Talking Folklife, Hotdogs And The Asian-Appalachian Experience


This week, we talk with folklorist Emily Hilliard about her new book exploring contemporary folklife and Appalachian culture — like the lore behind the West Virginia slaw dog.

We’ll also hear about the Asian-Appalachian experience from a student filmmaker who was born in China and grew up in western Maryland, and we’ll travel back to 2016 and listen to an interview with JD Vance.

Back then, he was a newly published author, promoting his book, “Hillbilly Elegy.” Now, he’s Ohio’s newly elected U.S. senator.

You’ll hear these stories and more this week, Inside Appalachia.

In This Episode: 

Real Appalachian Culture

Emily Hilliard knows a whole lot about West Virginia hot dogs. And independent pro wrestling. And the author Breece D’J Pancake. Emily’s a folklorist, and we’ve talked with her before on Inside Appalachia.

Now, she’s poured a lot of that knowledge into a new book, “Making Our Future: Visionary Folklore and Everyday Culture in Appalachia.”

Reporter Zack Harold sat down with Emily to talk about it. And, — if you know Zack — you won’t be surprised to hear, he goes right to hot dogs.

An East-West Connection

Jade Ruggieri was adopted from China by American parents when she was a year old. She moved to rural western Maryland in eighth grade. She’s now a graduate student at West Virginia University. For a class project, she made a film about the Asian-Appalachian experience. That is, fellow students she found, who were adopted from Asia and grew up in Appalachian communities.

We spoke with Ruggieri about her project and her experiences.

A Look Back At JD Vance Before Politics

Few recent American figures have been as polarizing as author-turned politician JD Vance. His book, “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” has been alternately praised and damned.

Some people say the book explained the rise of Donald Trump in 2016. And others say “Hillbilly Elegy” wallows in age-old stereotypes about Appalachia, generalizing about the poor, without addressing the root causes of poverty.

“Hillbilly Elegy” sold more than a million copies and was turned into a 2020 film on Netflix that was nominated for two Oscars and two Razzies. Vance went on to enter politics and was elected this month as a U.S. senator from Ohio.

But back in 2016, before Vance got into politics, and even before Donald Trump was elected president, former Inside Appalachia host Jessica Lilly spoke with Vance about his then-new book, “Hillbilly Elegy.”

Looking Under Rocks On Shenandoah Mountain

Conservation photography students from Western Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia have been documenting biodiversity on Shenandoah Mountain, a mountain ridge that spans 73 miles between Virginia and West Virginia. And the ridge, among other things, is home to the Shenandoah Mountain salamander.

Randi B. Hagi with WMRA tagged along with the class and brought us this story.

Art Of The Hunt

Hunting and art have long intersected. Some of the earliest cave paintings discovered depict the hunts of early tribes. Hunting related art continues today.

West Virginia artist Brian Aliff has turned his passion for painting the wild turkey into prize-winning, decorative turkey calls. These functional works of art are fast becoming collectors items. But growing up in Bluefield, it took a while for Aliff to think of himself as an artist.

Folkways reporter Connie Bailey Kitts followed Aliff out into the woods, where turkeys had been earlier in the day. Aliff picked up a small wooden instrument with a hinged lid, known as a turkey call. With a rhythmic cadence, he rocked the lid back and forth, creating a sound that mimicked the yelp of a hen, trying to find her flock.


Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Hot Rize, Valerie June, Jesse Milnes and Hillbilly Gypsies.

Bill Lynch is our producer. Our executive producer is Eric Douglas. Kelley Libby is our editor. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this episode.

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