After decades of mountaintop removal, chemical spills, and the enclosure of forestland, Central Appalachia faces acute economic challenges. But while many landscapes have been scarred, patches of verdant forest and healthy streams are reminders that the region is not defined by environmental degradation or economic distress.
As Central Appalachia transitions away from a historic reliance on coal, the stories, folklore, and literature that link Appalachians to the land are an important resource that reveal what communities need to thrive. This vital knowledge is rarely incorporated into the work of policy makers or assessments of the region’s health. Collaborating with the nonprofit Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN), Karen Rignall will use the Fellowship to work with residents of Harlan County, Kentucky, to gather stories of place and infuse them into local land use planning processes.
Privileging deep in-person interactions, Rignall will draw on both her academic background as a cultural anthropologist and her prior work as a community development coordinator in the US and Morocco. She and her collaborators will work with local partners to recruit and train youth as story collectors and connect them with community mentors to document and map stories of place. Sharing these stories, art and music will support youth and other community members in efforts to engage policymakers and officials, elevating local voices in planning for an equitable economic transition in Appalachia.