The Appalachian Creators & Innovators series hosts a new Appalachian each month to take over your inbox. These photographers, chefs, artists, poets and more share their passions and inspirations, and detail how this place – Appalachia – has shaped who they are.  

If you’d like to recommend a host for our Creators and Innovators Newsletter series, let us know at [email protected].

Meet our previous Creators and Innovators newsletter hosts:

Shelem | May  2022

Shelem is a man of many talents. He began writing and producing his own music at age 14 and in 2018, graduated from Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, with a degree in civil engineering. He now works as an engineer in the state capital, Charleston, while continuing to perform and release new music.

“One thing you should know about me is that I like hats, so I wear many of them. Not literally, but figuratively. I do a few things. Most notably, I am a civil engineer by day and hip-hop artist – also by day,” he writes in a newsletter dispatch. “I design water and sewer collection and treatment systems for public utilities all over southern West Virginia, and I make beats and sing over them. Most of my hats fit within these two categories, so we’ll leave it there for simplicity. I love what I do because I get to contribute to the public's well being, both physically and spiritually. (Is that what music does? Or is it mentally? Emotionally? All of the above??)

“My creative endeavors tend to have traces of Appalachian influence sprinkled throughout because that’s the way my mind is wired. It’s where I grew up, and it's what I know. My social media handles are @Shelem304 because… why not? I’m Shelem from the 304.”

Ebtehal Badawi |April 2022

Ebtehal Badawi is an artist and community activist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was our April 2022 Creators & Innovators newsletter host. Originally from Saudi Arabia, Ebtehal has nurtured a lifelong love of painting – though she took the long way to finally embracing her passion. Quickly realizing she could touch hearts and change lives through her painting, Ebtehal began the “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges” mural campaign in order to make everyone in her community feel included and safe.

“I was in a group of moms when someone suggested designing a poster for anti-bullying. As an artist with the intention of bringing people together, I started sketching different hands with different religious symbols,” she writes in a newsletter dispatch. “I remember I was at the school counselor’s office, and I told her, ‘I really want something that's representative of Pittsburgh.’ She looked online and told me, ‘Bridges! We have more than 400 bridges!’ This sparked the idea in my mind – Pittsburgh builds bridges!”

Ivy Brashear | March 2022

Ivy Brashear is a writer and lifelong Appalachian. Originally from Perry County, Kentucky, Ivy serves as the Appalachian Transitions Coordinator for the Mountain Association. A freelance journalist, Ivy’s work has appeared in YES! Magazine, Scalawag, 100 Days in Appalachia, and in the anthology “Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to ‘Hillbilly Elegy.’” For Women’s History Month 2022, Ivy wrote a series of essays about the strong Appalachian women who made her who she is today, writing with a deep empathy and understanding of the unique struggles mountain women face.

“I’m from the Left Fork of Maces Creek in Viper, Kentucky, where my family has lived for five generations,” Ivy writes in a newsletter dispatch. “That doesn’t mean I have any more claim to this region than anyone else; just that my roots run very deep here, and as such, I care deeply about its past, present and future. And that’s why I write about this place, to try and help make our collective story just a bit more complex and nuanced to foster more understanding.”

Emily Jones Hudson | February 2022

Emily Jones Hudson is a pastor, a writer, a poet and a “story catcher” from Hazard, Kentucky. She is also the co-founder and executive director of the Southeast Kentucky African-American History Museum and Cultural Center, an organization whose mission is to preserve and celebrate Black Appalachian history and culture in Southeast Kentucky. Through her Creators and Innovators newsletter dispatches in February 2022, Emily shared memories of growing up in Southeast Kentucky as well as her expertise in the rich and vibrant Black history of the Appalachian region.

“I am a ‘story-catcher,’” Emily writes in a newsletter dispatch. “I love oral history, listening to the life stories others share and passing their stories on. During the month of February, it is an honor to have this opportunity to share a chapter or two of my stories and histories growing up in the Southeastern Kentucky hills of Appalachia.”

Karen Glosser | January 2022

Karen Glosser is a fine art nature photographer in western New York. Her “Winter Dreams” series, which she shared with us in her Creators and Innovators newsletter dispatches throughout January 2022, captures her Appalachian home in a magical light, turning the stark landscapes into twinkling fairy lands of ice and snow. It is a remarkable series that truly highlights the wonder of winter. 

“I am most at peace when I am behind the lens, getting lost in the wonder of nature," Karen writes in a newsletter dispatch. "I strive to portray this sense of peace and wonder in my work. In the coming weeks, I will take you along on my photography shoots, and you’ll learn a bit about my process and what inspires me as I introduce you to my 'Winter Dreams' here in my little corner of Appalachia. I also have a few surprises in store that you won’t want to miss!"

Be sure to check out our exclusive Instagram Live with Karen Glosser here.

D. Steele | December 2021

Appalachian activist D. Steele, who hosted the Creators and Innovators newsletter in December 2021, is heavily involved in the Clearfork Community Institute, a grassroots organization that brings much-needed community services, including a cyber café and a safe space for local youths, to an isolated part of northeast Tennessee.

“After I graduated high school in 2010, I started volunteering with various organizations working to end mountaintop removal in Appalachia," D writes in a newsletter dispatch. "My focus was nonviolent civil disobedience and direct action – trying to use my body and freedom to shine a light on this environmental injustice and force federal intervention to end the practice.

“In 2016, I moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, to find more stable employment and to help stave off the influx of white supremacists after the 2016 election. This work helped me meet a variety of comrades and accomplices who were committed to isolating and confronting the reactionary forces emboldened by national politics. This work lasted through 2018, concluding with major white supremacists moving away from the area and a noticeable dip in their open gatherings.”

Be sure to check out our exclusive Instagram Live interview with D. Steele here!

Kendra Winchester | November 2021

Kendra Winchester now lives in the South Carolina lowcountry, but her roots stretch back to the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky. Inspired by her love of both our region and reading, she created @ReadAppalachia on Instagram to help her reconnect with the mountains and share the best of Appalachian literature with the world.

I started Read Appalachia to stay connected with my heritage and culture back in the region I most love. I never expected that what started as a late night whim would turn into a beautiful community of book lovers discussing and celebrating Appalachian literature and writing," she writes in a newsletter dispatch.

"This month, I’ll be sharing snippets of the origins of my own passion for Appalachian Literature, complete with book recommendations to help you discover new-to-you Appalachian writers.”

Be sure to check out Kendra's exclusive Instagram Live interview with Affrilachian poet Bernard Clay here!

Geonoah "geonovah" Davis | October 2021

100 Days in Appalachia came across Geonoah Davis, a hip hop artist in Virginia and the Creators and Innovators newsletter host in October 2021, for the first time in an episode of Inside Appalachia, the radio show and podcast from our friends over at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. His story instantly grabbed executive editor Ashton Marra – a young kid who's committed to his family and his home in the Appalachian hills, but refuses to give up his dreams. (I think there’s a little bit of all of us in that story, right?)

“The earliest memories I have of my love for music were of my dad’s CD collection – I always knew he had one of the greatest I’d ever see - Outkast, Kanye, Lupe Fiasco and T.I. are some of the first hip-hop artists I can remember listening to - in the backseat of my dad’s car with my twin and younger sister. However, the very first album I ever got as a gift was Will Smith’s “Lost and Found.” I used to listen to that on a portable CD player that was way too big for my pocket," he writes in a newsletter dispatch.

"When I was in high school, I was angry and sad a lot of the time. Dealing with feelings of abandonment and then the fear that came after being abandoned created space for a broken heart, confusion - and some unhealthy coping mechanisms, to say the least. I was alone a lot. I would read and listen to music - a lot of Drake, Frank Ocean, Tyler, the Creator, and Kanye - most of the time because I felt like those were the easiest ways to imagine a new world for myself, an idealistic fantasy world if you will. 

"I wrote a lot of poetry in the notes app on my phone in high school too. It wasn’t until 2016, when I was almost 20 years old, that I would record my first verse for a cousin of mine (shout out Rae, I'll tell you all about him later in the month), and then, later that year, record my very first song. My path and life has started to look more clear every year that I am able to create the music that I do. Here is the first song I ever wrote and recorded - it is called ‘Wrath.’”

Be sure to check out our exclusive Instagram Live interview with geonovah here!

Walter DeBarr and Pamela Kesling | September 2021

Walter DeBarr’s “gritty Americana sound caught me off guard, and I was immediately interested in his story,” said executive editor Ashton Marra in a newsletter dispatch. “Since, he’s been the subject of my favorite podcast, Black in Appalachia, and participated in a COVID series created by my best friend Valerie Bailey through her dance project Tinkered Dance, which gave Appalachian artists the opportunity to make art together from a distance.” (His video is so cool! Give it a watch here.)

“Alongside Walter, this month, we’re also hanging out with his partner Pamela Kesling who, if you follow us on Instagram, you’ll remember joined Walter for an IG Live performance ahead of Christmas last year,” Ashton writes. “The light in both her voice and presence is something that is so obvious in that IG Live, which was my first introduction to Pamela herself. But I can promise you, in the conversations we’ve had since, I’ve learned that her voice is beautiful, but her heart is even more so.”

“We found each other at a point in our lives when we were both looking for a new and better direction for our lives, and founded our relationship on the premise that a person isn’t what they did in the past, but who they work to be in the present and going forward," Pamela and Walter write in a newsletter dispatch. "We believe that anyone can do and be whatever they set their mind to, and it’s never too late for a fresh start. As our personal relationship has grown, so has our musical collaboration, and we work together on every project, with the aim of sharing love and hope with the world — especially those who have struggled with addiction and other hardships.” 

Be sure to check out our exclusive Instagram Live interview with Walter and Pamela here!

Chemist Spirits | August 2021

August 2021 Creators and Innovators newsletter host Chemist Spirits was founded in 2018 by Debbie Word, born from a small family still and many hours of moonshining with her daughter Danielle, an actual chemist, and son-in-law James, a creative director by trade. They were inspired by the esthetic and history of Prohibition-era America and chose the name Chemist Spirits as an homage to the chemists of that time (or pharmacists as they are called now), who were the only legal source of booze during Prohibition. As they say, “From bottle to tasting room, every detail at Chemist is designed to authentically reflect the transportive look and feel of an actual 1920’s apothecary.”

“The history of the Appalachian region has always been one of craft, artisans passing on their artistry through the generations – the same can be said of our distillery, founded by my wife and her mother as a legacy to be passed down through the generations, with our two daughters next in line," James writes in a newsletter dispatch. "But first we wanted to leave them a company built to last

the test of time, so we set out to make spirits centered around two core principles: drinkability and versatility.

“Our unique appreciation for Old World distilling traditions and modern science at Chemist Spirits led to the creation of our first spirit – a more modern and approachable vapor-infused American style gin crafted with select mountain botanicals atop a creamy fermented wheat spirit.” 

Be sure to check out our exclusive Instagram Live interview with Chemist Spirits here!

East Wheeling Clayworks | July 2021

Adam and Beth Bedway were our July 2021 Creators and Innovators newsletter hosts. They are a husband-and-wife duo who own East Wheeling Clayworks in Wheeling, West Virginia. A working ceramic studio, they produce original ceramic products as well as provide a space for other local artists to display their wares and works.

“We set up at our first show in 2016 and went full-time as artists in 2018. There have been A LOT of changes as our business has grown, especially when COVID hit," they wrote in a newsletter dispatch. Currently, we offer retail sales in person, online and at a few local shows; wholesale orders; we do some custom order work for individuals and regional businesses; and we host one-day events called Sculpt’n’Gulps where people can create a project regardless of their skill level. We even have a few other ideas in the wings, so keep watching on social media for updates! Pre-pandemic, we also started an arts market in Wheeling called Friendly City Handmade, which we hope to bring back in the spring of 2022.”

Mo Kessler | June 2021

A queer Southern artist, educator and community organizer, Mo Kessler was the Creators and Innovators newsletter host in June 2021 and has previous served as part of 100 Days' Appalachian Advisors Network. They graduated with a BFA in Sculpture from the Maryland Institute College of Art and earned an MFA from Western Carolina University in May 2021. There, they co-founded the LivLab Artist Collective and began Shelter in Place, an online artist residency.

“As a community organizer, I have worked in struggles opposing mountain-top removal, foreclosures, police brutality, food insecurity and racial injustice," Mo writes in a newsletter dispatch. "I served as a founding board member of the Renaissance Community Cooperative, the Central Carolina Worker Justice Center, the Youth and Student Coalition for Police Accountability, and as a board member of the Beloved Community Center.

“As an artist, my work ranges from object making to multimedia installations. The focus of my work is the concepts of “cheap” and “worth.” I use these concepts as lenses to investigate value systems and formalism as tools to reassert, reinvent and reimagine these systems. The objects I make are created through repetition, labor and working-class craft traditions passed down through generations of marginalized communities.”

Kerri Conrad | May 2021

The Appalachian Wildlife Refuge in Candler, North Carolina, hosted the Creators and Innovators newsletter in May 2021 to teach our subscribers about the conservation efforts taking place in our own backyard. Kerri Conrad, a staff member at AWR, joined us to discuss the organization’s rehabilitation, rescue, advocacy and public education work, as well as sharing tips on how to be an ally and advocate for all of the ‘wild ones.’ 

“Every day, our non-profit works tirelessly to rescue, rehabilitate and release native wildlife in peril, offering a Wildlife Emergency Hotline to 21 counties across Western North Carolina, conservation education to the community and a second chance at life back out in the wild for more than 2,000 orphaned and injured wildlife each year," Kerri writes in a newsletter dispatch. "Over the coming month, you’ll get a look behind the scenes as our dedicated staff and volunteers at Appalachian Wildlife Refuge work day and night carrying out their mission of saving wild lives here in Appalachia.”

Rajia Hassib | April 2021

Rajia is a writer based in Charleston, West Virginia, and the author of “In the Language of Miracles” and “A Pure Heart.” Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Rajia immigrated to the United States in her 20s, and pursued her passion for writing. Rajia, the Creators and Innovators newsletter host in April 2021, is a double-graduate of Marshall University, where she earned her B.A. and M.A. in English, and she has also worked at the university as an English instructor.

I am a writer — a novelist, mainly, but I’ve also written short stories, essays, and the occasional book review. I am also an immigrant, who, for the past 15 years, has called Charleston, West Virginia, home," she writes in a newsletter dispatch. "The road that took me home started all the way in Alexandria, Egypt, where I was born and raised, and weaved itself through multiple states until finally bringing me to the beautiful Mountain State in the heart of Appalachia.

"This is where I went back to college when I decided to change careers in my 30s and study English literature and writing, this is where I wrote the two novels that I’ve published so far and where I’m writing the third, and this is where my family has finally set roots. This is the place we now call home.” 

Be sure to check out our exclusive Instagram Live interview with Rajia Hassib here!

Elon Justice | March 2021

Pikeville, Kentucky, native and March 2021 Creators and Innovators newsletter host Elon Justice’s childhood revolved around storytelling. Early on, she noticed that not all representations of Appalachia were accurate, and most of the misrepresentations of our region and people came from non-Appalachians telling — or trying to tell — our stories. 

So, she did something about it. Through The Appalachian Retelling Project, which she founded in July 2020. Here, Appalachians can submit their own stories in their own words and discuss topics like code switching or share personal recollections from a half-century ago. This project documents life as it really is in Appalachia, and we encourage you to take time to explore it.

“I became passionate about media and the ways it could be used to help people instead of harm them," she writes in a newsletter dispatch.

"Eventually, that passion brought me to MIT, where I’ve learned more not only about the ways that Appalachia tends to be systematically misrepresented in all forms of media, but also about what can be done to combat these harmful portrayals. To that end, I created The Appalachian Retelling Project, a place where everyone is welcome to share their stories – collectively creating a representation of Appalachia that is nuanced, hopeful and deeply human – in an attempt to re-tell the world who we are on our own terms.”

Afsheen Misaghi | February 2021

Afsheen Misaghi, the Creators and Innovators newsletter host in February 2021 is an Appalachian of many, many talents. The West Virginia native is the creator, director, actor, writer and producer of the Amazon Prime series "Normal for Now."

He received his B.A. in Theater from West Virginia University in 2016 and completed an MFA in Acting at the University of Florida in 2019. Afsheen’s dynamic skills and leadership have taken him across the United States and across the globe, from Ankara, Turkey, to Bogota, Colombia, where he’s worked in various teaching and directing capacities.

“As a proud born-and-bred West Virginian, I love exploring my internal and external conflicting identity in my work since I may not look like the ‘typical, Hollywood version’ of an Appalachian," Afsheen writes in a newsletter dispatch.

"My parents were born and raised in South Asia and both sets of my grandparents are Persian. Thus, whenever I tell people where I am from, I usually get a confused look, a laugh in disbelief, and a follow up question in the form of, ‘No, like, where are you from, from?’ And honestly, I cannot blame them! These dangerous stereotypes of who Appalachians are have been perpetuated in the media constantly and consistently for centuries. In these portrayals, we are often represented as uneducated, toothless bigots who have never left our hollers — but that’s not the Appalachia I know. The Appalachia I know and love is filled with diverse, talented and loving people who are often ostracized, forgotten and whose stories are rarely told with accuracy. The paradox of who we are versus what we are expected to be, in every aspect of that conflict, is at the crux of my work.”

Be sure to check out our exclusive Instagram Live interview with Afsheen!

RaJon Staunton | January 2021

RaJon Staunton is an Appalachian poet based in Beckley, West Virginia, a senior at Marshall University and the recipient of the 2020 Wallace E. Knight Excellence in Writing Award for Poetry. RaJon, the Creators and Innovators newsletter host in January 2021, has previously contributed poetry to our Appalachian Youth Creators project, and has been published in Teen Vogue, Hobart and Parentheses Journal.

“Appalachia is a region bound together by the stories we tell and the words we pass down," RaJon writes in a newsletter dispatch. "Storytelling is a tradition rooted in a communal love for language and an appreciation for language as a way to survive. It has lingered in my bones since I was old enough to form sentences and is a major part of what led me toward writing poetry.

“As a writer, I am wholly invested in the power of language and other art forms as key components in cultivating communities across physical and (in some cases) ideological borders. Throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I have become more interested in what it means to craft community around and through language, especially when faced with the impossibility of physical contact and closeness with others. This potential is what draws me to using writing and visual art as ways to connect with and support others during these tumultuous times.” 

Listen to RaJon recite their poem “bloom” here.

Deidre Clark, Melanie Glazer, Erica Vinskie | December 2020

In December 2020, 100 Days in Appalachia was lucky enough to feature three different Appalachians with distinct holiday traditions.

From Birmingham, Alabama, Dierdre Clark was kind enough to tell us about the Kwanzaa traditions she and her family enjoy. Deirdre is a coach, an entrepreneur, a founder and a starter. Deidre describes Kuumba, the creativity principle of Kwanzaa, as a guiding force in her life. 

“[Kwanzaa] is a celebration that happens annually, and it was created specifically for African American culture," Deirdre writes in a newsletter dispatch. "It starts one day after Christmas and goes December 26 until January 1st, and it culminates in this feast on the sixth day. It was created by Dr. [Maulana] Karenga, in the 1960s, after these riots had happened in Watts [neighborhood in Los Angeles]. The goal was to give an alternative holiday to Christmas so that Black people could celebrate themselves and their history, but also to have something different than what we did in dominant American culture.”

Next, we dove into Hanukkah with Melanie Glazer, an educational interpreter and teacher of the deaf and hard-of-hearing for Cabell County Schools in Huntington, West Virginia, wrote about her family’s Hanukkah celebration. Writing in 2020, Melanie focused on how she adapted the holiday during the COVID-19 pandemic:

“As Jewish holidays go, Hanukkah is not such a tough one to adapt for pandemic life. Though definitely a favorite among the kids, Hanukkah is only a minor religious holiday in the Jewish faith, and it is primarily celebrated in the home, even during years without COVID-19," Melanie writes in a newsletter dispatch.

“Hanukkah for our little family in Huntington, West Virginia, is generally a quiet affair. We stay home and fry potato pancakes called latkes — so many that we tire of them by night four. We say the blessings in Hebrew while lighting candles, and then we give a gift to each child.”

Finally, Erica Vinskie writes about Christmas in Northeastern Pennsylvania. An artisan perfumer who founded HENNY FAIRE Co, a fragrance brand featuring scents native to Appalachia, she previously taught Appalachian culture and literature at Albright College. Erica was gracious enough to provide a history and recipe for “boilo,” a unique Christmas drink created by Lithuanian immigrants in the early 20th century.

“Created during the first quarter of the 20th century by Lithuanian immigrant miners, like my paternal great-grandfather, boilo is an adaptation of krupnikas, a spiced honey liqueur consumed in Lithuania, Poland and Belarus," Erica writes in a newsletter dispatch. "While the miners’ version used moonshine as its base, rye whiskey is the alcohol of choice for boilo makers today. And no longer is boilo-making the provenance of lowly laborers from the Baltics. Today, all manner of “coal crackers” (referring to any person from the Pennsylvania Anthracite Region) make boilo and put their individual mark on the traditional recipe.” 

Estela Knott | November 2020

Estela Knott, of Charlottesville, Virginia, is a Mexilachian musician, music teacher and the co-founder of the Lua Project, a Mexilachian musical endeavor that draws inspiration from Estela’s Mexican and Appalachian roots. During her time with us as the Creators and Innovators newsletter host in November 2020, Estela wrote about her travels through Latin America, how she countered some of the identity struggles she faced growing up Mexilachian in rural Appalachia and how she connects the Spanish-speaking community with the larger community of Charlottesville today.

“Growing up Mexilachian — Mexican and Appalachian — in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, my childhood hogar was unlike all the others in our home town," Estela writes in a newsletter dispatch. "As I navigated through my youth, trying to find my place between both cultures, music became the source of warmth and inspiration I needed to light my way.

“At home, there was the Chicano culture, transplanted from El Paso, Texas, with Spanish spoken most of the time. And at school, it was the all-English, rural country culture of the valley. As I walked these cultural roots between home and school every day, un puente (a bridge) was being whittled away beneath me that stretched across two distinct identities that couldn’t have felt any more different from one another.”

Be sure to check out Estela’s exclusive Instagram Live performance and Q&A here.

Jordan Lovejoy | October 2020

Jordan Lovejoy, of Pineville, West Virginia, is a Ph.D. candidate studying English and Folklore Studies at Ohio State University. During her newsletter series in October 2020, Jordan explored the four types of folklore, traditions and Appalachian folklore and how our regional beliefs can shape our lives. For Halloween, Jordan wrote about our famed Appalachian cryptids and their presence in our modern popular culture.

“As we continue to face uncertainties about the state of our region, our nation and our planet, I invite you to think of this more humanized version of the Mothman legend," Jordan writes in a newsletter dispatch. "I think Mothman can warn us about the problems we face, remind us of ongoing issues we should tackle and invite us to think about the unknown or the different, not as something to fear, but as something to seek to understand. That willingness to understand might assist us in creating a future world that’s better for us all.

"Our legends and our folklore, as they travel through time and space — as they travel through us — evolve, transform and express our values and lives, and they continue to help us make sense of the world and our experiences in it. There is power in folklore, and there is power in us. May we continue sharing it with others as we shape and are shaped by our ever-changing traditions and our ever-changing world.”

See Jordan’s interview with 100 Days in Appalachia here, where she discusses her passion for preserving our regional folklore and encourages viewers to document their own.

Katlin Kazmi | September 2020

Katlin Kazmi, the Creators and Innovators newsletter host in September 2020, is a middle school principal and co-owner of The Pakalachian Food Truck, which she operates with her husband, Mohsin Kazmi. During her time with us, Katlin shared stories of her personal trials and triumphs, how she and her husband Mohsin have created their Pakistani-Appalachian (Pakalachian) culinary concoctions and how her Appalachian roots helped shape her sustainable business and lifestyle.

“We embody personal resilience here in Southwest Virginia. It’s in our blood. This is an important quality because it speaks to self-sustaining characteristics congruent with a natural need for survival. We see new in old," Katlin writes in a newsletter dispatch. "My dad cannot turn down a broken piece of machinery for the sole reason that it may have a part he can use on something he already has and a little rust certainly doesn’t scare us away. All of this folds into the naturally eco-friendly culture created in Appalachia.

"When I was younger, my grandmother would see a coin on the ground and always pick it up saying, ‘Pennies make nickels, nickels make dimes, dimes make quarters, quarters make dollars and dollars build a house.’ Though I found it trivial when I was 10, she was right. I believe conservation builds much the same way: Each small act is a penny. The culmination of these acts by more people and businesses over time builds the framework for something better.”

Jeremy Wilson | August 2020

Jeremy Wilson, a photographer and enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, was the fourth co-host in the Creators and Innovators Newsletter Series. Each week in August 2020, Jeremy shared insight into his life within the Qualla Boundary and in Cherokee culture and traditions, addressing common misconceptions and ongoing challenges brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic along the way.

“I have been hit with the saying, 'You’re Indian? You don’t look Indian,' more times than I can count," Jeremy writes in a newsletter dispatch.

"Cherokee is far from what you might see on TV. It is in fact probably everything you didn’t think of when you’ve never been to a reservation or Sovereign territory. Cherokees do marry and have children outside of their race and tribe, which is why my skin is not dark as most think a Cherokee should look. The identity of who I am is not based on what you might have learned (or not learned) growing up, but it is based on the enrichment of everything I have mentioned. The language, our elders, our arts and crafts, Indian Ball, our legends and stories, our foods and our history. I am not an Indian you see on TV. I am a Native American, and my identity is what I learn and carry on to the next generation.”

Bianca X | July 2020

Bianca X, a prolific Affrilachian Poet and educator at Ohio University and third co-host of the series, used the theme, “Project Goldenrod.” Here, Bianca X shared her original works, insight and illustrations, addressing the complexity of the Black American folk hero paralleled with the unrealistic expectations Black Americans face in “The Problem with John Henry” and confronting the misogyny and symbolism of Medusa — and other independent female literary figures — as sacrificial scapegoats. She also acquainted readers with the sketches of her original characters.

“When we create scapegoats in our lives, they’re typically attached to an aspect of our identity where we feel powerless, deficient, voiceless, and ashamed," Bianca writes in a newsletter dispatch. "Which would suggest that we also feel entitled, on some level, to having more agency in those areas — most of us want to feel empowered, accomplished, and that we’re good people.

"Whenever there is a popular scapegoat trending at any given moment, say, a pandemic, the story of Medusa can be incredibly edifying. Do we waste more time than necessary blaming the monster for being unable to help its own nature, or do we instead focus on the areas of our lives that the monster illuminates where we had false agency, or no agency, in the first place? Perhaps the most important question to ask is, who benefits from keeping us that way?”

See Bianca’s introductory message here.

Then, be sure to listen to Bianca X’s reading of her original poem, “Creation Myth” here.

Rosalie Haizlett | June 2020

Rosalie Haizlett, an illustrator from Wellsburg, West Virginia, and the second host in our Creators and Innovators series, used much of her time spent with 100 Days in Appalachia in June 2020 to write about environmentalism, her creative processes — from hike to sketchpad — and her commitment to conservation of the region’s natural habitats. During her time with us, Rosalie also focused on the various ways environmentalism intersects Rosalie’s works have been featured by The Smithsonian and the National Audubon Society, and her. At the end of her stint, Rosalie shared with subscribers a first-look at her latest illustrated watercolor map of the Monongahela National Forest, located in West Virginia.

“Although I grew up on a homestead in rural West Virginia, the appreciation that I felt during my childhood for the lush plants and wildlife around me diminished as I became a teenager," Rosalie writes in a newsletter dispatch.

"As humans, we’re suckers for screens, exciting conversation with other people, music and other man-made stimulation. All of those things can be wonderful, but it’s easy to become so accustomed to that level of input that we lose appreciation for the quiet, natural wonders that caught our eye and captured our imagination when we were kids.

"It takes practice to reignite our childlike curiosity in the outdoors. Painting is a tool that helps me to notice more while I’m outside and then translate what I see into physical mementos of the intricacy and beauty that I encounter. The more I paint the natural world, the more I notice and appreciate the little things around me.”

Roger May | May 2020

Roger is an Appalachian photographer with countless accolades, but you might recognize him as the founder of the visual documentary collective, Looking at Appalachia. He joined us in May 2020 to launch the Creators and Innovators newsletter series where he curated images from across the region and sent them directly to our subscribers’ inboxes with some insights from the people who made them as a source of comfort and connection in a time of uncertainty.

“Along with some personal notes and links, I’ll be promoting and highlighting West Virginian and Appalachian makers and doers, sharing intimate glimpses of their stories, their processes, and what keeps them grounded in times like these. I hope this will be something you look forward to seeing in your inbox at a time when we all wish for simple pleasures to linger a little longer," Roger writes in a newsletter dispatch.