Now that I'm in Seattle and feel so at home, I often remember my time in Georgia like a thunderclap and the South washes over me with all the people and legends, the weather and the trees, and the valuable lessons I learned as a result of my time there. I never want to settle in to life so easy here that I forget the ways living in a more difficult place forged me. I wrote this last summer, before moving to Seattle, and just rediscovered it in my Dropbox folder. These reflections specifically came out of my time at the Appalachian Writer's Workshop in Hindman, Kentucky, one year ago come June.
When you’ve felt rootless for eight years and you think you have to leave the South to put down roots and then you attend a writing workshop in Kentucky and you are surrounded by like-minded writers who love their soil in the very place you thought you had to leave--you start to doubt yourself for wanting to leave.
I’d always felt like an outsider in Georgia, a misfit. So I started writing stories set in the Southern Appalachian region, in the hopes that it would help me feel some tie to the region I thought I might live in indefinitely. I applied and was accepted to an Appalachian writer’s workshop in Kentucky. Shortly after this, life started giving us clues that we were going to get the chance to leave, to move somewhere we always wanted to live, to go West. When the time for the workshop came, I knew I’d only live in the region for a few more months. I felt like a fraud being there. I almost didn’t go, and I certainly didn’t expect to find kindred spirits there.
I drove six hours to this tiny Kentucky town all by myself, and once I hit highway 80 off the Interstate, the green mountains wooed me. Bright blue sky, winding highway, road passing between tiny towns and into the strata of the mountains. I balanced my camera on the steering wheel, held down the button, and let it click, click, click. Picture after picture of these startling, ancient mountains.
When I arrived, I still felt out of place. It seemed like everyone knew each other already and were hollering and hugging each other. There were nice older ladies who would bake a pie to welcome me if they could. Eventually, though, amongst all the accents and the born-and-raised Kentuckians and Tennesseans, I found friends and began to feel at home. One of the friends I made is from Kentucky, and she writes ecopoetry--jarring and beautiful poetry about mountain-top removal mining. Another friend writes fiction about the lives and families of the Melungeon people in northeastern Tennessee, where he lives.
On the first morning, a mist like grace covered the hillsides around the place we were staying. We shared meals in the dining room, family style. I listened as great, true Appalachian authors explained what Appalachian literature is, and how it’s about displacement and dissatisfaction, alongside an abiding love for the region. Talented and intelligent, these new writing friends infected me with their love for this land of contradictions. Of smoky mountains and sludge-filled streams. Of poverty and generosity. Of language and legend, hard work and hope.