A combined scrapbook, best-of anthology and nostalgic look backward celebrating the homespun birth of the Foxfire empire.
Empire isn’t far from the mark, for in the 1970s, the Foxfire series of books edited by the since-disgraced Appalachian teacher Eliot Wigginton and his students became bibles for back-to-the-landers, especially in the South, and sold by the armload. Wigginton began the project as a practical way to get his students interested in writing, and so he put them to work going beyond the confines of the exclusive school and into the mountains of northeastern Georgia, gathering stories from and about the lives of local people. As the current crop of editors note at several points, that was precisely the time of Deliverance, which was emphatically not good press for the area, though it had its uses—as banjoist Wallace Crowe recalls, “Although it was bad on one hand, it was good for bluegrass music because now if someone hears the banjo, that’s what they are reminded of.” Foxfire and its successor volumes did much to redeem Southern Appalachia from dark images of toothlessness and fallen logs. As with those volumes, this anniversary commemorative offers both theory and practice, the latter ranging from how to live on practically nothing to the fine arts of tying knots, building sleds, caning a chair and raising azaleas from seed. Highlights abound, including an interview with an agriculture inspector who warns of faux-organic stuff on the market, a profile of a local who recalls, “You either moonshined or you sold corn to moonshiners,” and a slew of truly scary ghost stories that would do M.R. James proud.
Every school needs a Foxfire project of its own. Here’s a blueprint and instruction manual, as well as ideal bedside reading for those seeking the simple life.