Why Study Appalachia? Wisdom from Helen Lewis

I recently have been on a quest to find a quote from the great Helen Lewis that I saw a few years ago on the University of North Georgia Appalachian Studies Center webpage. Thanks to my good friend Jordan Laney for saving a copy and for Rosann Kent for working with Helen on this.


Why Study Appalachia?

Appalachia is a region and a place. Real and mythical, beautiful and devastated, geological and political, rich in resources and a poverty pocket, a place to exploit, a watershed for the eastern seaboard and destroyed and polluted headwaters.

Weekend cabins and homes in the holler. Yesterday’s and tomorrow’s people. Hillbillies and folks. Bluegrass and hip hop. Poets and politicians. Professors and protesters, preachers and prophets. A model and a warning signal for the nation.

So if you want to study Appalachia, here is what you do.

Start where you live: Interview your elders, map your community, write your local history. Who lives where and why? Who owns the land, minerals, resources? Who is rich and who is poor? Who has power and who is powerless? Who are the story tellers, the poets, the singers? Who is in jail, who is sick, who is angry and who is throwing the bodies in the river and who is pretending it is not happening?

Who is speaking truth to power, who is feeding the hungry, who is healing the sick? Who is writing the poetry, saving the stories, saving the land, singing the songs?

Find out who you are. What is your place in this place?

-Helen Lewis


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