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COVID-19 In Appalachia: Poetry And Legacy In WNC

Wearing a red and black plaid jacket, Poet and Jackson County Resident Louise Morgan Runyon looks at a grove of trees.
Courtesy Foxfire Museum
Poet and Jackson County Resident Louise Morgan Runyon

For some artists, the pandemic was a time for creation and reflection. As part of BPR and Foxfire Museum's oral history project Jackson County poet Louise Runyon shared her poetry about pandemic - and her family connection to Western North Carolina. 

She was interviewed by Foxfire Museum curator Kami Ahrens in March 2021.

Louise Morgan Runyon: I’m Louise Morgan Runyon and I live in Jackson County, North Carolina. And I moved here only two years ago, but I have come up to this place for my entire life. All of my family is from here and has been here for eight generations as they like to say. And, so it’s always been my plan and my dream to return to these mountains and live here.

My grandfather, Ralph Siler Morgan Sr.--the first--was my mother’s brother; I’m sorry, was Lucy and Rufus’s brother. And there were three other children that lived, I believe, and I think three that died.

I grew up in the mountains--in New York City and in the mountains of North Carolina. My mother was born in Brevard and every summer I came to live with my aunt and uncle at Penland. My great-aunt Lucy founded Penland school. And my aunt and uncle Louise and John Morgan had a house there, and from ages three to thirteen, I was with them every summer.

Kami Ahrens: That’s wonderful, that’s awesome. So, as a child, you coming up here and your children coming up here, you know, you said all your family is here. What did those times in the mountains with your family look like? What kinds of things did you all do together, how do you think that shaped yourself and your family?

Just growing up at Penland. My aunt loved the mountains deep, deep in her heart. All the family does. So my aunt really taught me to love the mountains and taught me to love, and identify flowers and plants. And there was Aunt Lucy who was, you know, a great inspiration in terms of craft. 

My family really valued craft. And my uncle, my Aunt Louise’s husband, was an artist. And he, you know, kind of gave me my first experience of what it meant to be an artist.

A close up of the headstone in a cemetery for Lucy Calista Morgan reads Her light shines, She is missed.
Credit Courtesy Foxfire Museum
The headstone of Lucy Calista Morgan reads Her Light Shines, She Is Missed.

Kami Ahrens: So, how did you get into poetry? Have you been a poet since you were young?

Louise Morgan Runyon: You know, I did write in high school, and then really didn’t write again until, oh, I don’t know, about 1980? After I had my first son, I was inspired by him. I was also a steel worker. I was the first woman to work at Atlantic Steel in Atlanta since the Second World War and that prompted poems. So I did quite a bit of poetry writing in the ‘80s and then I started using text in dance, so my writing kind of went into that. And then in, around the year 2000, my writing really took on a life of it’s own my poetry.

Here her full poems below:

Where Is My Prague Spring?” by Louise Morgan Runyon.

This is “Infusion” by Louise Morgan Runyon.

Music for this piece was “Ground Line” by Sergey Cheremisinov.

A longer version of this interview plus interviews with Rev. Rufus Morgan were featured on the Foxfire podcast, “It Still Lives.” Listen here.

BPR is gathering stories with Foxfire Museum for our COVID-19 Oral History Project. Even the smallest moment offers insight into this time in our history. Find out how to submit your memories here. Or share your experience by calling 828-253-6700 and leaving us a voicemail.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.