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Travels with Foxfire: Stories of People, Passions, and Practices from Southern Appalachia by Phil Hudgins and Jessica Phillips

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This book represents a new departure for Foxfire, after 12 numbered Foxfire Books and 8 supplementary volumes still in print. There is still a Foxfire class at Rabun County High School, and students there still put out two issues of the Foxfire magazine every year, but this is the first Foxfire book that hasn’t been primarily a product of student interviews and writing. Instead, it was sponsored by the Foxfire Fund Board and written by a former Foxfire student and a former publisher/editor of the local Rabun County newspaper. Like the other Foxfire books, it consists of interviews of Appalachian people who enjoy practicing traditional ways, including in this case, ginseng gathering, dowsing for water, and snaking logs through the woods with mules.  Cooking, hunting, music, and story-telling are also covered here. Foxfire was started by Eliot Wigginton, a West Virginia native. After obtaining degrees from Cornell and Johns Hopkins, Wiggington took a job in 1966 teaching English at the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School, a private school in Rabun County, Georgia, the state’s northeastern most county, where Wigginton’s family had a summer home. Finding difficulty making his students care about learning to write, he realized that if they would actually produce a product that others would see, they would want to do a good job, and thus work at improving their writing. The Foxfire magazine became increasingly popular, thanks in large part to charismatic local old-timers whose stories they wrote up, including Aunt Arie Carpenter and Kenny Runyan, and to Wigginton’s empathy and insistence upon showing readers exactly how to follow the old-fashioned ways. As a result, in 1972 they decided to compile their best magazine entries into a book. The Foxfire Book was an unexpected huge success, and Wigginton created the Foxfire Fund to administer all the profits in a way that would benefit the community and the students. The result has been a living history farm and museum as well as a variety of programs explained on their website. In 1977 the program moved to the newly build and consolidated Rabun County High School. In 1992 Wigginton plead guilty to child molestation, served a year in the Rabun County Jail, and was required to leave Foxfire and teaching. He moved to Florida where he has a business creating and maintaining yard features. Other Rabun County High School teachers and students and the Foxfire Board have persisted and continued the Foxfire work.

New York: Anchor/Penguin Random House, 2018. 314 pages with photos. Trade paperback