Celebrating Our Stories: Foxfire’s Irresistible Lure

August 30, 2023

The Foxfire series has long been a favorite of mine. A college folklore course introduced me to the magazine and books, which focus on rural Appalachian culture. Both the story itself and the rural traditions it spotlighted intrigued me. The Foxfire.org website gives this history:

In 1966, a struggling English teacher at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in Northeast Georgia asked his students what would make school more interesting. They decided to create a magazine, featuring stories gathered from their families and neighbors about the pioneer era of southern Appalachia as well as traditions still thriving in the region.

The students called it “Foxfire” after the glow-in-the-dark fungus found in the local hills. This spark of an idea turned into a phenomenon of education and living history, exploring how our past contributes to who we are and what we can become – how the past illuminates our present and inspires imagination.

When I moved to North Idaho and joined the Back to the Land movement in the late 1970s, the Foxfire books provided practical advice for my fledgling life as a homesteader. I gardened, canned, fenced, and chickened my way through the succeeding decades until I landed here in the southern Appalachian Mountains of southwestern North Carolina, just a stone’s throw from Rabun County, Georgia, the original Foxfire setting.

Nowadays, the Foxfire Mountain Heritage Museum in Mountain City, Georgia celebrates that tradition at their Appalachian Village, featuring more than 20 historic log structures, each home to various artifacts representative of life in the mountains. They still publish the magazine, too, although it now focuses on student articles, essays, poetry, creative writing, art, and photography.

This past spring, I attended a presentation at the nearby John C. Campbell Folk School by Kami Ahrens, the museum’s curator. She autographed for me a copy of her new book, The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Women: Stories of Landscape and Community in the Mountain South, which features firsthand accounts of Appalachian women, collected over the years by the Foxfire students and others. I loved the stories.

Last week, while I did some volunteer work in the John C. Campbell Folk School (JCCFS) archives, the archivist invited me to sit in on a training there for people interested in conducting oral interviews. Blue Ridge Public Radio (BPR) is partnering with the Foxfire Museum to collect oral histories about women in Appalachia, a project that coincides with the book release. BPR staff and the JCCFS archivist outlined the steps for an interviewer and provided an easy-to-use toolkit covering setup, equipment, and sample questions to ask. To my surprise, they invited me to be interviewed.

“Why?” I asked. “I’ve only lived here since 2018.”

It seems that the focus is on both the modern and the traditional, on newcomers as well as on women born and raised here. The project seeks information about what drew us here, what we do, and what we think of the place. I gladly shared with them my activities in the archives, where I’ve learned so much about the Folk School—its founder, Olive Dame Campbell, its various programs and activities, its directors, and how it has evolved over the last century—as they are preparing for their centennial celebration in 2026. I described how the JCCFS has experienced many ups and downs. The best years happened under directors who emphasized serving and being part of the local community. The recordings will be available through both BPR and the museum after the project wraps up.

Never in a million years could I have dreamed that my voice would become part of the Foxfire story.

Photo by S. G. Benson

One thought on “Celebrating our stories: Foxfire’s irresistible lure

Denise Mount says: August 31, 2023 at 11:55 am

oh gosh! congrats on the interview! Your volunteering at the Folk School and the Peacock Playhouse inspire me!

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