Creating Community Space for Modern Appalachian Storytelling

Community arts, including spoken word poetry, have a long history as a tool for community development, and particularly for youth (Niba & Green, 2005). This paper will explore the tradition of Appalachian storytelling and imagine how spoken word poetry, which has become increasingly popular in urban parts of the United States, can help bring Appalachian stories of self and community from the front porch to the microphone. This paper presentation will provide suggestions regarding the creation of opportunities for community storytelling, in the form of spoken word or song, like open microphone events and talent shows, that strengthen Appalachian communities by enabling individuals of all ages to share their lives with each other through language. Observations from a pilot program at the Pine Mountain Settlement School in Harlan County, Kentucky will guide the paper’s suggested planning and implementation strategies. The paper will offer suggestions for navigating samples of spoken word material, which often explores increasingly politicized topics that may be particularly polarizing in Appalachia, and detail the steps necessary for planning an open microphone event in a rural area. The goal of the paper is to demonstrate how the tradition of Appalachian storytelling offers potential for more modern performances of spoken self and community histories for Appalachian people of all ages.