Sunday, March 17, 2024

Jeff H.

My family has been in East Tennessee for generations. I have Melungeon blood running through my veins. I live within fifty miles of where the family lived all this time. I am married to a Latina who works with immigrants and their children. These children are being woven into the fabric of Appalachia. If we can provide another perspective into this culture just give me a holler. Thank you, 

-Jeff H.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Kirk J.

Describe your contribution/work in the Appalachian region.  

I am a poet. I was a founding member of the statewide writers organization West Virginia Writers back in 1977. Still going strong. I read at the installation of Louise McNeill Pease as the WV poet laureate in 1979. I co-edited the first WV Poetry Anthology Wild, Sweet Notes published in 1999. I am a founding member of Allegheny Echoes, started in 1997. I was the first poet to be invited as an Appalachian Master to the Augusta Heritage Workshops in 2018 and 2019, and the first poet to perform at many of WVs fairs and festivals.

What is your perception of Appalachia? A region of the Eastern US distinguished by a unique culture with a background of rural folkways not usually associated with the modern American society.

Is change needed internally within Appalachia regarding our culture’s self-perception? No, I don’t think so. We know who we are.

-How do we challenge damaging stereotypes of Appalachia? Be ourselves. The stereotypes don’t define us. They say more about those who believe them.

How does your region of Appalachia inspire you? The incomparable beauty of the region. The mountains, the seasons, the hills and valleys, the wildlife, the whole closeness of the natural world.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Lisa M.

1.   Describe your contribution/work in the Appalachian region.

I was one of the first-degree recipients in Folk Life Studies at Fairmont State University and a student of Dr. Judy Prozillo Byers, protégé to Dr. Ruth Ann Musick. As a student under Patty Looman, I learned to play the mountain dulcimer and participated in string jams until multiple sclerosis ended my ability/finger dexterity  to actively participate. Patty is still celebrated in North Central West Virginia at the annual PattyFest.

2.   What is your perception of Appalachia?

From a young age, I realized the importance of Appalachia. I embraced the opportunity to share the wealth of knowledge and historical significance of being a hillbilly, a mountaineer, and a member of this society of America’s best-kept secret. Appalachians are proud, hardworking, and often misunderstood. Hailing from the southern region of West Virginia, I have experienced the stereotyped image of the south.

3.   Is change needed internally within Appalachia regarding our culture’s self-perception?

When my family moved north from Logan County, WV, in 1971, I was shocked at the misconception of southern education. Rather than being backward in academics, my brother and I were considered accelerated. I realized that southern Appalachians were better educated, especially in the fine arts,  than my new northern counterparts closer to the big cities to the immediate north.   This perspective of my beloved state persists to this day. As long as the Appalachian population allows this disparity to continue, the outside world will never know the genuine value of our culture.

4.   How do we challenge damaging stereotypes of Appalachia?

The most effective way of challenging damaging stereotypes assigned to Appalachia is to continue encouraging game changing human beings. Mary Lou Retton, Kathy Mattea, Brad Paisley, Bill Withers, Katherine JohnsonSteve Harvey, Jerry West, Pearl S. Buck, Chuck Yeager, and Don Knotts lead my mental checklist of public success stories from West Virginia alone. Appalachia is comprised of 13 states, with West Virginia being the only one to be 100% immersed in Appalachia. The list of inspiring and historical people in this geographical environment is exhaustive.

5.   How does your region of Appalachia inspire you?

North Central West Virginia is home to a large diversity of immigrants who came here to find work. Over one hundred years ago the coals mines drew hundreds of non-English speaking individuals to my tri-county area (Harrison, Marion, Monongahela) alone. On December 6, 1907, the worst mining disaster in American history occurred in Marion County. 362 deaths were reported with a greater number of casualties not documented. In my little town of Monongah we honor those miners daily with the ringing of a memorial bell. I do not feel that any further explanation is necessary in describing the Appalachian inspiration created by the hopeful spirit of the residents and descendants of the families left to pick up the pieces of such a disaster.

-Lisa M. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Hilda D.

1.       My main contribution to the Appalachian region is raising two responsible sons who care about the culture and the land. One is a professional Bluegrass/Jazz fiddler and the other is a landscape painter/photographer.  My poetry depicts my deep roots in the mountains and that I live in their midst on my own terms. It is apparent in my work that I am strongly opposed to strip mining, mountaintop removal, and fracking. I struggle to remove the prejudice I grew up with – aimed at those of other beliefs, races, sexual orientation, or the mentally ill. I became a psychiatric nurse to help those that are so often misunderstood or stigmatized and established a group for family and visitors of patients to educate about mental illness, hopefully promoting more understanding. For many years, I worked as a volunteer at an elementary school to expose children to art projects and the writing of poetry. 


2.      Appalachia is a place so beautiful that the land itself is balm for any hardship that its hardy people must endure. The culture encompasses utilizing everything you have and wasting nothing with a community that supports, adapts, and pitches in to help as needed. The culture – music, dance, and crafts/art - is drawn mostly from Indigenous, Celtic, and African influences as though the continents were still connected.

3.      We need to encourage our children to continue the culture and be good stewards of the land. We can build their confidence and help them take pride in their heritage by exposing them to all aspects of the culture. Every child should have access to a musical instrument as an essential part of their development.


4.       We need to tell our own stories, be our own historians from our point of view. Not all outside observers will have preconceived ideas but some will promote stereotypes simply by misunderstanding.  We are our stories. We hand ourselves over for ridicule and negativity when others step in with a possible agenda. We need to check ourselves for truth, live that truth, and promote it. 


5.      I am inspired by just looking out my window, walking in the woods or along the river, listening to music at local venues or someone’s house after dinner, exploring the farmer’s market, finding every kind of wildflower I have noted in the past every Spring, reading especially the works of Appalachian writers, stepping out onto a Parkway overlook, and seeing what artistic endeavors my sons come up with next – and so much more that I simply have to turn to writing my own poetry to continue.  


Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Elon J.

I am a writer, filmmaker, and storyteller born in Pikeville, KY. I am currently a Master's student in the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT, where I study counter-narratives in the Appalachian region and have incubated my own documentary storytelling project, The Appalachian Retelling Project ( 

I think that my upbringing in Appalachia has had an enormous influence on me, even as I have spent most of my adult years outside the region. The sense of community and support ingrained in Appalachian culture is unrivaled, I would argue, anywhere else in the world. Generally, people want to work hard and take care of one another. It's a shame that Appalachia has been so denigrated in the media for over a century, often for the purpose of someone else's political or personal gain. I don't deny the issues that you often see portrayed in the media, but Appalachians are too often dehumanized, either made into villains or helpless victims, and never given agency in their own stories.

I think change is absolutely needed in Appalachians' own self perceptions. I think as a culture we have started to believe too much about what the media tells us about ourselves. Many people I know personally are afraid of being judged by "outsiders" or don't have much belief in what they can accomplish so they don't try. I think if we start to have a more empowering view of ourselves, we can gain momentum in solving the problems we face in the region.

I believe that to challenge stereotypes we have to confront them head on. The way to challenge images of Appalachia as impoverished and uneducated isn't to just start putting out images of upper-middle class and educated people, because the fact is that poverty and poor education exist. Instead, we need to give people who are often stereotyped in the media the chance to tell their own stories and become whole, three-dimensional people. Then, people might start to understand what Appalachia is really like - not just the bad, but what makes it beautiful, too.

I study Appalachia for a living, so you could definitely say it has inspired me! Being Appalachian is a huge part of my identity. It taught me to value family and friendships and to always be there when one of "your people" needs support. It taught me to root for the underdog and to never underestimate the little guy. And it taught me to always make enough food to share. Appalachia inspires me to do work that many "outsiders" don't understand the importance of, and to keep fighting for my people every day.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration

The interview questions are answered from the point of view of the organization called Appalachia Sustainable Tourism Collaboration, LLC (ASTC).

-Describe your contribution/work in the Appalachian region.

ASTC’s region of Appalachia is very large. It is made up of 11 tourism districts. These districts are found in East Kentucky, Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Southern West Virginia.

Mission: Help create sustainable high quality experiences for tourists.

Vision: A region where tourists become stakeholders.

Ideally these stakeholders become residents, investors, volunteers, employees, employers, entrepreneurs, consultants, board members, public servants (politicians), stewards, fans, loyal customers, and donors.

Our service value innovation is helping tourists and stakeholders make more informed decisions by providing free information and creating discussions on sustainable tourism topics and policy formation.

-What is your perception of Appalachia?

ASTC’s perception of Appalachia is that of a culture that is found within the Appalachian mountain range of North America. Since the late 1700s much has happened relative to the previous 2,000 years.

Looking at the last 75 years, Appalachian culture continues to become more homogeneous after the post WWII development boom. Radio, T.V. and infrastructure has let culture diffuse very quickly.

However there are areas within Appalachia that have had fair less diffusion. This was brought on by the strong coal industry and the politics found within. ASTC believes that these “coal country” areas will continue to lose the culture that they are known for (early to mid 20th century). This will be facilitated by the potential for more diverse economic development with more stakeholder empowerment, which is a reversal of the post war boom of 1945.

-Is change needed internally within Appalachia regarding our culture’s self-perception?

Change with our self-perception should be found in two ways.

Individually (internally), each person should reflect upon themselves and on the community and region in which they live and operate. This will bring about a better understanding of yourself and where you fit in the world, and where your community fits in the world.

ASTC hopes to help with this type of internal change with our tourism site. Here our mission comes into view as locals find ways to self-reflect while in nature.


From a private and public sector point of view, nearly all change should come from within Appalachia. ASTC really likes grassroots endeavors because the people involved know the issues the best and have the most skin in the game to lose.

ASTC hopes to help with this type of collaborative change with our stakeholder site. Here our vision comes into view as tourists begin to connect with the landscape and become stakeholders themselves.

-How do we challenge damaging stereotypes of Appalachia?

This may sound contour intuitive to many stakeholders, but we can challenge damaging stereotypes by bringing in tourists to experience Appalachia. We passively connect them to the problems that are present.

ASTC has five goals to work on each year. Our goals mostly pertain to market failures.

One is our Adopt an Organization Program, which focuses on distressed counties as per the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). Tourists may discover the ARC while trip planning on our site and be motivated intrinsically to visit areas where their dollars go much farther than other places in North America. Later they have the option to adopt an organization.

ASTC would actually like Guides to talk to tourists about current events and pressing issues so that tourists can more readily make a connection while in the region. This connection will help bring about more stakeholders.

Damaging stereotypes will take care of themselves as rural Appalachia’s economy and demographics profoundly change over the next 20 years. For example, one of our worst stereotypes is the running of small towns by the same families for generations. Many of these poorly managed towns may eventually disappear. The towns that have been better managed over the last 15 years have found ways to prosper. The prosperity that will take place over the next 20 years and beyond will help erode such negative stereotypes as more stakeholders relocate here with different values, interests, visions, and invested capital. As mentioned above, this will also change the culture of small rural towns, for better or for worse.

-How does your region of Appalachia inspire you?

ASTC is very optimistic over the next 20 years and is very excited. Some towns and communities have already hit rock bottom and are on the rise. Even though many small towns in Coal Country have yet to hit rock bottom, ASTC sees this crisis as an opportunity. Only when you are at your lowest moment can you be the most motivated for change.

ASTC is very inspired by our Coal Country tourism districts (KY, Far Southwestern VA, Southwestern WV), because much of it is a blank canvas to create upon. ASTC is mostly inspired by how nature based tourism can help complement industry. That sounds like a contradiction but it is not. ASTC does not want to make the same mistakes as before with just focusing on a niche market with very similar labor skills, but instead we will help make a diversified economy that diffuses political power and creates more stakeholders who have more leverage to control their communities, life's, and live out the American Dream. A Dream that was prolonged in the summer of 1945.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Patti S.

I grew up in the country, rural western Pennsylvania. Have lived up and down the eastern US coastline, but came back “home,” when my mom’s Parkinson’s took its toll. I thoroughly enjoy the beach, especially Florida’s. But the woods, forests,hills and mountains are where my feet feel grounded, familiar and at peace City life has its lure, accessibility, opportunities, but everything in life has a downside (for me it’s the noise) I write about what that quiet still voice says, pretty much drowns out, the further out of the mountains I venture. My mom used to call our town, “Birdtown ,” because of all the wildlife (especially birds) that are naturally part of the scenery. It is simply beautiful and it’s a simple and beautiful way of life. If we are careful, and carefully maintain our land, this Appalachian territory will preserve itself. We need only treat it with respect for the treasure it is. It’s ironic to me that it’s considered one of the poorest parts of our country, for in reality it’s a glimpse, a slice of Paradise. 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Byron H.

I write from who I am and what I know. I write from that geographical and emotional center for me called Appalachia. 
It's a reality that if you don't know what it is, it's hard to define. It's the nuances of land and streams, the nuances of characters, a certain way of looking and listening. And a certain way of being not adequately defined but utterly known.
How we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us are two different perceptions. Behind, within the stereotypes are deeper qualities regarding character and understanding and courage and an often nearly stoic love of our land and our people --the two inseparable.
All I have to do is look outside, write and read, talk with people, remember who they are, who I am and where we are. That's enough inspiration for a lifetime. 

Mohan M.

What we bring:
I was born in India, got my degree, moved to Kansas in 1962, and worked there until 1981. Since then, we have lived for 0ver 3 decades in Texas and then in West Virginia. We bring a sense of openness and the ability to absorb different lifestyles while keeping our core cultural values. We have experienced the decline of regionalism as people find a deeper identity with humanity. 

Perceptions of Appalachia:
We see it as a geographically isolated place where some of its original cultures still linger. It has a charm of its own. Meanwhile, global changes have brought people closer and interdependent. 

The question of change:
The Appalachian region can be a great refuge, but it can also struggle to fit into a fast-changing new global reality. To change or not to change becomes the essential question. Change has already affected the whole planet. Everyone living in Appalachia carries a phone or have access to a smart TV. They find themselves a part of a new reality. 

Culture, permenance and self perveption:
It is self-evident that people of different cultures immigrated to Appalachia, and their joint activities contributed to a new way of life. It is also evident that anything we start must go through evolutional change. The very act of being born as a child is an entry point to infinite changes that follow. Birth also implies death. This cyclical nature of reality is well understood in the east, especially India, where I was born.

About negative / positive stereotypes:
The larger culture of the United States seems to measure success by transactional value. That usually means the ability to produce value (money), transact value, and then store that value. Doing honest work and keeping ethical standards may or may not create exchangeable value because others are focused on keeping it for themselves. Simple, hard-working people can easily get betrayed. Arab kings ruled India for 800 years, and then the British did the same for 200 years. Through 1,000 years of suppression, the people of India know what that means.

How can this be changed?
Mahatma Gandhi reaffirmed the greatness of India and her culture while affirming the good qualities of the British. As a result, the two countries became independent of each other and found greater self-respect. A change of philosophy may be needed. That could mean reexamining our sense of self-worth. One way is to give up the notion that we need to be number one, unwittingly pushing another down to that level. Identifying and expanding on our unique strengths is the best way. Like any athlete, there is no need to look at another one's performance. All we have to beat is our previous record.

Patricia T.

I am a poet and writer living in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains in Northern Appalachia. My poetry can be considered part of the canon of Northern Appalachian literature. I also serve on the board of an inclusive literary magazine, The Watershed Journal, which features the storytelling of our region. 

“Appalachia” is a broad, diverse region that cannot be capture in simple terms. Southern, Central, and Northern Appalachia are as different from each other as they are from other regions of the country. I try to avoid making any sweeping generalizations about the region other than to say that the mountains are always beautiful. There are three “Appalachias…” Southern, Central and Northern.  Each has, in my opinion, distinct differences. Northern Appalachia has the largest number of universities, has the “Paris of Appalachia” in its region, and although there are struggles with poverty, the impact of an extraction economy, and cultural division, I don’t think Northern Appalachia has the same challenges as the segments to the south.  In addition, I believe the connection with “Appalachia” is weaker in the north.  R. is from outside of Western PA and he never thought of the region as “Appalachia.” In my view, the two southern subsegments suffer from a prejudice with roots in the “War on Poverty—“ with stereotyping and exclusion.

 In Northern Appalachia, most people do not identify themselves as “Appalachian”— perceptions and identity tend to be aligned based on other characteristics such geography (state, rural versus urban, etc), politics, economics, race and religion.  

Because I am not convinced there is one culture in Appalachia I struggle to answer the other questions. But certainly, as we’ve seen with the furor over “Hillbilly Elegy,” outside the region there is a stereotypical view of Appalachia:” white, poor, uneducated, trapped. 

Efforts such as The Watershed Journal, Writers of Northern Appalachia (WANA), and many other initiatives I can’t possibly list here, help to challenge these perceptions. I believe in the power of the written word and its performance to combat these stereotypes.  Podcasts, readings, publications, artwork—> effectively marketed and broadly supported.

As I am primarily a nature poet, I am continually inspired by the sheer beauty of Northern Appalachia: its forests, rivers, wildlife and the people who love its wildness. 

Friday, February 5, 2021

Lee A.

I am a freelance writer (former journalist and playwright) and professional astrologer (Granny Witch). I was also executive director of a non-profit arts venue for three years.

Appalachia is an underserved region of people who generally lack sufficient education and medical care. Disrespect for education continues in generation after generation of entire families, keeping high percentages of the population underemployed and unrealized, generally without hope that change is possible. Lack of proper housing is a significant problem; many people carefully invest in their cars so they have transportation to work outside the community, yet live with insufficient heat in winter and poor plumbing in their homes.

Yes, we need internal change within Appalachia regarding our culture's self-perception. So many are still "proud" to continue fighting the Civil War, even though the south lost that war 150 years ago. A roadside store in my neighborhood garishly flies flags of the Confederacy and "Trump Train" to reinforce the idea that Blacks are still not welcome here.

To challenge damaging stereotypes of Appalachia, we need more positive role models. My local community drew together to show support for "Big Tom," of Saltville, when he was a contestant on the television show "Survivor" but ultimately he was ostracized as a redneck idiot whose son was labeled stupid because the kid appeared on the show and damaged another player's food-gathering tool. Although "Big Tom" did well on the show and almost won, in the end he was nothing more than a hillbilly spoiling for a fight. That remains our image. We had a minor stir in the small Black community when the film "Hidden Figures" emerged, the NASA story of a woman whose math skills brought astronauts home. She was a teacher here before integration. But that heroine story faded quickly because it failed to reflect greatness on the largely White population here.

I live in this region primarily because the land itself inspires me, and sometimes I find good friends among the largely unappealing community. For now, I live in Marion, "Home of Mountain Dew" and home to Hungry Mother State Park -- both positive images, I think. For three years, I worked as executive director of The Lincoln Theatre, Inc., trying to build an artistic magnent in the community, with little success. As a journalist for the local newspaper, I made an effort to write clearly and concisely so that local people could fully understand the actions of their local government and understand changing laws and ordinances. Further, I invested myself in writing a weekly humor column that was popular reading, a reason to continue buying the newspaper and having a handy source of information about community function. I tried hard to be a trusted voice in my community, and achieved a few wins along the way. When a local Black minister wanted to rename a road to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I suggested the town instead name a street for a Black man who lived here and became one of the first Black teachers at the formerly all-white high school during integration. We succeeded in renaming the street in front of that formerly all-white school Dabney Drive for him. We also made progress in bringing attention to handicap accessibility at public buildings. But those wins were hard fought battles. Ultimately, I was fired both from The Lincoln Theatre, Inc. (for supporting a sustainable long-term operational plan rather than limiting the project to a local architect's bottom line); and from the newspaper when my health failed.

I hope my husband and I can move to Asheville, NC, in retirement to tap into a less backwards community. Before the pandemic, I traveled to Asheville once a week to work as an Astrology Reader in a Metaphysical Shop there and enjoyed being part of the pagan community. I feel as if Asheville has far more to offer both of us, and I already know I have work waiting there once the pandemic is under control. I expect to find writing outlets there as well.

Jeff H.

My family has been in East Tennessee for generations. I have Melungeon blood running through my veins. I live within fifty miles of where th...