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  • Voices from Troublesome CreekForty Years of the Appalachian Writers' Workshop
  • Sandra Ballard (bio), Amy Clark (bio), Silas House (bio), Jason Howard, and Amanda Jo Slone (bio)

At the 2017 Appalachian Studies Association Conference, Appalachian Heritage editor Jason Howard convened a roundtable discussion to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Appalachian Writers' Workshop. Joining him to discuss their experiences at the forks of Troublesome [End Page 111] Creek were Sandra Ballard, nonfiction writer and editor of Appalachian Journal; Amy Clark, writer and teacher; Silas House, novelist and teacher; and Amanda Jo Slone, fiction writer, teacher and editor of The Pikeville Review. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.



The workshop has offered emerging and burgeoning writers the opportunity to stand and to study with some of the region's premier literary talent, and so I think of it almost as the first chapter of the Gospel According to Saint Matthew [with] all the begats and the begatting that happens at Hindman. [The] teachers have fostered new generations of creative talent and notable Appalachian writers. When I was putting this panel together, I was thinking: well, who could I pull together to illustrate the workshop's history and all that it encompasses? These four panelists were among the first that sprang to mind.


When I started thinking about my time at Hindman, it's hard to come up with a quick way to describe that. Three words that I came up with as my kind of guiding lights were invitations, and inspiration, and community…

The very first time I went to Hindman was 1986, and I was working on a dissertation; that was the year that Harriette Arnow died, and there was a celebration of her life that summer. I was invited as a doctoral student just to give a talk, and I got to meet lots of people who had been her students at Hindman, people who were her family members I had not met…Mr. Still put me at ease. I felt welcome there, and I found [End Page 112] out later Jim Wayne Miller had reached out to Joyce Carol Oates and God knows who else to come to this celebration, and they got me as one of the people, and I was just amazed at that…

I [recently] went looking back to the correspondence that [former Hindman Settlement School Director] Mike Mullins let me see from Harriette. She would write to him every time after she was there. From the very first workshop, she would write back and say, "Please don't feel I was overworked. I enjoyed the work. I realize that writing is usually a lonely business, especially for the beginner. I think that one important good of a writers workshop is the chance to talk both with published and beginning writers, discuss problems and pleasures." In one letter she went on to say, "You indicate my work was worth more than the amount paid. I received a great deal more. The food and the lodging, which Harold and I enjoyed, could be measured in dollars and cents. There were many other good things I found immeasurable. What price to me who has no hills at home is a green hill in full sight of my window and the creek I always stopped to become acquainted with on my way to class? What price being among admirable staff members and interesting students who are often admirable themselves. What price listening to talks and readings by staff and young poets." So she felt she got paid back, and she said the value was "immeasurable."

Hindman is like Brigadoon. It just kind of appears because we show up, and then it's gone and you can't even explain it to somebody who hasn't been there.


The first time I heard about Hindman was from this book because it was assigned to me [in] my [End Page 113] undergraduate Appalachian lit class…And after grad school when I was trying to write, I started stalking Lee Smith because I discovered her novels, and I went to every reading I could. She probably thought I was crazy. And...


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