Appalachian Symposium 2015

The largest-ever gathering of the region’s best known writers. Two days of public conversations about literature, Appalachia, and much more on the historic campus of Berea College.

September 9, 2015

Welcome: Silas House and Chad Berry

Noon – 12:30

Keynote One: Appalachia Is Our Fate
bell hooks
One of our leading public intellectuals and acclaimed writers starts off our gathering with a compelling and moving talk about belonging to a culture that has shaped us in such significant ways.

12:30 – 1:20

Where I’m From: Dialect and Accepted Classism
Gwyn Hyman Rubio, Pam Duncan, Amy Greene, Crystal Wilkinson
Many people believe it is perfectly acceptable to demean Appalachians—and Appalachian writers—because of where they’re from.  How do Appalachian writers deal with this, particularly when dialect, foodways, and the overall culture of the Appalachian people are so often maligned while also being central to their literature?

1:30 – 2:15

The Place Gives Rise to the Spirit: The Impact of Place on Appalachian Writers and Writing
Erik Reece, Anne Shelby, Julia Watts, Frank X Walker
Appalachia is a place that gets under one’s skin, in ways both positive and negative.  How do authors from the region honor the place while also tackling the problems like environmental injustice, political corruption, homophobia, racism, and other issues facing it?

2:15 – 3:00

The Personal and the Political: Is Activism an Inherent Part of Writing About This Place and Its People?
Dick Hague, Silas House, Frank X Walker, Denise Giardina
Do those writing about Appalachia have an extra responsibility as writers because they are from a place that is so often a hotbed of the major issues facing our nation today?  Do all writers have a responsibility to give a voice to the voiceless?  Four writers who have often been parts of the political conversations in our region discuss this and more.

3:20 – 4:00

Musical Interlude—Concert
Caroline Herring
One of the region’s best singer-songwriters offers us a short concert of beautifully crafted music.

4:00 – 4:45

Country Music and Appalachian Literature
Silas House, Marianne Worthington, Jason Howard, Jesse Graves
Appalachia is the birthplace of country music, so it would make sense that the genre regularly wends its way into the literature of this place.  Four writers who often incorporate the complicated love affair between the region and country music offer a spirited and melodic conversation.

September 10, 2015

9:00 – 9:45

The Nature of Loss: Displacement in Appalachian Literature
Lisa Parker, Jane Hicks, Maurice Manning, Denise Giardina
Appalachia is a place haunted by displacement:  the removal of the Cherokees; the influx of immigrants from countries that forced them out by way of political/religious/economic strife; the legacy of slavery and the Civil War; the creation of the TVA lakes and the National Parks; being told for a century that we are a disappearing people; etc.  Four writers who have written extensively about the loss of the place in a variety of ways gather to talk about this evocative topic.

9:45 – 10:30

Writing the New Millennium
Amy Greene, Charles Dodd White, Glenn Taylor, Robert Gipe
These four writers have recently published much-acclaimed novels about the region and are becoming true voices for the place and its people.  They’ll talk about what it means to be a contemporary writer of a place so associated with the past, the challenges facing Appalachian writers in the modern publishing world, and much more.

10:45 – 11:30

We’re Here: Diversity in Appalachian Lit
Crystal Wilkinson, Julia Watts, Jason Howard, Sam Gleaves
When most people think of Appalachia they immediately assume that everyone there is the same color, religion, and orientation.  The truth is that Appalachia is a place ripe with many different ways of being.  These writers will discuss the challenges of being writers from the region who challenge the commonly-held perceptions of what it means to be Appalachian while also often being thought of as The Other.

11:30–12:15

Country Badassery: Gender Roles in Appalachian Literature
Marianne Worthington, Ron Houchin, Richard Hague
Over and over again, in literature we find that characters are often squarely defined by their gender, with societal factors determining what is “feminine” and what is “masculine.” At the same time, some writers often try to prove themselves as “gritty” while others are pigeon-holed because of their portrayals of gender.  What really makes a badass?  And what does that even mean?  Four writers who often tackle issues of domesticity, machismo, strength, and gender expectations discuss this complex issue.

1:30 – 1:45

Matt Parsons
Sam Gleaves introduces Matt Parsons, who sings two original songs.

1:45–2:15

Keynote Two: The Irony of Appalachian Literature  
Maurice Manning
Appalachian Literature began to form an identity for the people of the region at the same time that large industry and migration were threatening the very culture.  This Pulitzer Prize finalist poet offers an enlightening keynote on this irony and the way irony is not only a significant literary device in the classic works of Appalachian Literature but also a natural feature of the culture.

2:15–3:00

To Tell the Truth: Writing Creative Nonfiction in a Culture of Secrets and Polite Denial
Erik Reece, Anne Shelby, Jason Howard, Crystal Wilkinson
Appalachia is arguably a place that has held onto notions of “not talking about that” and outright denial longer than the larger culture.  How does this impact creative nonfiction writers who are trying to tell the essential truth about a place and its people?  Some of our best nonfiction writers tackle the subject. 

4:30–5:30

A Public Conversation Between Legends
Loyal Jones and Gurney Norman 
These two friends also happen to be two of the people who have had some of the most significant impact on the culture and the literature of Appalachia.  Jones and Norman close out our symposium with a rousing conversation that is sure to delight and inform.