Historically, Appalachia has been misrepresented, Tiffany Arnold, a lecturer in Ohio University’s Appalachian studies program, said. Dating back to the 1800s, the region has been used as a source for ridicule and comedy. 

Those negative portrayals were perpetuated and continued up into the 1990s, Arnold said. Infamously, its reputation seemed to peak in the 1960s with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty and a LIFE Magazine spread. Johnson even visited OU to talk about the War on Poverty, Arnold said.

But now is the time for change. 

If You Go:

What: We Are Appalachia: Exploring Diverse Appalachian Identities

When: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thurs.

Where: Alden Library, Multicultural Center (219 Baker), Athens Public Library

Admission: Free

“We need to control the narrative,” Arnold said. “We’re starting to have conversations again. But we need to steer the conversation where we think it needs to go.”

Alden Library is hosting We Are Appalachia: Exploring Diverse Appalachian Identities, an all-day event featuring panels, speakers, art and presentations, on Thursday.

“We want to raise awareness of issues and look at the definitions of Appalachia,” Arnold said. “We’re not all poor, white and rural — that’s just not true. We want to look at our identity and what it means to be Appalachian.”

Session will include a discussion of the mixing of identities in Appalachia, student presentations and a keynote speech by author Crystal Wilkinson. Wilkinson is a self-identified Affrilachian poet, writer and essayist.

At 3 p.m., Wilkinson will also hold a workshop called “Mining Memories” in the OU Multicultural Center, Baker 219. “Mining Memories” will look at experiences of Appalachians and how it can be used in art.

“These events are all open to the public, free of charge,” Arnold said. “People can come and go as they please, and they don’t have to commit their whole day to it.”

The Appalachian Rural Health Institute (AHRI) is one of many sponsors of the event. 

“So what we’re doing with AHRI is starting a conversation that people will continue to talk about the Appalachian region and our role in the region and what it means to be Appalachian,” Michele Morrone, professor and coordinator of the environmental health science program and the director of ARHI, said.   

From 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., there will be an open mic at the Athens Public Library, 30 Home St. Performers can share art of any kind, including poetry, dance, music, song or stories. A sign-up sheet for five-minute slots will be available at the event.

Bruce Dalzell will emcee for the evening, who runs the open mics and acoustic showcases at Front Room Coffeehouse. Authors Julia Spicher Kasdorf and Steven Rubin will give a reading from their book Shale Play: Poems & Photographs from the Fracking Fields around 7 p.m.

“We wanted an opportunity to invite the community to be part of an event off campus,” Becca Lachman, communications coordinator for the Athens County Public Libraries, said.