Over Spring Break at UVa-Wise, I emailed Dr. Amy Clark a list of questions about Appalachian culture and literature. On Wednesday, March 20th, I received an email in response to those questions, filled with information that contextualized the subject and significance of my case.
In total, I asked seven different questions, divided into two different categories: general questions and novel-based questions. Generally, I asked:
- “How did you first get into studying Appalachian culture and literature?” (Clark, 2019)
- “What would you say that it means to be Appalachian?” (Clark, 2019)
- “What is the role of Appalachian literature, especially in regard to promoting and preserving Appalachian culture?” (Clark, 2019)
- “Are there any general themes/motifs that typically emerge in Appalachian literature?” (Clark, 2019)
To look at specific practices within Clyde Edgerton’s The Floatplane Notebooks, I asked:
- “In the novel, the characters travel to a family graveyard once a year to clean it and to share family stories. How is death generally regarded in Appalachian tradition?” (Clark, 2019)
- “Also, the characters often spend time sharing family stories, or just talking together. What is the significance of the oral tradition in Appalachian culture?” (Clark, 2019)
- “Finally, one of the characters (Mr. Copeland) keeps a journal to record progress on a plane that he’s building, but he also uses the journal to keep family records and events (Edgerton, 2017). Is the practice of keeping journals or records common, and what purpose might it serve for the family or the people who do keep those records?” (Clark, 2019)
Dr. Clark’s answers taught me several important things about Appalachian literature and The Floatplane Notebooks, which I am eager to include on my website. First, in her answers to the general questions, she continually highlighted the changing nature of Appalachian culture and the diversity that is present in Appalachian literature. For example, in trying to define what she felt it means to be Appalachian, Clark (2019) wrote:
“How people identify as Appalachian differs because it’s a complex region, contrary to stereotypes that paint us as poor, white, straight Protestants. The region is about 900 miles long and its migration patterns and industries have shaped the northern, midland, and southern cultures in unique ways” (para. 2).
This particular piece of information is helpful for my project because it acknowledges the complexity of the region and supports the importance of defining the geographical layout of Appalachia. For me, this piece of information also prompted me to consider an additional way I could expand the context section of my site, as I didn’t consider examining the region by area. However, considering the book is set in North Carolina and Florida (Edgerton, 2017), I believe that giving more attention the relevant regional culture of the novel and the case would provide a more thought provoking and accurate contextual examination for the project.
In looking at the questions based on practices discussed in the novel, a lot of the topics she discussed confirmed and gave more detail about practices I was already familiar with from taking an Appalachian literature course a few semesters ago and from growing up in the region. Out of all the questions, I was particularly intrigued by Dr. Clark’s comments about the importance of story-telling because it related to the content of The Floatplane Notebooks’ story and to the origin of the novel. In the interview, Dr. Clark (2019) stated:
“So many people in Appalachia say they were raised among “front porch storytellers.” The oral tradition has its roots in preliterate days when ballads were the primary ways that people entertained themselves or taught moral lessons to the young. I listened to stories among my family in many situations, from putting up tobacco to women giving each other home permanents to canning tomatoes in the kitchen. The work we do gives us the means to gather and talk. The oral tradition is also significant because, like literature, it preserves, whether it’s story, music, or dialects.” (para. 6).
While I orignally asked the question to inquire about the character’s practices in the novels, the answer reminded me of the author’s letter in the beginning of the novel. When discussing the
process of writing The Floatplane Notebooks and the story of how he began writing novels, Edgerton (2017) states that:
“And I knew that as soon as Meredith fell through the floor, driven by his own weight, members of my real family would be among the crowd rushing in to see what had happened. Leading the pack was my great-uncle Alfred. I’d heard so many stories about Uncle Alfred that he had years before become one of my favorite uncles, even though he died way before I was born.” (p. xiv)
Discussing the importance of story-telling highlights the importance of the novel as a whole, in addition to its individual voices. Examining the role of oral history also supports arguments against censorship of the novel – oral history serves as an admission that the novel is much more than fiction, and in a way, is a creative remembrance and embrace of history and heritage. I was aware of the importance of stories and individual perspectives in the original planning of my site, which is partially why I decided to structure the case into different perspectives. However, the fact that the idea of the story-telling carries through both the story of the novel and the story behind the novel is a worth-while confirmation of the themes I have explored through reading and building the website.
Overall, the interview with Dr. Clark provided me with many different insights about the project and the case, and the interview serves as a great as frame for me as I start to work on presenting the case section of the website over the course of this week.
To view the full text of the interview, *click here!
Appalachian Regional Commission. (2009, November). Subregions of Appalachia [Map]. Retrieved March 25, 2019, from https://www.arc.gov/research/MapsofAppalachia.asp?MAP_ID=31
Clark, A. D. (2019, March 20). Appalachian Context Interview [E-mail interview].
Edgerton, C. (2017). The Floatplane Notebooks. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.
*Turner, T. (2019, March 25). Context. Retrieved March 25, 2019, from http://burn.coplacdigital.org/uvawise/context/
Turner, T. (2019, March 23). Picture in Thornrose Cemetery [Personal photograph taken in Staunton, VA].