Foxfire Story: Oral Tradition in Southern Appalachia edited by T. J. Smith. New York: Anchor/Penguin Random House, 2020. 299 pages with a Foreword by John A. Burrison and photos. Trade paperback, $19.95.
Foxfire is bioluminescence from fungi decaying on wood. Although it has been viewed as a phenomenon most prevalent in the Southern Appalachians and thus a kind of symbol for the region, it occurs world-wide. The oldest written documentation of it was by Aristotle, and it figures in Japanese folklore. The Foxfire Fund is a multi-million-dollar enterprise headquartered in Rabun County, Georgia’s most northeastern county. Eliot Wigginton started developing it when he was teaching at the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in 1966 and sought a way to get his English students to care about his subject. He hit upon the idea of getting them to interview old people in their area who were living in old-fashioned ways. Fortunately, Aunt Arie and Kenny Runyan and others turned out to be downright charismatic practitioners of the old ways, and in 1967 his students began publishing a magazine they called Foxfire. Students cared about learning English composition when they knew their kinfolks and neighbors would read the words they wrote. Some of their magazine articles were published in The Foxfire Book in 1972, and it sold half a million copies in its first six months. Other books followed before and after 1977 when Wigginton began teaching in the county’s public high school. From the beginning, Wigginton made sure that all the profits from his enterprises went into the non-profit Foxfire Fund, and it set up a museum that now holds 110 acres and 31 log structures and buildings to provide a plethora of educational resources. In 1992 Eliot Wigginton pleaded guilty to child molestation and was sentenced to a year in the county jail and required to register as a sex offender and to never teach or interact with children again. He moved to Florida and started a company creating lawn ornaments, a profession his father had followed. Despite this huge set-back, the decision was made to continue the Foxfire Fund using the same name it had for twenty-five years, and it has thrived with an annual festival, summer jobs for high school kids, and other programs. And the books continued to be published by local students and their teachers and advisors eventually including twelve Foxfire Books and ten other books exploring particular topics. Nevertheless, much writing has been collected by the students that has never been published. This book combines archival and new material. It has two sections, “The Stories” and “The Tellers.” The eight “story” chapters begin with a chapter on mountain speech and then look at a different kind of stories, from proverbs to songs to pranks. The seven “teller” chapters each feature a different storyteller, including one woman and two Cherokee men. The editor, T. J. Smith is the Executive Director of the Foxfire Fund.
It’s Like Heaven: Stories from Camp Sunshine edited by Dorothy H. Jordan. Athens: The University of Georgia Pres, 2020. 200 pages with a Foreword by Kirby Smart and Karl Smart and full of color photographs, including full-page photos. 8.25” X 7.25” hardback in dust jacket, $27.95
Camp Sunshine is a North Georgia summer camp for children with cancer. This book is a celebration of its first 35 years. The author, Dorothy H. Jordan, is a nurse who founded it in 1982. The next year 38 children from the ages of 7 to 18 attended. More than 400 attended in 2018, and the camp provided 150 more programs during the year in locations all over Georgia. Each of the fourteen chapters revolve around a former camper’s reminiscences about the experience of having cancer and the impact of the camp. That is followed by the testimony of a nurse who worked with the camper and other camp personnel. They are all pictured in color. “These powerful stories show us the resilience of the human spirit. Cancer touches all of our lives, and the message of this book is universal. Camp Sunshine has created a little piece of heaven in Georgia for children and their families impacted by cancer, and everyone will find inspiration in these moving accounts about the healing power of community.” - Former President Jimmy Carter.
Storytelling in Queer Appalachia: Imagining and Writing the Unspeakable Other edited by Hillery Glasby, Sherrie Gradin and Rachael Ryerson. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2020. 251 pages. Trade paperback, $29.99.
This is a collection of eleven essays from writers with a wide variety of perspectives, but who all share dealing with homophobia in Appalachia. Storytelling is central to this book in a very contemporary way. It is not an analysis of fiction with gay and lesbian characters. Rather it includes lots of personal stories about being “queer” in a region that has not only been deemed different, but also has tended to regard those locals who are different as “quare.” Along with those chapters that relate personal stories are articles that, often beginning with first person narratives, transition into analysis and academic discourse especially about regional gay and lesbian rhetoric and autobiography. The editors, unlike the contributors, are all academics. Hillery Glasby has recently moved from Ohio University to Michigan State while Sherrie Gradin and Rachael Ryerson are still professors there.
The Last Blue by Isla Morley. New York: Pegasus Books, 2020. 336 pages. Hardback in dust jacket, $25.95
This decidedly fictional tale features a central female character who is the last of Eastern Kentucky’s often grossly exaggerated “blue people.” The man who offers the romance in the story works for the New Deal’s often somewhat distorted Works Progress Administration as a photographer. "A compelling tale of survival, reinvention, and hope. Vivid and poignant." - The Boston Globe . "Intense and ambitious. Exquisitely detailed." - Los Angeles Magazine. "An arresting, heart-wrenching novel. . . . a phenomenal debut." - The San Diego Union Tribune. "Morley is a stunning storyteller." - The Daily Beast. The author was raised a white person in South Africa during apartheid and now lives in Los Angeles.
Like Light, Like Music by Lana K. W. Austin. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2020. 298 pages. Trade paperback, $21.99.
The protagonist, Emme McLean returns to her home town of Red River in Eastern Kentucky in 1999 after learning that her cousin, Kelly, is accused of the murder of her husband, Cy. Elements of traditional mountain lore – including old ballads, “the mountain gift,” and seemingly supernatural events - are introduced seamlessly and are integral, not incidental, to the story. “Like Light, Like Music captures the way the past haunts us and shapes our reality. With the help of their ancestors, the resilient McLean women are determined to prove the innocence of one of their own. The pulse of this lyrical novel beats: Believe women. Believe women. Believe women.” - Savannah Sipple. “Austin has written a highly original and captivating novel filled with the mountain music and lore she loves so much—haints, broonies, banshees, shades, and revenants share the stage with all the memorable real characters of Red River, Kentucky. Contemporary issues merge with a developing romance in this spellbinding story, truly a ballad itself.” - Lee Smith. The author, Lana K. W. Austin, teaches writing at the University of Alabama at Huntsville.
Luna Lunera: Poems al-Andalus by Loss Pequeno Glazier. Poe, $20.00
Loss Pequeno Glazier lives and writes in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains, but his perspective soars way beyond his home. The four chapters provide four settings for the poems in this collection. They follow the evolution of poetry beginning with images drawn on the walls of Spanish caves, and from there move to Japan and then to a redwood forest at the sea and finally to Moorish buildings. The poems are also expansive in the use of technology and coding in their composition as Glazier was the author of the first book devoted to digital poetics. The process of composing these poems started with screen-based digital work providing multiple alternative lines. Then they were shaped by using computer coding. Then they were used as scripts for a solo dancer’s performance. Then they were projected onto a screen to accompany a public dance performance. Finally, they were publicly read in a performances in Buffalo in North America, in three South American venues and seven European venues. The author, Loss Pequeno Glazier was born in South Texas and has worked as a professor in Buffalo, New York.