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The Cratis Williams Symposium Proceedings from the Appalachian Consortium Press

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Arguably no two gatherings were more important in establishing Appalachian Studies as an academic field of endeavor than the 1976 and 1986 Cratis Williams Symposia. The first was held on the occasion of the retirement of Cratis Williams from Appalachian State University where he has risen to the rank of Acting Chancellor. The second to commemorate his death. Arguably, no book of essays brings together six scholars who could be considered more central to this emerging field. Wilma Dykeman, Helen Lewis, Grace Edwards and Billy Best along with Cratis would have rounded this out to eleven of the most obvious progenitors of Appalachian Studies and Appalachian Literature. These six papers were presented at the 1986 symposium, though most - if not all - these people were present at the event a decade earlier. The six are Carl A. Ross, then the Director of the Center for Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University; Loyal Jones, then the Director of the Berea College Appalachian Center; Charlotte Ross, Assistant Dirctor of the Center for Excellence in Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University; John Stephenson, the former Director of the University of Kentucky Appalachian Center and then President of Berea College; Ron Eller, the then Director of the University of Kentucky Appalachian Center, and Jim Wayne Miller, the poet and indefatigable promoter of regional literature and studies. Cratis Williams (1911-1985) was a delightful man whose short stature and goatee made him remind you of a gnome!  Although clearly an eminent scholar, Cratis was an eminently delightful conversationalist who enjoyed entertaining his companions with topics not always of a purely academic nature and sometimes at the edges of polite conversation. He loved to brag on his family's moonshine and speak, with a twinkle in his eye, about the mountain "widow women" who were arduous in their quest for companionship. This trait presumably got him fired as Principal of his county seat high school, but did not phase those who hired him as  Dean of the Graduate School and Acting Chancellor of Appalachian State University. Cratis grew up on Caines Creek in Lawrence County, Kentucky. His 1661-page New York University doctoral dissertation, "The Southern Mountaineer in Fact and Fiction" (1961) provided an unequivocal foundation for the fields of Appalachian Studies and Appalachian Literature and earned him the sobriquet of "Mr. Appalachia." In 1970 Billy Best, then the Chair of the Education Commission of the Council of the Southern Mountains proposed a conference on Appalachian Studies. As that Commission's representative to the Board of the Council, I secured the whole organization's sponsorship, and it was held in October of 1970 at Clinch Valley College where Helen Lewis had taught the first college Appalachian Studies course. The Cratis Williams Symposium in 1976 was the next event of this nature, and it led pretty directly to the first continuous Appalachian Studies Conference that began in 1978 and is still going, as well as the Appalachian Studies Association.