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Hannah Harvey: Telling Tales of Coalminers, Gaelic Fairies and More

Hannah Harvey is a storyteller steeped in Appalachian tradition. Her stories, like a family tree, draw webbed lines from the present deep into the past, from contemporary coal miners’ lives to her own family memories, even back to the ancestors of Appalachia: the Gaelic stories. With humor and gravity in the telling, Harvey strives to give voice to a contemporary Appalachian identity richer and more complex than any of the stereotypes about the region she loves.

On a sunny June day at the Exchange Place in Kingsport, Tenn., this means bounding across a grassy stage in front of high school students and gesticulating wildly to convey the fact that in Scotland, fairies are not the happy little creatures on Hallmark greeting cards. Fairies are, in fact, very dangerous. Subsequently, we learn that coal miners are not actually “backward hillbillies,” but technologically savvy men and women. And Hannah Harvey herself is an Appalachian storyteller, but she’s not a grizzled, banjo-plucking man. She’s a vibrant young performer, professor and mother.

Growing up in northeastern Tennessee, Harvey loved to listen to her grandfather’s masterful stories of the Virginia holler he called home.  Taking these loquacious roots away with her on an academic career in performance studies, she says, “One of the things that shocked me moving away, gettin’ all educated, was the impression that people had about this region, things that you could never say about any other cultural group. Growing up here myself, I’ve felt this onus to kind of change that wider opinion.”

The deaths of her grandparents a few years ago and the inheritance of her grandfather’s farm incited Harvey and her husband to “start thinking more intentionally about family.” Wanting to foster in their children the intergenerational ties they had known themselves, they moved “from six-lane-highway-commute Atlanta to the single-lane dirt road of our farm.” Thus Harvey has come full circle and returned to her Appalachian roots with a house in Tennessee and a mailbox in Virginia – a hassle that, naturally, as Harvey tells it, becomes a funny story.

 

 

Featured Blue Ridge Videos

Hannah Harvey: Telling Tales of Coalminers, Gaelic Fairies and More. (Click to Read More.)

Riding The Wind at Lookout Mountain. (Click to Read More.)