Wildcrafting Our Queerness: Electric Dirt and the Queer Reappropriation of Appalachian History Part 1 (Update #6)

The first edition of the first entry in the Foxfire series, from 1972. The most recent book in the series, Foxfire 12, was released in 2004.

In my last post, I briefly explored the ways in which the structure and the material build of Electric Dirt called upon DIY aesthetics to create a non-centralized means of archiving the queer experience in Appalachia, even if academic institutions refuse to do so.  For this post, I will do an equally brief glimpse into the magazine to show some of the content and the ways in which it similarly engages with the process of archiving.  Looking at every single image, poem, short story, recipe, interview, etc. in this 200 page text would be admittedly a little overboard for a blog post, so I’ll take a look at one specific section of the magazine which I see as embodying the two major parts of the magazine; art which engages with Appalachian history to tease out the queer undertones and art which establishes new elements of Appalachian culture which are decidedly queer.

For the first type; Appalachian history, even its progressive sides, often fall prey to the idea that great men are the sole shapers of the region. From farmers to musicians to coal mine strikers, the image of an Appalachian person in the academic and general imagination is a straight, ruggedly masculine man (and often a white man at that).  Such a framing of Appalachian history and culture naturally excludes women, those operating outside of the gender binary, and the variety of expression that queer people exhibit.  In response to this patriarchal domineering over the region, the Queer Appalachia Project often takes prominent elements of Appalachian culture and history and reframes it in a queer, anti-patriarchal fashion.  The longform discussions of history that a magazine format enables even better suits the group’s reappropriation of the region’s past.

One such example of this reappropriation is the article “Foxfire: The Cultural Heritage Movement Comes Out of the Closet.” Consisting of an interview with TJ Smith, current director of the Foxfire Foundation, a group focused on expanding and preserving the culture of Southern Appalachia.  The Foxfire Foundation—perhaps best known by the general public for their series of books which, much like Electric Dirt, contain a multitude of pictures, recipes, homesteading information, and stories of Appalachian life—has become a cultural ambassador of sorts for the region.  The interview outlines the ways in which the group and its mission fits neatly in place with the goals of the Queer Appalachia Project by engaging with the forgotten voices in the region.  When discussing the importance of oral histories and the ways in which they expose the “volumes of knowledge” that each person holds, TJ Smith states:

“I immediately connected the experience od Southern Appalachian community to the experience of the LBTQ community (specifically, the LGBTQ community in Southern Appalachia—a double whammy)—really to all communities who feel maligned and misrepresented, misunderstood and castigate. All of that comes from interpersonal apathy and laziness on our part as human beings.[1]

For the director of a cultural influential institution to acknowledge the lack of representation of queer people in Appalachian history, despite the immense presence of queer people in Appalachian history, and vow to expand this presence, is itself the first steps to the queer reclamation of a region’s past on an academic level, which will hopefully expand into spheres of material activism.  Moreover, as the introduction to the interview states, the Queer Appalachia Project will “include an official Foxfire section with a hand written introduction by the foundation’s executive director, TJ Smith,” indicating that the past and future of the long-esteemed Appalachian institution will be incomplete without its queer contributions.

This post is already getting longer than I expected, so I’m going to hold off on analyzing the second half of the magazine’s Foxfire section (which contains a multitude of lovely photographs) and the ways in which it constructs a new future for queer Appalachians for the next blog post. See you soon!

[1] Mamone, ed., Electric Dirt, vol. 1 (Bluefield, WV: Queer Appalachia, 2017), 106.