They Say in Harlan County: An Oral History (Oxford Oral History Series)
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They Say in Harlan County: An Oral History
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Very minimal damage to the cover including scuff marks, but no holes or tears. Local law enforcement—some of whom were still opposed to the exchange—had just reported their first infant overdose: While crawling on the ground, an eleven-month-old girl found an opioid pill, and it took three doses of Narcan to bring her back. It sounded like she was hoping Gipe could break through the literary fourth wall and actually turn some of the problems of his home region around.
She, too, had been a fan of Higher Ground since its inception. I was searching for deeper insights than the victim-blaming bootstrap narrative espoused in J.
After spending two and a half years immersed in researching and writing my own book on the opioid crisis, focused on its origins in Appalachia and catastrophic spread across the country, I hoped Gipe could help me process my own secondary trauma. In Harlan County, once the site of intense mineworker strikes, the population has dropped from seventy-five thousand to twenty-seven thousand since , with nearly a third of residents now living in poverty and more than a quarter of working-age adults on disability.
Center for the Study of the American South
I took my young nephews out for chili dogs and then suggested we walk across the street to the town park afterward rather than drive. Gipe, fifty-five, remains beloved in Harlan, even as his star continues to rise, because he remains relatable. Most every day, he wears a black t-shirt with a pocket on the chest, the kind you buy at Walmart in packs of six. Into the neck of said shirt he clips a black Pilot Precise pen extra fine. He drives to work in a sedan pre-owned by his late mother, after carrying his six-foot-five frame down the sixty-nine stairs that descend from his hillside home overlooking the town.
A plucky young woman who wears black fingernail polish and listens to Black Flag, Dawn Jewell is torn about whether to save herself by fleeing or to remain on the mountain with her dysfunctional family, including her opioid-addicted mother and a Mamaw who means everything to her. The first time I interviewed him on the phone, back in , we compared notes on insomnia.
Among the subjects occupying him at 3 A. By the time we met in person this year, I felt like I knew him better than I probably did. We were sitting on his hilltop front porch, with its treehouse view, chuckling about the fact that, earlier in our careers, we had both had stories rejected by the Oxford American, but now here we were. At least one was high on OxyContin when he interviewed his grandmother, then stole from her to fund his next fix on the way out her door. In an edgy and not-so-subtle form of resistance, the actor portraying him also happened to be a doctor.
Not only did people return, but for one showing a cast member arranged for twenty women from a nearby rehab center to attend, and it became hard for the cast to concentrate because the women were weeping so loudly throughout the show. The Higher Ground collective which fluctuates between forty and ninety actors, depending on the show mines lighter events, too. Like the time a roadkill beaver made its way into the hands of a local biology teacher known for collecting plant and animal specimens for her classroom. The rodent was unusually plump and, for roadkill, remarkably undamaged.
Today, the beaver sits left of center stage in Needlework, a point of comic relief. It perches there, illuminated and frozen on its mount, as the actors cycle on and off the stage. Or, is that simply enabling illegal drug use? Even when your strung-out dad has taken a cleaver to your dog. True stories, all. The actress who plays Burley should know.
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Her IV-drug-induced hepatitis C, which once turned her skin and eyes yellow and gave her chronic kidney disease, is cured.