In the Appalachian Center for Community Service’s mission statement and core values, the concept of place as both a civic and geographic reality is central. In the work of the Appalachian Center, place is in part a concept providing the civic and intellectual tools for an effective citizenship in any place, but it is also the lived places of this region with which the Appalachian Center works on a daily basis.
At Emory & Henry College, in the work of student volunteers, in the classes that are taught, in the commitments made, service to a place is a defining part of what it means to be a citizen. In his new book, The Poco Field: An American Story of Place, Tal Stanley, the director of the Appalachian Center for Community Service at Emory & Henry and chair of the Department of Public Policy and Community Service, gives voice to these understandings through the stories of the people and places of Southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia.
The story of his grandparents’ efforts to claim the American Dream in the Pocahontas coalfields of southern West Virginia from the 1920s through the late 1940s, The Poco Field utilizes the extensive archive of letters, articles, clippings, legal documents, recipes, stories, photographs, and other material Stanley’s grandmother and her mother and grandmother collected. Told as a story, the book focuses on two places that were deeply interwoven in his grandparents’ lives—Keystone in McDowell County, West Virginia, and Newbern in Pulaski County, Virginia. Throughout this story, Stanley does not back away from looking at these people’s mistakes, the hard choices that confronted them as they sought to claim a stake in the American Dream, their values, their failures, and their successes. Early reviews have described Stanley’s narrative of his family and these places as “moving” and “compelling” for a range of persons from a variety of backgrounds.
More than a family history, in telling the story of these two places, Stanley also brings attention to the work of contemporary civic leaders and activists. Persons familiar with the mission of the Appalachian Center will find a strong connection between a citizenship place Stanley sets forth in The Poco Field and the Center’s ongoing partnerships and educational work. Written in an accessible style, The Poco Field argues that place is an effective means of moving us to a citizenship based on our commitments to the places we share, suggesting alliances, partnerships, and collaborations to address the difficult issues that divide us and cripple our civic work. Stanley recently said, “The Poco Field is about what it means to practice a citizenship of place—the values, the choices, the struggles, the great creative potential that is in our places.”
The Poco Field is available from the University of Illinois Press (http://www.press.uillinois.edu/), from local bookstores, and from online book dealers. To read more about The Poco Field and to learn about the ways that the book represents the civic work of Emory & Henry and its Appalachian Center, visit www.talmagestanley.com.