by Matthew Smith
This fall Miami University’s Hamilton campus hosts a unique and exciting public program, reuniting three powerful voices of Appalachian poetry and storytelling. This free event, entitled “Urban Appalachian Voices: Southwest Ohio Writers Speak of Home,” features performances by Cincinnati’s original Poet Laureate Pauletta Hansel; award-winning storyteller Omope Carter Daboiku; and multitalented writer, teacher, and musician Sherry Cook Stanforth. In addition to their writing and performance, all three artists come together by way of Appalachian identity, place, and community, and by their work with the UACC. I was privileged to get to know them over the course of monthly meetings in Lower Price Hill, as the UACC and allies planned the 2018 Appalachian Studies Association conference entitled “Re-stitching the Seams: Appalachia Beyond its Borders.” The fruition of this conference in Cincinnati owed much to the staunch efforts of Pauletta, Omope, and Sherry, who tackled every challenge with grace and humor. A special highlight was the Urban Appalachian Showcase at the Aronoff Center’s Jarson Kaplan Theater. Omope emceed the event in her inimitable style, introducing memorable poetry by Pauletta and music by Sherry and her three-generational family band Tellico, among other acts.
As Director of Appalachian Studies at Miami’s Regional campuses, I’m proud to present programs like this one on the history, culture, and legacy of Appalachian migration in southwestern Ohio. With support from faculty colleagues, Miami Regionals is also developing new courses and academic offerings, with the goal of building a Minor in Appalachian Studies. Our campuses in Hamilton and Middletown include many students of Appalachian heritage who welcome the opportunity to explore their identity in an inclusive academic setting.
Thinking of “Urban Appalachian Voices,” I emailed Omope, Pauletta, and Sherry for some concluding words on place, art, and belonging. Like all such concepts, of course, “Urban Appalachian” is subjective. Omope told how her identity took root “in Lawrence County, Ohio, while being carried ‘back home’ to the Blue Ridge of Virginia twice a year and the Smokies along the Chattanooga, Tennessee-Chickamauga, Georgia border every summer.” Refusing “to give in to the ‘concrete’ processes of the urban landscape,” she still grows and eats her own food, cherishing “ancestral recipes and archaic turns of phrase, which tend to pop out in puns and comic phrases.”
She views both writing and storytelling as an outflowing of her “memory-making energy to invoke time and place in and on the Appalachian landscape, whether it be stories on the stage or words on the page.” The people Sherry thinks of when she hears the words “‘Urban Appalachian’ … likely use the phrase ‘back home’ when referring to their primary ties. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have no ties to the more urban setting … [but] a form of separation that may exist in their hearts and minds.” Similarly, for Pauletta, the term “speaks to the tension that many … transplants feel, being rural or small town people living urban lives. But too, on a community level it can help describe what I saw when I first moved to Cincinnati and visited communities like Lower Price Hill, East End and Norwood … whole communities were trying to recreate the lives that they had left behind, and doing a pretty good job of it, under the circumstances.” Considering the practice of poetry, she describes its power “to make bridges, not just between people … but also the bridges that are the creation and strengthening of connections within ourselves … I am still the girl who walked to school through the mountain fog that didn’t burn off till noon. I can revisit her in poems, and through those poems, I can introduce her to others, and we all learn more about ourselves and each other.”
“Urban Appalachian Voices”: Thursday, October 11, 2018, 5-7 pm at the Harry T. Wilks Conference Center, Miami University Hamilton. Free public event; includes reception.
Blog by Matthew Smith
In addition to serving as Director of Appalachian Studies at Miami’s Regional campuses, Matthew Smith, PhD (History) is Humanities & Creative Arts Director of Public Programs. Follow his work related to student veterans programming on Twitter – From War Zone to Home: A National Endowment for the Humanities Dialogue at twitter.com/Warzone2H.