What is an Appalachian Coal Miner's Daughter?

In 2011, I published a poem called “The Coal Miner’s Daughter Gets a Ph.D.” I examined the culture shock I experienced when my dad abandoned the mines and their constant strikes to move from West Virginia to Illinois. In 1998 when I left my career as a high school Spanish teacher to pursue a Ph.D., I encountered more feelings of inadequacy as I entered a profession where I perceived the my colleagues as coming from different backgrounds from my own. Recently I wrote a book describing these journeys. As I struggled, my husband insisted that we return to Fayetteville, West Virginia, the place that first shaped me as an activist. Following this trip, I wrote a chapter called, “Am I Really an Appalachian Coal Miner’s Daughter?” questioning what it means to be Appalachian, a term I didn’t know when my family left West Virginia. As we drove the Coal Heritage Trail and visited places I knew from my childhood that are now museums of coal mining, I questioned whether those of us who left and returned as middle-aged adults still belong. I explore the following questions: How are we insiders? Or outsiders? How do we articulate that inner core of Appalachian-ness that formed us and determines how we navigate the world?