe, Concrete Wink. Her book, Resurrection Letter; Leonora, Her Tarot, and Me, earned her the title of 2023 Ohio Poet of the Year by the Ohio Poetry Day Association.

From Twentynine Palms, California, and Portsmouth, Ohio, respectively, Chelsea Watkins has embraced many diverse roles in life such as a filmmaker, poet, indie film actress, business owner, and lead singer of Mikey Mike and the Big Unit, a local blues band. She is a proud member of the Southern Ohio Filmmakers Association and is currently advocating for a film commission in Scioto County. Chelsea's dedication to storytelling and community development shines through in all her endeavors and She is honored to contribute to this event and help bring awareness for social justice causes.

Portia Williams is the wife of 30 years to her beloved husband Mark Williams. They have three wonderful children, two daughters, Jori and Pajah, and a son, Micah. Portia possesses a bachelor degree in English from Shawnee University. She is an ordained minister, inspirational speaker, author, and poet.


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