I think it’s fair to say I’ve been fairly busy lately. Between a nightmare inducing time at work, dealing with visa stuff, cranking out the odd book review, bingeing on brilliant podcasts and books as well as coordinating everyday life so we don’t go without food and clean clothes, I’ve been spending my time doing something pretty darn interesting. Since the end of June, I’ve been a part of an amazing community which has grown by leaps and bounds in a matter of weeks.
The Humans of Central Appalachia project was started only back in May of this year, but Malcolm Wilson’s photography and the words of his subjects have attracted (now) over 15,000 likes on their Facebook page. Malcolm and his wife run the project in their spare time, gathering interviews and photos largely at festivals and events where they can meet with several people at one time.
I first came across HOCA thanks to the Kentucky for Kentucky blog (also a great project) and was instantly attracted to Malcolm’s photography style. It was only after spending an hour or so reading through every post from the very beginning that I realised I was hooked. I also wanted to see if I could be involved in some way. Luckily for me, HOCA put out a call for volunteers and I’m now a ‘Word Wrangler’… each week I transcribe anywhere from one to five interviews ranging in length from a few minutes to 30. And I absolutely love it. I get the chance to hear amazing stories from normal people, a variety of viewpoints on Appalachian culture.
Let me just say… I’m not from Appalachia. But I am from Kentucky and I do identify with Appalachian culture. I went to school in the foothills of Appalachia (Berea College) and those four years were some of the best of my life. I wear my Kentucky necklace every single day with pride. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to moving back to the region.
I think Appalachia needs more positive projects like HOCA to help combat all of the negative stereotypes about the region. Living over here in London, I can tell you that even just telling people I’m from Kentucky invites a whole slew of assumptions. Things I’ve heard or been asked (by complete strangers, clients etc) include:
- Kentucky? Oh, like the fried chicken.
- Do you play the banjo?
- You’ve got all of your teeth!
- So when you go home do you still wear shoes?
- But you haven’t got a heavy (Southern) accent!
I wish I was making all of that up, but they’re all true. If that’s the way outsiders see Kentuckians (and I’m from a big city) I can only imagine what they might say if I told them I was from a small town in Central Appalachia. I think the stereotypes surrounding Appalachia are just as much of a problem as the economy, drugs/alcohol and decline of coal mining. I’m proud to be part of something that’s looking to change all of that, one person at a time.
If you want to know more about the Humans of Central Appalachia project or want to check out some of their amazing photos and stories, check out their Facebook page. Also, recently (and excitingly!) one of my favourite podcasts, NPR’s Inside Appalachia, interviewed Malcom about HOCA for an episode called ‘What Happens When Strangers With Cameras Travel Inside Appalachia‘. The whole episode is just under an hour and is insanely interesting and touches on the recent VICE photo essay called ‘Two Days in Appalachia’ and the controversy surrounding the piece. It’s definitely worth a listen (as are the other episodes). Check out the full episode here or subscribe and download the episode via your podcast app of choice.
Photos from Humans of Central Appalachia used with permission.