Thriving Artists in Appalachia

Thriving Artists in Appalachia: Teaching at Hindman, Witnessing at Berea

Twenty years ago, I was a student in the poetry workshop at Hindman, brought there by the woman who would become family, the only other southerner in our MFA program at Penn State. What an honor it was to return to the banks of Troublesome Creek to teach at the 42nd annual Appalachian Writers’ Workshop this summer. Alongside readings by Dorothy Allison and Robert Stipe, the week included a screening of hillbilly. Featuring bell hooks, Ronny Cox and Billy Redden from Deliverance, director Michael Apted, activists and writers Frank X Walker, Crystal Good, and Silas House, and musicians Sam Gleaves and Amythyst Kiah, this documentary deconstructs mainstream representations of Appalachia. Where did the hillbilly archetype come from and why has it endured on-screen for more than a hundred years? How do Appalachian and rural people view themselves as a result and what is the impact on the rest of America?

Commissioned to document the 3rd annual Artists Thrive Summit, I spent three days after Hindman at Berea College. “An initiative offering activities, practices, language, visions and values of what it means to survive and thrive as an artist and what it means to have a thriving arts sector and eventually, thriving communities,” Artists Thrive strives to “change the narrative in the field and raise the value of artists in every community.” I will write 10 poems over the next 3 months in response to what I heard and saw at the conference.




  • Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Department of English & Creative Writing
  • Hindman Settlement School is a vibrant beacon for progressive learning, community enrichment, and cultural exploration in the Central Appalachian region. Executive Director Brent D. Hutchinson is a 2019 Obama Fellow.
  • Founded in 1855, Berea College was the first interracial and coeducational college in the South. Berea is the only one of America's top colleges that awards every enrolled student a no-tuition promise. No student pays for tuition.
  • Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation
  • AIR Institute at Berea College