From Texas: Interview with Barbara Garrity-Blake and Karen Willis Amspacher

Barbara Garrity-Blake is a cultural anthropologist, long interested in the 21 villages along the byway from the north end of Hatteras through the Down East region of Carteret County; she lives in Gloucester, N.C.

Karen Willis Amspacher, director of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center on Harkers Island, is descended from Shackleford Banks fishermen and boatbuilders and lives in Marshallberg, N.C. She is the editor of the best-selling collection, Island Born & Bred, and the Founder and Editor of The Mailboat periodical.

Living at the Water’s Edge: A Heritage Guide to the Outer Banks Byway (Southern Gateways Guides): The Outer Banks National Scenic Byway received its designation in 2009, an act that stands as a testament to the historical and cultural importance of the communities linked along the North Carolina coast from Whalebone Junction across to Hatteras and Ocracoke Island and down to the small villages of the Core Sound region. This rich heritage guide introduces readers to the places and people that have made the route and the region a national treasure. Welcoming visitors on a journey across sounds and inlets into villages and through two national seashores, Barbara Garrity-Blake and Karen Willis Amspacher share the stories of people who have shaped their lives out of saltwater and sand. The book considers how the Outer Banks residents have stood their ground and maintained a vibrant way of life while adapting to constant change that is fundamental to life where water meets the land.

Heavily illustrated with color and black-and-white photographs, Living at the Water’s Edge will lead readers to the proverbial porch of the Outer Banks locals, extending a warm welcome to visitors while encouraging them to understand what many never see or hear: the stories, feelings, and meanings that offer a cultural dimension to the byway experience and deepen the visitor's understanding of life on the tideline.

Faktorovich: How did the two of you work on this book together? How did you split duties? Did each of you write sections or did one of you focus more on editing? Did you separate the content into parts that each of you was an expert in? Based on your experience with co-writing, do you have any advice for other co-writers? How can they make the process of writing a book with somebody else smoother? Did you face any difficulties?

Garrity-Blake: We more or less split duties: we each took the lead writing two of our four thematic chapters in the first part of the book. Then, I focused more on the Hatteras and Ocracoke “crossing” sections, while Karen took Down East. This is because I’d done a lot of oral history work and fisheries research along the northern Outer Banks, and Karen has devoted her career to preserving and celebrating the cultural traditions of Down East. I think Karen would agree with me that co-writing is no easy task. It’s sort of like building a bridge from opposite shores, only to meet up in the middle and realize you’re off by about a quarter inch. Both of our contributions are good, but invariably a little different in style because you’ve lived in your head as writers must do.

So then it’s a process of revision, revision, revision until your “visions” are more in alignment. The hardest part about this project was our different voices and perspectives: Karen is the insider, born and raised, who can say “this is who we are,” or “this is how we talk.” I’m “from off,” as they say, despite almost 30 years living in this community. So I wrote with more of a researcher’s eye, and struggled with our occasional shift from 3rd person to 1st person. In the end, however, I think our different perspectives made for a richer narrative.

Amspacher: It was a struggle, but working with me in any capacity is a STRUGGLE, but especially with writing—the hardest work of all!

Once we had determined the format (first section, themes; second section, communities) we divided them based on our knowledge, etc.  Barbara took the lead on water and land, and I took the lead on people and change.  She took Hatteras communities and I took Down East communities; we shared Ocracoke.

As the process moved forward (slowly), Barbara’s skills and experience as a writer became the “lifesaver” of the book. She created excellent narrative that got us underway and then it was the process of rewriting, cutting and pasting, moving stories around to best illustrate the theme or tell each community’s unique story.

Our culture is so interconnected that determining where to tell which story was often a hard decision. For example, do we talk about boatbuilding with water (the boat), or people (the builder), or Harkers Island (the tradition)?  Some stories fit anywhere and everywhere because every community had a mid-wife, a working waterfront and a favorite character that was bigger than life, and yet there were stories that were unique to one place, i.e., Muse at Ocracoke and Old Christmas at Rodanthe.

And yes, there were struggles. Barbara’s voice was much clearer and written in a way that outsiders would understand and appreciate. My perspective was from the inside, writing about MY people that I have loved all my life, so I felt a heavy responsibility to tell it in a way they would approve and understand, and support!  That was very difficult and burdensome, but a responsibility I was determined to keep. We worked through it and hopefully the book has enough explanation to be informative and readable for visitors from everywhere, yet personal and detailed enough for others who like me have been here since before they were born and feel very protective and possessive of these places.

I sincerely hope we found a balance, much like we are trying to find a careful compromise in our community life as we welcome new residents and a growing number of visitors while more and more of the native islanders move inland for education and careers. We are definitely in an evolving time in our history and I believe the book reflects that in subtle ways.

 

Faktorovich: One of the great things about your book are the illustrations, photographs, and other visuals that start with the title and cover pages and fill most of the book. The copyrights page gives credit to several designers, setters, a cover photographer, an interior image photographer, and a map creator. How did you work with so many creative people? Did you have direct contact with them? Did you provide specific directions regarding the people or places you wanted photographed? Did one of you go on research trips with these artists, so they could capture the people you might have been interviewing? Were the images created after you finished writing, as you were writing, or before you started? The images flow very naturally with the text, so I am curious how you achieved this.

 

Garrity-Blake: This is Karen’s forte and I’ll let her answer this!  I’ll add that some of the photos I took while doing research along the coast. None were taken after the book was written.

 

Amspacher: So glad you asked this question!

Barbara and I are surrounded by talented writers, photographers and thinkers; that is one of the many attributes of this place and we were determined to include as many voices as possible because this is “their” story too.

The designer of the book was UNC Press who worked with my ideas. Even though I am not a graphic artist, I can “see things” on paper before it is written. That is what inspires me to find the words that work with images to illustrate a point or tell a story. I took the lead on the photos, both the history images and the current photos, and the possibilities were endless. I work with many of these photographers on a regular basis and so I was familiar with their inventory and called on specific images from key people. With the exception of the aerials, all this photography had been taken long before I called on the photographers for images to accompany the text. Our map designer was actually from Iowa and had been a contractor for the Byway, so she had the graphics already created and approved, so those were adapted for this book.

The aerial photography by Baxter Miller was a vision I had when crossing the Bonner Bridge several years ago.  What landscape can even compare with what people see when crossing that high-rise bridge?  Baxter was THE person for that task since her ancestors came from Hatteras Island and she is very much a talented writer, graphic artist and photographer. It was the perfect combination, so I rented a helicopter and up she went. We could do an entire book on what she shot in those few hours—amazing landscapes of marsh, ocean, sound and open water!

 

Faktorovich: In my review of your book, I included this quote: “Young folks growing up in the era of school consolidation were often teased for their brogue by students from larger mainland communities, causing the island children to realize for the first time they did talk different.” (61). Did either of you have difficulties being accepted into mainland culture because of your brogue or accent? Can you describe a specific example of teasing you experienced? Can you explain the value unique language variants have as opposed to linguistic assimilation from an anthropological standpoint? Other than somebody’s pride in one’s heritage, what else is lost when local cultures are teased out of unique linguistic features? You guys use some brogue in your own linguistic style in the book. Are variants like “talk different” simply natural to your lexicon, or did you intentionally introduce local linguistics to explain the culture in the text itself.

 

Garrity-Blake: Again, I can’t claim the mantle of being a native nor speaking with a brogue. In anthropology we learn that language is a window into culture and how people speak reflects how they perceive the world. Every language that is declared extinct saddens me beyond measure, because really, a whole world is lost. I love listening to the coastal brogue, and I love the maritime metaphors and phrases. One day all traces may be gone, and I’ll bet that will go hand in hand with the extinction of fishing, boat building, vessel piloting and so on.

 

Amspacher: I am the one that “talks different” and I am very proud of that even though that has not always been the case. I was born in 1955 and raised on Harkers Island, so when I started school in 1961 we all talked the same except for the occasional “preacher’s kid” who moved in and out of our class. At that point, it was no big deal. I don’t even remember anyone mentioning how we talked.

When I went to the consolidated high school (1968), the “way we talked” was the identifying factor that segregated the Down East students from the mainland (Beaufort area) students, and it was quite unsettling. From day one, we were “made fun of” in a very condescending way. I will always remember my math teacher that first year who was from Harkers Island and how comforting hearing him talk was when he introduced himself to the class and ended his explanation with “and I’m from Harkers Island too-l,” emphasizing that twist on the “too.” 

But I began to realize the value of this language when I went to college in 1973 at then Atlantic Christian College. My freshman English professor asked me if he could record me for extra credit. I’d love to find those tapes now, 44 years later; I can only imagine!  That was my first off-island adventure and I am sure it was raw!

Significant work has been done Down East and on Ocracoke re the brogue by Dr. Walt Wolfram and the Language and Life Project at NC State University. Down East, where all thirteen communities have different variations of the old English, was much more sensitive to the attention than was Ocracoke, who has been infiltrated by outsiders for much longer than the Down East area. The museum has worked with Dr. Wolfram’s students over the years to record and study the language in our area and we share those documentaries with visitors daily, so we are very conscious—and proud—of how we talk now and very sad that it is being lost to a more common language brought in by TV, outsiders and our time spent inland. 

Many people say we are “bilingual” and I agree. When I’m inland, or doing presentations, or talking to strangers, I’ve learned to slow down and at least TRY to “talk proper,” but when I am “with my crowd” it’s back to my “native language.”

I believe all of us have come to realize that our brogue is a gift, a “badge of honor,” that comes with being part of this culture and an extension of this place and we are all very thankful for this. It is very comforting and reassuring to hear others talk and know that we are still “connected” to each other and our past.

 

Faktorovich: Why do you make such a strong argument for supporting local seafood, fisherman, and other local enterprises? Is this an agrarian argument for self-sustenance on one’s own land, or do you think supporting local businesses will help the region’s economy? Can you describe an example of a particularly struggling local seafood business or fisherman that you believe needs help the most? How can visitors or those who care about their plight help other than by buying from them? How are giant supermarkets affecting these local businesses? Do you think de-monopolization or regulations to control the encroachment of these giant businesses would help local communities to recover from the economic downturn?

 

Garrity-Blake: We as consumers need our fishermen. They feed us. Who else is going to brave all sorts of weather and uncertainty to bring us one of the world’s richest and tastiest sources of protein? Fishermen get a bad rap as destroyers of mother nature. The fact is, U.S. fishermen are the most regulated harvesters on the planet. They abide by incredibly stringent regulations, understanding that they need to conserve resources for tomorrow or be out of a job. Yet, 90 percent of the seafood we consume in this country is imported, and you can bet much of it was procured with questionable environmental safeguards. Globally, fishing businesses are falling into fewer, more powerful hands. This is somewhat offset by the “eat local” movement which more of our fishermen are joining. The most immediate threat to North Carolina fishermen is the powerful recreational fishing lobby that is angling for exclusive access to our fisheries resources.

 

Amspacher: Commercial fishing has for generations been the mainstay of the economy and the culture, and remains the “common bond” that unites us even today. The struggles of the fishermen and this industry have grown to be so intense that we all feel threatened by the literal attacks to this way of life. The absolute truth is, everyone who is “from” here comes from a fishing family. It was subsistence living only a few generations ago, and that has not been forgotten. We are surrounded, even with increased development’s summer homes and gift shops, by workboats, harbors and yards piled with fishing nets and crabpots, and we are proud of that!  We will fight for this way of life no matter what the cost!  Nothing is more important to our communities.

Barbara and I are both fully dedicated to this industry for different reasons. As she will explain, Barbara has been an active advocate for this industry since she came to the county 30-some years ago to do her research on the menhaden industry. From that work, she became engaged in fisheries management issues, serving on the Marine Fisheries Commission and other committees, led the working waterfronts initiative years ago and continues to write and work for the industry.

I was raised on Harkers Island and that fact alone puts me in the fisheries struggle. Even though my family became more known for boatbuilding, our family history is grounded in commercial fishing. For me personally, it is about preserving a culture and maintaining our community identity, and the right for these fishermen to work like their fathers and grandfathers have worked before them. Carrying on these traditions, often using the same fishing methods for generations, is important and part of who we are. Yes—we are proud!

Today, the local foods movement has opened the door for others to become involved in this struggle also, and that fact has become a major component of our “hope” for this industry, despite the political strength of the opposing forces. Consumers are demanding local seafood and all of us are working hard day after day to educate seafood-lovers everywhere on the issues related to the policy-making, the character of these hard-working men and women and the critical role this industry plays in the economy of our coastal communities.

 

Faktorovich: Karen, I took a screenshot of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum, of which you are the director, and included it below. This seems to be an idyllic location and the museum and educational facilities look like great places to visit. Your website describes that the idea for the museum was conceived in 1992. Due to hurricanes, flooding and other delays, the project was only completed in 2009. You were there as the founding member from the start. Would you recommend this process of fundraising for and building a new museum to others who might be inspired by your experiences? Was all the hard work worth the effort? Before starting this effort, you worked as a teacher and administrator for different types of schools. Did some of the $6.5 million you raised for this center go towards paying your salary in the years when it was in construction? How did you decide which share you would keep for sustenance and what share would go toward the build? Is there a blurry line between taking what you need and taking too much when working on a community project? Did you face any criticism regarding your salary from the other members of your board? Or was it a collaborative environment, or one where you had control over the project without turbulence? What was the most difficult part about administrating a building project like this one? 

 

Amspacher: The idea for a museum began with the Decoy Carvers Guild who sought a place to display and document waterfowling traditions along Core Sound including decoys, hunting memorabilia and the art of carving waterfowl. I volunteered with the Guild during the first years of their now well-known Core Sound Decoy Festival and as a social studies teacher dedicated to local community history, I naturally became involved in the museum conversation.

Once the concept began to grow it was evident that the vision needed to include other segments of the history and culture of the region. As more and more people became involved, the idea grew to become a museum and heritage center to celebrate not just the history but the living traditions of the region. Twenty-five years later, decoys and carving remain the centerpiece of our museum mission, but this focus is now strengthened by the larger components of community heritage and oral history gathering, natural resource protection through environmental education, community preservation initiatives and as an economic catalyst for heritage and eco-tourism growth that provides resource-friendly jobs for local residents. 

The CSWM&HC is a community-based non-profit and therefore our financial challenges have been many. However, those “challenges” have been our greatest asset, building a strong sense of community ownership and investment. We have worked for every accomplishment and although it has taken 25 years to complete the facility, we have a building that radiates community pride. Most definitely YES, it has been worth the struggle.

The hardest part was not the work, but rather the community doubts along the way. For many the project grew to be too large to comprehend on paper and yes, there was “turbulence” along the way. Years and years of fund raising and credibility-building with partners (state and federal agencies, major givers, universities, other non-profits) left many local community members to doubt, and sometimes fear, where this was going. Some still criticize the fact that it IS “more than decoys” but overall, these negatives have been overcome with the strong community programs we offer, the quality exhibitions and the important role the museum plays in our community now. From hurricane relief during Isabel (2003) to a place for community gatherings, public meetings, even funerals and weddings, local people now see how much we NEED this special place.

Financially, the museum’s existence is nothing short of a miracle. $6.5 million in the facility is hard to grasp with only a fraction of that coming from state and federal funds. More than 65% of those construction dollars came from fund-raisers, individual families, local businesses and foundations. Hard work and determination have been the key ingredient in building that kind of support and continues to be how we maintain our operations and programs.

Yes, there were questions when my role evolved into a paid position. Operations and programming dollars have always been tracked separately, so no funding for the building has ever gone to salaries. Members and contributors are well-informed of that designation. Membership, gift shop proceeds, events, admissions, facility rentals and program grants pay salaries for four full-time and five part-time employees. We maintain a 7 days/week year-round operation with the help of more than 350 volunteers investing more than 25,000 volunteer hours per year. Our staff receives no benefits and normally volunteers more hours than they are compensated, so there’s little room for questioning the commitment of our staff members. If we had not proven (over and over) our dedication to the museum and the community, I am sure this issue would have been a major stumbling block in building the support we have needed.

 

Faktorovich: Most of your editing and writing has focused on local histories, communities and other topics related to the Harkers Island. You grew up in this area and spend your life in this beatific setting. Can you describe an experience, adventure, trip, or something else from your childhood that connected you to this place, so that you’ve spent your life dedicated to preserving its heritage, history, and culture?

 

Amspacher: The first major lesson I learned in writing this book is that I cannot write for people who do not know me and do not know this community! 

All of my writing experiences before had been for “my people,” not travelers or newcomers. I found it nearly impossible, and almost offensive, to have to explain details that I understood and had never considered others might not! Basic terminology like shoaling, and an innate understanding of wind and tide, I thought everyone knew. Barbara, and others who edited along the way, helped me become much more aware of needing to explain these concepts.

Still, as I wrote in the “stern line,” there are some things I just cannot describe to others who have not been raised in a place like this by people like mine; and that’s ok. Some feelings are not meant to be put into words and hopefully, those feelings come through indirectly from the stories and places we write about to those who do understand. (I’m not sure that makes sense either!) I have come to the reality that I will never understand growing up in New York City, and that’s ok, just like it is ok that someone from Kansas or Florida or Raleigh will never comprehend what my relationship is with Harkers Island and all that it encompasses. What I hope is that we have somehow encouraged visitors to have respect for local people and in turn, we relay a mutual appreciation for “people from off.”

I remember going to Shackleford Banks to stay in the fishing camps that remained there after people left in the early 1900s. I went there in the summer, like all other Harkers Island children, to the now abandoned island where my grandmother, like everyone else’s grandparents, was born. We would go for days to swim, clam, fish, ride the beach day and night, cook and visit with family and friends and live all together with no electricity in one room camps that had been passed down generation to generation in the very places where our grandparents had been born and raised. It was an amazing, but at the time, everyday occurrence that we just took for granted.

I recall feeling (without anyone even telling me why) that I was “home.” I felt attached to that land, a peace and belonging that I didn’t even feel in the house where I was raised on Harkers Island. I was not really conscious of that feeling then, but now as I look back and remember those days, I remember how simply “good” it was to be there, as Josiah Bailey (my friend) wrote, “living off nature’s abundance.”  It wasn’t the excitement of camping as it would appear, but rather being in the right place, and knowing it.

I also remember, as an adult, the National Park Service coming and taking all that away as Cape Lookout became part of a National Seashore. I have lived that history and those changes have been painful, so I am determined to help build a bridge between what was and what is and to make sure that our children understand what a precious heritage they have.

 

Faktorovich: You have served as the project coordinator for several documentaries about North Carolina. How did you start in this line of work? Did somebody invite you to coordinate a documentary because they knew you from other types of organizational work you performed? Did you gradually take on more responsibilities in documentary-making or did you start at the top of this ladder? If the latter was it intimidating? How did you prepare yourself before starting your first documentary?

 

Amspacher: These opportunities came about because of my role in building partnerships and credibility for the museum. I have no training in documentary work, but I learned early in the museum’s development how important capturing voices (oral and written) are to keeping heritage alive.

My strategy was to match the documentary professionals with the source, and to serve as a gatekeeper of sorts. I understood the local peoples’ fears and doubts because I shared those same protective feelings, so I took on the job of finding the right (trustworthy) people to help us tell our story. Pretty quickly folks began to come to me, but again, it took time (and sometimes a lot of convincing) to make sure their intentions were in keeping with what our museum community goals were. And this is still the case.

We (me, museum staff, community members and tradition-bearers) have worked with some terrific people along the way and we continue to look for partners who will come and help us “tell our story our way.” That is key—telling it our way. We run from those who come to “interpret” us; we do not need or want that.  This heritage is ours and we are taking responsibility for sharing it our way, and I believe that has been what has been the trademark for the authenticity of Core Sound’s work which has been recognized by the North Carolina Humanities Council, the NC Arts Council, the Smithsonian and others.

 

Faktorovich: Barbara, what do you do in your current post of “Adjunct Scientist” at the Duke University Marine Lab? You previously taught as an instructor and a Visiting Assistant Professor since 1989, but now your title has changed to “Scientist.” Your PhD is in Anthropology, so please explain how you ended up in a harder scientific field, and what tasks you are asked to perform for it.

 

Garrity-Blake: The term “scientist” includes social scientists, which is what anthropologists are. At the Duke Marine Lab, I teach an annual course in Marine Fisheries Policy. I try to instill an ethnographic approach, getting students in the field to interview coastal stakeholders of all stripes. We work on observation skills and interviewing techniques, as well as getting a feel for the social context from which fisheries conflicts and policies arise. Some of my students are future fisheries managers, and I cannot stress the importance of “people skills” enough!

 

Faktorovich: Your publications list you as the Co-Principal Investigator for North Carolina Sea Grant-funded studies, with titles like, “Next Generation Coastal Communities: Leveraging Social Capital to Build Local Leadership Capacity.” Most readers probably glaze over when they read this title because it’s unclear what “local leadership capacity” practically means. Can you explain in very practical terms what this or other research projects you have been involved in are all about?

 

Garrity-Blake: Yes, it’s easy to glaze over regarding such jargon! Our “next generation” project is simply identifying young fishermen (including women) who are bound and determined to make a living on the water. This is a rare breed these days, given the “graying of the fleet” and the fact that we have lost about half our commercial fishermen to other jobs in the last twenty years. The challenges of entering the field of fishing are daunting: rising operating expenses, flat market prices, changes in the distribution of fish due to warming waters, tightening regulations, and political environment unfriendly to fishermen.

So we are asking: how can fishermen more meaningfully engage in fisheries policymaking and research? What can be done to strengthen communication and a peer-to-peer network within the industry? What needs to change to instill economic and political stability so that fishermen can invest in their business with confidence? Who are the future leaders of the industry, and what skill sets do they require to succeed? In short, we are working with young fishermen and their mentors on ways to better the industry’s standing given a rapidly-changing landscape.

 

Faktorovich: Under what circumstances did the two of you work together for the first time? Do you cross each other’s paths frequently as you both work on local communities and the environment in North Carolina? Are there many other women working in your fields in the area where you two live? If not, has it been difficult to move forward in male-dominated fields?

 

Garrity-Blake: As far as really working together, I think Karen and I first got in the trenches over an environmental movement known as “Down East Tomorrow” during the housing boom of 2005-2007. Our paths also intertwined during an Outer Banks community development initiative Karen led known as Saltwater Connections, and we’ve crisscrossed into fisheries. A little known secret: women are the true powerhouses in the world of fisheries. Fishermen’s wives have served as the backbone of the industry forever. “Ladies auxiliaries” to North Carolina’s trade organization, the North Carolina Fisheries Association, formed in the early 1990s, and proved to be a force to reckoned with in the halls of the General Assembly and fisheries hearings. I could go on and on… 

 

Amspacher: Barbara has been here a long, long time and I’ve been here forever, so we have been involved with the same projects all along the way, especially around fisheries issues and local community work. Barbara has contracted with the museum on many oral history projects over the past 10+ years and that relationship has grown over the years to include regional heritage tourism projects, grant-funded exhibitions and events. We are constantly in the same meetings, fighting the same battles and working the same causes.

Women have always been the leaders in this community so there are plenty of women (young and old) who continue to lead these community efforts.  Fisheries, community-causes, churches, schools and local businesses are all led/owned/engineered by the women and men realize that. Most of them accept it, but there will always be resistance; we just out-smart them and move on!

 

Faktorovich: Both of you have been involved in some government or community service. For example, Barbara, you currently serve as the Chair of the Down East Council, and previously worked on a Sea Grant Advisory Board, and on a Steering Committee. Has either of you attempted to gain higher political offices? Do you have ambitions to climb higher in this direction? Why is it important for activists to take leadership roles in state or local government (in addition to research or non-profit building)?

 

Garrity-Blake: In the wake of the environmental movement I mentioned earlier, Down East Tomorrow, I was inspired to run for state House of Representatives. My opponent was no friend of the environment, and in fact led the legislation that Stephen Colbert made fun of, basically “outlawing” climate change in North Carolina! Long story short, I lost. Then I tried again two years later, for state Senate, and also lost. I think the demographics of our area make it next to impossible for a Democrat to win, but I still try to do my part for our communities in other ways.

 

Amspacher: This is a Barbara question; I have no desire for a political role in government efforts.

 

Faktorovich: What advice about life, your careers, or anything else would you give yourselves if you met yourself when you had just finished a bachelor’s degree?

 

Garrity-Blake: A big part of me wants to say, “Get a job with benefits!” My husband and I are both self-employed, which has afforded us much freedom, and we’ve lived rich, creative lives. But as we age, I do worry about lack of a pension. Yet…who knows? I love my work, and I love where we live. What a privilege it’s been to sit down with folks and have them open their hearts to me. And I have time to write, play music, and travel. Would I really be better off had I been tied to a 9-5 job? When my son graduated with a degree in sociology, and then announced he was going to become a mushroom farmer, I kept my mouth shut!

 

Amspacher: Hmm.  Wow.  Seriously? Actually, it has taken all my detours, setbacks and heartaches to be where I am. I graduated from Appalachian State University in western North Carolina and had all intentions to stay in the mountains and continue my education, teach and live there. I did not want to come home, partly because I knew I would “lose my life” in this community and I would never be “free” again. That has pretty much been the case.

If I could do any of it over, I would definitely have stayed in school for a Masters or maybe more, and learned more about public policy, the environment, maybe even pursued law school. I’ve been told that’s the direction I should have taken and then I could fight these community battles (development, fisheries, economic) with more facts and less emotion, and I am sure that is the case.

Education is key, but I believe living other places is the secret to understanding how valuable “sense of place” is to people, often without them even realizing it. Many of the firsthand struggles I have encountered have been from people who have never lived outside this culture and do not realize how quickly a community can be uprooted and displaced, or how unforgiving “money” can be in changing a landscape and destroying a natural resource. I continue to stress to parents how important it is for their children to live-away long enough to realize how important, unique and valuable their homeland is.

 

Faktorovich: Thank you both for participating in this interview. Is there anything you would like to add?

 

Garrity-Blake: Karen, do you mind if I address your ambivalence in writing this book? Karen is fiercely protective of the communities and cultural heritage of this area. I think the meaning is so deep for her that any attempt to write about it would seem cheap. Would you agree, Karen? And I’ll add that what we’ve presented in Living at the Water’s Edge is in fact just the tip of the iceberg. This region has such a rich history, maritime heritage, and storytelling tradition. I urge readers to look at our work as a start, a map that can point them to further exploration!

Amspacher: I have truly enjoyed this “conversation” and hope I have not been too relaxed in my responses. It is exciting to answer questions that are grounded in what we have written and who we are!  Thank you!  I’m eager to see where this goes…

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Anna Faktorovich, Ph.D

Anna Faktorovich, Ph.D.: is the Founder, Director, Designer and Editor-in-Chief of the Anaphora Literary Press, which has published over 200 titles in non-fiction, fiction and poetry.


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