After a 500 mile drive in 90+ heat, I’ve alit in Ferrum, VA–to attend a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute called “Appalachia Up-Close.” Ferrum College is a delightful place (see picture; I took it this afternoon) and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the first day’s program–including a presentation by Gordon McKinney of Berea College (and one of the eminences of Appalachian studies) who showed me I have a long way to go before I’ll be ready to publish anything related to the field. McKinney will talk to us more tomorrow, focusing on The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War, a book he wrote with John Inscoe. I’m particularly looking forward to this, as two of my great-great-grandfathers were Confederate soldiers from one of the counties the book focuses on.
Tonight, by contrast, provided an unexpected treat: Ferrum drama professor R. Rex Stephenson, Jody Brown of the English department, and the Jack Tales Players performed songs and Jack Tales for us. Though my family is thoroughly Appalachian, I had no idea of this body of tales, and was entranced. In one of them, Jack saves the daughter of the King of Virginia by capturing death in a sack and leaving him tied up in an elm tree–only to discover that no one was dying at all afterward, and that people (160 or so years later) were getting a little tired of living.