What would surprise someone the most about the Appalachian culture?
Well, assuming that they are not Appalachian, it would probably be the fact that we have nothing in common with the stereotypes. I remember teaching a class at the Mountain Retreat near Highlands and encountered several enrollees who were afraid to go “downtown,” because they had encountered so many people with gun racks in their trucks as they drove up the mountain. Their assumption was that Appalachians are so prone to violence, they go armed everywhere. They had never encountered people who fish and hunt. That is just one classic example of the bias that I encountered in elder hostel classes. I used to use a book entitled Appalachia: The First and Last Frontier. The first sentence summed it up. It stated that there was no geographic area in the U.S. more misunderstood than Appalachia.
If you had to describe the Appalachian culture in one sentence, what would that be?
People who have retained a profound awareness of their heritage and traditions.
What is the biggest contribution the mountain culture has given to our society?
Probably our ability to co-exist with the natural world.
What do you think is the biggest collective fear of Appalachians?
That they will be erased. The steady encroachment of concrete, industry and technology could plow us all under.
Is there one Appalachian folklore that stands apart from the others?
There is a lot of Appalachian folklore that deals with a single individual who is pitted against daunting odds, but retains his identity: outlaws, musicians and a few “public officials.”
Why is knowing local folklore worth while?
Well, it defines who were are and what we value. English folklore is different from Italian folklore, for example, and yet both demonstrate what that culture values.
What is your favorite aspect about teaching?
My favorite aspect of teaching is the “exchange” that flows between teacher and students.