The Appalachian Studies Association held their annual conference in Asheville this past weekend. Can you believe it? An entire association dedicated to the study of Appalachia.
While I didn’t have a chance to go to the full conference, I was able to attend the keynote event. It featured Appalachian author Wiley Cash interviewing fellow authors Lee Smith and Ron Rash. I mean, how could I NOT attend? If you aren’t familiar with these storytellers, check out Cash’s A Land More Kind Than Home, Rash’s Serena, and Smith’s Fair and Tender Ladies. Or anything else any of them have written.
The event was a delight and there was much worth repeating, but here’s my top takeaway–if you want to write well, hang out with the old folks.
A common theme among these wonderful authors talking about how they became writers and where they find their inspiration was spending time with their elders. I think this is common among those of us who have grown (are growing) up in Appalachia.
When I was a kid there wasn’t a youth group. There weren’t any community activities or programs for the youth. Oh, sure, when we had community events (the bean supper at Lucille’s, swimming at Aunt Bess’, or Toad’s wiener roast) the kids would run off and get into trouble together, but we always ended up back in the company of adults.
One of my most precious memories is curling up in Dad’s lap where he sat cross-legged in a room full of men talking, smoking, and playing music. The sweat would dry on my skin as the rumble of voices and laughter lulled me to sleep. I don’t remember what they talked about (oh, how I wish I did), but I think I absorbed those stories, those tall tales through my very pores.
On Sundays we went visiting. We’d sit in family members’ living rooms wearied by the drone of adults talking about weather and people and politics and even religion. And while there was many a Sunday when I would have given the last slice of chocolate cake to be set free, now I recognize how precious that time was.
When I write these days, it’s almost as if my fingers on the keyboard are tracing out voices imprinted deep in my memory. I don’t write stories so much as I find them again. As if I were sitting, once more, among the old folks.
Only this time I’m listening . . . and writing it all down.