What will Kentucky Book Festival visitors find on your table?
Making Our Future: Visionary Folklore and Everyday Culture in Appalachia (University of North Carolina Press, 2022)
Finalist, 2022 Weatherford Award for Nonfiction, Berea College and Appalachian Studies Association
Drawing from her work as the West Virginia State Folklorist, Emily Hilliard explores contemporary folklife in Appalachia and challenges the common perception of both folklore and Appalachian culture as static, antiquated forms, offering instead the concept of “visionary folklore” as a future-focused, materialist, and collaborative approach to cultural work.
With chapters on the expressive culture of the West Virginia teachers’ strike, the cultural significance of the West Virginia hot dog, the tradition of independent pro wrestling in Appalachia, the practice of nonprofessional women songwriters, the collective counternarrative of a multiracial coal camp community, the invisible landscape of writer Breece D’J Pancake’s hometown, the foodways of an Appalachian Swiss community, the postapocalyptic vision presented in the video game Fallout 76, and more, the book centers the collective nature of folklife and examines the role of the public folklorist in collaborative engagements with communities and culture. Hilliard argues that folklore is a unifying concept that puts diverse cultural forms in conversation, as well as a framework that helps us reckon with the past, understand the present, and collectively shape the future.
Whom do you invite to stop by? Who will benefit from reading your book?
Members of the general public interested in culture, vernacular art, traditional music, foodways, folklore, craft, and literature—particularly in Southern and Appalachian contexts; cultural workers; Appalachians; teachers; academics
Could you please tell us something curious about you and/or your book?
–Making Our Future draws from fieldwork I conducted while working as the West Virginia State Folklorist and Founding Director of the West Virginia Folklife Program at the West Virginia Humanities Council, a position I held from 2015-2021.
-I now work as a Folklorist at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky.
-As part of the research for the chapter “Friends of Coleslaw: On The West Virginia Hot Dog,” I went on a road trip through the Southern coalfields of West Virginia, below the “slaw line” which is like a Mason-Dixon of hot dog condiments that runs through the top third of the state. While a West Virginia hot dog generally consists of chili (also called sauce), slaw, mustard, and onions, above the slaw line, coleslaw is often not available as a hot dog topping.
-A version of the chapter on Appalachian writer Breece D’J Pancake was published in the Oxford American and got a shoutout from editor Sam Sifton in the New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/31/dining/what-to-cook-this-week.html?fbclid=IwAR0oTqOVBB9NyhuEuxTF65qTSJl0j48pDcmgu0KM8V7fW9dRUic5ToTGzTM
-Many of the independent pro-wrestlers I interviewed for the chapter “Will The Squared Circle Be Unbroken” identify as local storytellers and serve as modern day folk heroes in their communities.
-Shirley Campbell, one of the non-professional women songwriters featured in the book, is the sister-in-law of bluegrass musician Ola Belle Reed.
Is this your first time participating in Kentucky Book Festival? If yes – what are you looking forward to the most? If you’ve participated before – what was your favorite experience at the Festival?
Yes! I look forward to (hopefully) being in conversation with another cultural worker or author in a book festival event and to talking with attendees and readers about Appalachian culture.
Emily Hilliard is a folklorist and writer based in Berea, KY. Making Our Future argues that folklore is a unifying concept that puts diverse cultural forms in conversation, as well as a framework that helps us reckon with the past, understand the present, and collectively shape the future.