by John Bealle

Imagine a thousand of the brightest minds of Appalachia – scholars, writers, activists, artists – coming to Cincinnati. This will happen in April of 2018 when UACC hosts the annual conference of the Appalachian Studies Association.

What would you expect to see at an Appalachian studies conference? At the 2017 conference in Blacksburg, Virginia, these were my highlights: a middle school teacher who was using Appalachian novels in an international classroom to model diversity; gender identity in first-generation male college students; the development of Appalachian flood control; industrial accidents as “acts of God”; depictions of sexual violence in Appalachia; the hillbilly as a media construct; Appalachian punks and radicals; the politics of land ownership; substance abuse in Appalachian fiction.

Who attends an Appalachian studies conference? In addition to students and professors, I met schoolteachers, health workers, addiction counselors, social workers, poets and writers, musicians, environmental activists, land rights activists, and college administrators.


The 2018 conference theme will focus on “Restitching the Seams: Appalachia Beyond Its Borders,” inviting participants to address the issues that affect Appalachians both inside and outside the region. We are soliciting presentations on six sub-themes: migration, health, education, economic development, environmental sustainability, and diversity and inclusion.

The 2018 conference seeks to stake our region’s claim to a role in this conversation. In the Cincinnati metro area, some 40% of residents report some degree of Appalachian family heritage. Conference planners aim to showcase Cincinnati Appalachians, particularly their significance in advocacy and in the arts.

  • over 200 sessions of conference presentations
  • conference headquarters – the Millennium and Hyatt Hotels in downtown Cincinnati.
  • exhibit room with organization and publisher displays and a silent auction
  • evening entertainment in downtown and Over-the-Rhine, including an Urban Appalachian Showcase at the Aronoff Center
  • engagement of regional advocacy and support organizations
  • pre-conference education programs and community celebrations

The community engagement initiative includes school residencies, teacher training, and a special student-oriented Schooltime show at the Aronoff. Literary salons will focus on the conference theme of Appalachian diversity. We hope to collaborate with Wordplay on an Appalachian-themed poetry slam. During the conference period, we hope have celebrations in downtown and Over-the-Rhine locations that include bluegrass, old-time music, Appalachian literature, Appalachian punk rock, songwriters, and a square dance.

Debbie Zorn, 2018 Appalachian Studies Association Conference Chair

The conference chair is Debbie Zorn of the University of Cincinnati, a former president of the Appalachia Studies Association. Joy Gritton of Morehead State University is program chair. Omope Carter Daboiku is the local arrangements coordinator. The conference organizing body, with participation from UACC and from regional institutions, has been working since mid-2016.


UACC will also seek to define its voice in hosting the conference. Our organization emerged in 2014 from the Urban Appalachian Council (UAC) after UAC had to abandon its social services infrastructure. Eighty stewards met – stalwarts of the half-century of Appalachian advocacy – and vowed to continue the mission as a coalition. Through the stewards, UACC is affiliated with the regional universities, with social service organizations, with advocacy groups, and with some of the region’s finest artists and writers.

A little more than a year ago, the UACC core team voted to serve as 2018 hosts of the annual conference of the Appalachian Studies Association (ASA). Founded in 1978, ASA is the chief intellectual organization of Appalachia. This is a pivotal year to host the conference since Appalachia has recently come into focus as kind of crucible for issues that many Americans face. As ASA has embraced the Appalachian dilemma, its ranks have swelled with young, engaged voices who bring authentic and informed perspectives to these issues.

Participation from greater Cincinnatians is an essential component of the conference. The conference program is a work in progress and there are many opportunities for input and participation from local sponsors and community leaders. We hope to bring our wisdom and experience to bear on issues that affect the wellness of the Appalachian population, including substance abuse, mental health, and physical and economic well-being.

We expect ASA2018 to have a lasting impact on Cincinnati and on UACC. As part of the conference planning, UACC is establishing ongoing collaborative relationships with new arts and community partner organizations. Our research team is renewing its ties to regional universities. A new initiative, the Urban Appalachian Project, is reaching statewide to engage young Appalachians in coordinated civic and intellectual participation.


Since the Urban Appalachian Council was founded in 1974, no similar organization has emerged in any other city in the Appalachian diaspora. This sense of the necessity of our existence was among the compelling forces behind the coming together of the stewards in 2014. With the conference and related activities, UACC aims to solidify the nationwide stature of Cincinnati as a stronghold of urban Appalachian creativity and thought. As a model for Appalachian cities outside the region, we aim to bring more voices of Cincinnati Appalachians into the ASA conversation and bring the issues of ASA into the grasp of Cincinnati Appalachians.

This is easily our most ambitious undertaking. UACC is the first community organization to host the conference, meaning that we are operating without the organizational infrastructure that a university would provide. We are in the midst of an eighteen month planning schedule. Our fundraising goals have not yet been met. We will need to seek every available avenue of publicity. We are calling on Cincinnati Appalachians and their supporters to get behind this.

  • To engage the planning initiative: Debbie Zorn (conference chair) – [email protected]
  • To be a conference volunteer: Leah Sandlin – [email protected]
  • To donate to the fundraising initiative: Debbie Zorn – [email protected]
  • To submit a proposal to the conference: look for the Call for Participation in August
  • To attend the conference: look for the announcement later this year at
  • To attend community engagement events: look for announcements here on and also

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