Stephenson Center for Appalachia events in November examine history of region and impact on modern culture

The John B. Stephenson Center for Appalachia will be hosting two events in early November as part of their ongoing speaker series to provide an educational experience that enriches the knowledge and understanding of Appalachian culture in the community in and around Lees-McRae.

On Wednesday, Nov. 2, Visiting Associate Instructor of Speech and Communication at Lees-McRae Abby Arnold-Patti will deliver her talk, “The Double-Edged Sword of Tourism in Appalachia,” which will delve into the current and historical development of identity and wilderness in Southern Appalachia, and the impact that development has on tourism in the region.

In addition to being an instructor at Lees-McRae, Arnold-Patti is also a doctoral candidate at the University of Memphis where she studies the intersection of identity, history, and place through ethnography and critical rhetoric. Her research has an emphasis on wilderness, tourism, and Appalachia.

Throughout her career, Arnold-Patti’s work has been published in numerous academic journals and other publications, including the Journal for the History of Rhetoric, Journal of Autoethnography, Southern Communication Journal, and more. She has also earned many awards for her research, including her most recent recognition, Outstanding Research Award by the University of Memphis College of Arts & Sciences.

“I like to focus on what’s really close to home, that’s why I want to talk about tourism, because it’s part of who we are in the community,” Director of the Stephenson Center for Appalachia Kathy Olson said. “I want to bring this to campus, but I also want to give community members something to take away with them, so whether they’re from here or they’re visiting, they’ll know a little bit more about the region.”

The next evening, on Thursday, Nov. 3, folk singer and storyteller Lee Knight will deliver his talk, “From a Song Catcher’s Notebook,” which will focus on the folk tradition from Beech Mountain through the performance of stories and songs.

In addition to delving into the history of folktales through discussion of storytellers who came before him, Knight will also perform Beech Mountain folk songs, ballads, and mountain spirituals on his fretless banjo and Appalachian dulcimer.

After growing up in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York, Knight became interested in folk music and began attending local festivals throughout Appalachia, the first of which was at Lees-McRae in the 1960s.

“From that experience, I decided I wanted to learn the songs from people who have had them in their families, communities, and cultures,” Knight said. “I have collected songs in my native Adirondacks, the Southern Appalachians, the Sea Islands of South Carolina, the Mississippi Delta, Canada, Central Asia, Russia, Colombia, Peru, and China.”

Throughout his career Knight has recorded three solo albums, including “An Untraditional Journey,” “From the Appalachians,” and “Songs to Keep: Traditional Adirondack North Country Songs, Words & Music.”

With the talks from both Arnold-Patti and Knight, Olson hopes to share a story of modern Appalachia by examining the past and understanding how it has evolved into the culture in this region today.

“The mission of the Stephenson Center involves a great deal of outreach. As much as we’re fixed on campus, I also want to be a fixture in the community. I want the community to be able to use us as a resource for information whether it’s historical or whether it’s current,” Olson said. “Without looking at Appalachian culture today, without looking at where it has taken us and how we got here, we’re missing a huge part of the story.”

Lees-McRae students, faculty, staff, and community members are invited by the Stephenson Center for Appalachia to come gain a more in-depth understanding of this area we all call home. The talks by both Arnold-Patti and Knight will be held at 7 p.m. in Evans Auditorium on their respective evenings. Evans Auditorium is located in Cannon Student Center on the North Campus. The events are free and open to the public.

By Maya JarrellOctober 27, 2022