For the past year, we’ve been asking people what Appalachia means to them. From fireflies to “calloused hands and hearty laughs,” vintage photographs of generations of women making wine together, and an incredibly comprehensive list of the top twelve rock climbing spots, there is a lot to love about Appalachia. Inclusivity and creativity are evidenced in the stories we’ve collected. New food pantries for pets, new words to describe old populations, new names for puppet companies, all of these exhibit a dedication to the New Appalachia. A shift is starting to happen, a reclamation. A connection to each other and to our needs.
Each person reiterated how much Appalachia has meant to them because of what it has given them, not in spite of it. They talked about the capacity of their communities to hold them close in hard times. They talked about their personal histories and connections, and, without fail, they talked about the physical beauty of the land. Mariamne Kaba, a noted prison abolitionist, activist, and organizer, offers the mantra, “Let this radicalize you rather than lead you to despair.” The positivity ascribed to these situations is astounding.
In America, I think we often view hope as a shield between ourselves and an outcome we don’t wish to see. I think we “hope for the best” and, in doing so, try to trick ourselves into imagining that anything other than “the best” is a potential outcome. It is my belief that a more dynamic and powerful form of hope comes in acknowledging and holding all the possibilities of an outcome within you. This is the more ancient form of hope, the kind referred to in mythology, the hope Pandora found at the bottom of the box of evils.
Appalachia has this type of hope in spades. Every person we talked to taught us something to love about this place, or showed us something worth saving. Despite hearing about forests overtaking childhood neighborhoods, opioid addiction, abandoned downtowns, and family struggles, we returned to hope again and again. We are inspired by the tenacity of those making moves in their communities, whether by creating excellent zines, facilitating online arts communities, or thoroughly researching the history of what made a place the way it is.