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Self-isolating? Here’s a List of Appalachian-produced Work to Take Your Mind Off COVID-19

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Photo: Christin Hume/Unsplash

We don’t have to come up with some catchy intro to describe the amount of stress and anxiety Appalachians are feeling right now. We’re sitting in our homes (and if you’re not an essential worker, you should be too!) watching our televisions or livestreams as politicians and experts relay the latest COVID-19 information. We’re obsessively checking social media in order to connect with the outside world. We’re watching beloved local businesses close up shop for the foreseeable future– a future that has never felt more unclear. 

So far, three of the 13 Appalachian states (New York, Ohio and West Virginia) have issued state-wide ‘stay-at-home’ orders, asking residents to only venture out if it’s absolutely necessary. Pennsylvania declared a similar order for seven of its hardest-hit counties. Whether you are following these orders or have been self-isolating for weeks to keep yourself and others healthy, it’s safe to say that we need uplifting distractions now more than ever. 

We compiled our favorite Appalachian-produced pasttimes to, hopefully, make your day a little brighter and offer a moment of tranquility, to silence the deafening noise this unique time has created. 

Listen

Podcasts:

“Pickle Shelf Radio Hour”
100 Days in Appalachia, The Daily Yonder
Mike Costello and Jan Pytalski, hosts

This new podcast comes to you “from the field, the city and around the table,” as hosts Mike Costello and Jan Pytalski use food as a conversation starter to broader topics, from the Lunar New Year to the great lengths of making morcilla, a traditional Spanish sausage. Join Mike and Jan for this immersion into Appalachian food traditions. 

“Inside Appalachia”
West Virginia Public Broadcasting, NPR
Jessica Lilly, host

This podcast produced by NPR-affiliate West Virginia Public Broadcasting dives into the richness of communities around the region and the people who live there to detail cultural traditions, historical perspectives, musical diversity and many more topics. 

Their latest episode is especially timely– A Break From Coronavirus News: Inside Appalachia Explores The Power Of Connecting With Loved Ones.

“The Homecomers”
Sarah Smarsh, host and executive producer

In this six-episode podcast, host and executive producer Sarah Smarsh invites six “champions of places” to examine culture and life in rural towns that society encourages young people to leave as soon as they can. “The Homecomers” dives into a new American trend: young people moving from their elite urban cities back to the often rural communities in which they were raised. 

Listen to or read 100 Days’ digital managing editor Ashton Marra’s conversation with Smarsh here

“Appalachian Unsolved”
WBIR
Leslie Ackerson and John North, hosts

This podcast is perfect for those interested in true crime, cold cases and a little bit of history. “Appalachian Unsolved” dives into East Tennessee’s most infamous cold cases, including disappearances in the Smoky Mountains, a serial killer who got away and other decades-old murders. 

“Dolly Parton’s America”
OSM Audio and WNYC Studio
Jad Abumrad, host

Dolly Parton is as beloved as ever by people around the world. This lighthearted and uplifting nine-episode podcast examines the “Dollyverse” by diving into the personal, historical and musical journey of one of America’s greatest icons. 

“Stories, A History of Appalachia”

A podcast created for fellow history junkies, “Stories, A History of Appalachia” dives into Appalachia’s past, from The Bell Witch to Mother Jones and the 1929 textile mill strikes to the Battle of Blair Mountain. The series’ episodes are roughly 20 minutes long, making for a good break-time story.

Music:

With music venues closing down around the region, musicians are getting creative in finding ways to connect with their fans. 

West Virginia’s The Hillbilly Gypsies have taken to Facebook live to perform and Tony From Bowling have used Instagram live to entertain audiences with their jam sessions. Pittsburgh’s music venue 25 Carrick Ave is currently hosting a 25-day live session to raise money for local artists, including bands such as Ferdinand and the Bull, Phat Man Dee and The Big Bend.

For a curated playlist of the region’s top artists, check out our new Spotify playlist. Know of Appalachian jams we’re missing? DM them to us! 

Read

“Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy”
Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll, editors
West Virginia University Press, 2019

With the regional backlash to JD Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” this collection of essays compiled from Appalachian scholars and experts complicates the traditional simplistic and stereotypical narrative of the region and offers a more clear understanding of the people who live here.

“Before you fall for the trope of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ and Ron Howard’s proposed film adaptation, get a more complex and complete picture from Appalachian Reckoning,” James Branscome said in his review of the collection last year. 

“Sugar Run”
Mesha Maren
Algonquin Books, 2019

Jodi McCarthy spent 18 years in prison before being released on parole. Rather than heading back to her West Virginia home and checking in with her parole officer, Jodi finds herself heading south to make amends with something her past left behind. Set in rural Appalachia, this novel allows readers to journey alongside Jodi in her attempt to start again and seek community while finding love along the way. 

“Maren is a writer who taps into the reader’s greatest anxieties and if my fear made me ache to read faster, Maren’s prose reminded me that I should take my time despite the threat,” Scalawag’s Corrinne Manning wrote in a review. “I urge you, the story whispers, to let yourself want what you need the most, not despite of, or because of, but of course the risk.” 

“LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia”
Jeff Mann and Julia Watts, editors
West Virginia University Press, 2019

This collection of poetry and prose features writings from Appalachians in the LGBTQIA+ community. Exploring a variety of themes and experiences throughout the region, this anthology details what it’s like to grow up queer in a region deeply rooted in religious and conservative values, examining topics of family, place, religion and sexual identity. 

“People have an idea of what Appalachia is, and I think a book like this blows that idea open,” Jonathan Corcoran told Anna Patrick in our examination of the anthology. “It explodes that idea and shows that this is a diverse region full of people living complex lives.” 

“Unwhite: Appalachia, Race, And Film”
Meredith McCarroll
University of Georgia Press, 2018

The Appalachian mountains span 13 states and thousands of communities, but many movie portrayals of the people who live there– like “Deliverance,” “Winter’s Bone” and “Cold Mountain”–  narrow our complex experiences to a few simple stereotypes. While this has been happening for decades through a variety of genres, author Meredith McCarroll summed up the topic for us in this novel, examining Appalachia’s portrayal through film and the way race plays into the stereotypical representation. 

“A lot of times, those images of poverty and rural poverty get placed in the mountains and the mountain south,” McCarroll told to West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Eric Douglas. “And then something interesting happens as people begin to see the mountain south, as people begin to see Appalachia [as] a place that lacks diversity.” 

“Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic”
Eric Eyre
Scribner, 2020

To be released March 31, 2020. 

Charleston Gazette-Mail reporter Eric Eyre’s reporting on the ways pharmaceutical companies targeted Appalachian communities won him a Pulitzer Prize in 2017. Now, he’s detailing that story in a new book set for release at the end of March. “Death in Mud Lick” takes place at the pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia, that distributed 12 million opioid pain pills in three years– in a town with less than 400 residents. Through the book, Eyre follows opioid shipments into West Virginia communities as well as the citizens that worked to create a positive change.  

“It’s basically about how a tenacious lawyer and an ex-con actually, who had a drug peddling past, and myself, all sort of banded together one community to uncover this massive pill dumping in Appalachia,’ Eyre told Giles Snyder of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, “[and]  how these drug companies, and these drug distributors, flooded Appalachia, and frankly the rest of the nation, with an excessive number of opioids, which of course sparked the greatest health crisis in American history.”

See

“Bellaire, Ohio: The All-American Town Zine”
Rural Arts Collaborative, Bellaire High School
Judy Walgren, editor

Students at Bellaire High School compiled this collection of original photographs and written reflections during a year-long teaching artist residency program through the Rural Arts Collaborative. The students worked under the direction of photographer and artist-in-residence Rebecca Kiger.

“It’s not just drugs and all the horrible things. It’s not a lazy, dusty old town that people might think it is,” said Lindsey Hess, a student in the project, to 100 Days in Appalachia contributing photographer Roger May for his commentary on the zine. “There are still good things in this place.” 

Looking at Appalachia
Roger May, director

Head over to Google Images really quickly and search the phrase “war on poverty.” What did you see? Most likely images of President Lyndon B. Johnson on the porch of the Fletcher family home in Inez, Kentucky. War on Poverty images like those have shaped many people’s opinions and ideas about the people who live in Appalachia. 

The Looking at Appalachia project launched in February 2014, 50 years after the War on Poverty began, to offer a counter-narrative to the images produced in that era, encouraging the region’s photographers to submit their own images representing life in Appalachia. This collection serves as a crowdsourced online archive of images allowing Appalachians to portray themselves in their own way.

Photo: Looking at Appalachia

“One of the most incredible results of the project has been the community and network of photographers we’ve established since it’s creation,” Director Roger May said of the project. “We’ve been able to share some of Appalachia’s diversity: geographically, socioeconomically, and culturally while complicating the longstanding narrative of Appalachia’s homogeneity.” 

The Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center’s Virtual Tour

As part of its measures to limit coronavirus exposure to visitors, The Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center will be hosting a four-part virtual tour, beginning this Friday, March 27 at 10 a.m. In the first live event of the series, viewers will be able to virtually tour three structures of the museum: an 1820s-era frontier cabin, a structure used to process pork for curing coined the Hog Scaulder and the Museum Cabin, an exhibit housing hundreds of woodworking and carpentry tools. 
If you aren’t available to view the live broadcast, The Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center will archive the footage on its Facebook page. The Center regularly shares digital content on its social media channels, including footage from its archives and podcasts.

Watch

“hillbilly”
Sally Rubin and Ashley York, directors

Following the 2016 election, director Ashely York trekked back home to her family in Kentucky to examine the stereotypical imagery elite media used leading up to the election that dubbed Appalachia as “Trump Country.” This documentary opens a national discussion between rural and urban Americans, aiming to challenge viewers’ perceptions of people in the region by offering rural voters a national platform to discuss media representations of hillbillies and the corporate exploitation of Appalachian land. 

“I’ve thought about media representation for a long time, and I would say this has not been an easy story to tell at all. We are definitely trying to use the film to abolish stereotypes about the region and to show alternative voices,” director Sally Rubin told 100 Days. “At the same time, we are committed to complex, multi-dimensional portraits of this region. Those aren’t one sided, and they’re not easy to paint.” 

The documentary is available for streaming on Hulu.

“After Coal”
Tom Hansell, director

What happens when fossil fuels run out? How do communities and cultures survive? These are questions the “After Coal” trailer asks viewers to ponder. This documentary, which has since inspired a book, dives into coal’s future in Appalachia and South Wales, while sharing first-hand stories from those on the frontlines discussing the world’s transition away from fossil fuels. If you’re an academic or a student, the movie can be streamed through Kanopy. For everyone else, it can be purchased at the link above.

Actor Mark Ruffalo in a film still from “Dark Waters.” Film Still: Courtesy Focus Features

“Dark Waters”
Focus Features

Inspired by a 2016 New York Times article, this legal thriller tells the story of DuPont corporation’s failure to inform Mid-Ohio Valley residents of its dumping of forever chemical perfluorooctanoic acid, or C8. The movie, which stars activist and actor Mark Ruffalo, can be rented or purchased through Amazon Prime. 

Did we miss something? Want to tell us how you and your loved ones are managing during this time? Tweet, DM or email us at [email protected] to share your photo, video, written or voice memo stories.