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  • Editor's Note
  • Jason Howard

In the summer of 1977, Appalachian poet and teacher Albert Stewart extended an invitation to writers throughout the mountains. His request was a simple one, and yet it filled a void in the region, which had finally begun to acknowledge and understand that it had a literary tradition and history as important as any other. Stewart wanted a group of burgeoning writers to meet at the Hindman Settlement School at the Forks [End Page 6] of Troublesome Creek in Knott County, Kentucky, for several days of intense study with himself and several of his fellow mountain literary lions: Harriette Simpson Arnow, Billy C. Clark, and James Still. The gathering was so successful that it happened again the next year, and the year after that.

Forty years later, the Appalachian Writers' Workshop continues to go from strength to strength, and it has become Appalachia's most cherished and celebrated literary gathering. Since its beginning, students have had the opportunity to interact with some of the best writers in both the region and the country, including Lee Smith, Barbara Kingsolver, Maurice Manning, Jim Wayne Miller, Frank X Walker, Robert Morgan, Sharyn McCrumb, Crystal Wilkinson, Silas House, George Ella Lyon, and Ron Rash. They have been challenged and encouraged by them in the classroom and in individual conferences, and broken bread with them in the dining hall. And in a symbol of the egalitarianism fostered by the workshop, they have even shared dish duty, washing plates and scrubbing pots and pans, and occasionally joining together in song.

Once you have sung together, once you have sweated alongside one another over a sink of steaming dishwater, you become family—"Hindman family," a term used by attendees to describe the community the workshop has built over the years. Indeed, the whole week is like a reunion, one in which conversations are apt to drift from the symbolism present in Yeats's poetry to the success—or failure—of one's garden back home. Learned yet unpretentious, the workshop has shaped an entire generation of creative writers who are contributing to the region's literature.

In addition to the teachers, much of this credit for the workshop's impact must go to the Settlement School's executive directors. From his hiring in 1977 until his untimely death in 2012, Mike Mullins brought his vision and discernment to [End Page 7] organizing each year's gathering, and his energetic spirit and warnings to be alert for snakes on the mountainside continue to echo through the Great Hall. Under the current leadership of Brent Hutchinson, the workshop is reaching new heights with innovative classes and local food offerings, all the while maintaining a fidelity to its communal beginnings.

While thinking about how to best commemorate this anniversary, I kept returning to the bond between the workshop and this magazine. Four years before he started the annual gathering at Troublesome, Stewart had founded Appalachian Heritage "to provide [an] alternate presentation" of the region's culture and people through literature. Most of the staff at that first workshop were already frequent contributors to the magazine, a tradition that would be continued over the next forty years. I realized that creative symbiosis deserved celebration, and for this issue, I have opened our extensive archives to offer readers an anthology of creative writings produced by long-time faculty members of the workshop.

This issue does not seek to be a comprehensive collection; it has been impossible to include everyone who has taught at Hindman over the years. Instead, this issue seeks to capture the spirit of this remarkable workshop by offering a cross-genre sampling of themes often explored at the annual gathering: homecomings and leavings, family ties both strong and frayed, the gossamer veil of past and present, and always, an abiding love of words, music, and the natural world.

Forty years later, Albert Stewart's invitation still stands. It is a summons to those for whom a writing life is still but a dream, to those who are seasoned but find themselves in need of fresh inspiration, to the young and old and rural and urban, to those seeking a literary community built on a...


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