The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII

48 Baker, Bush, Harvey, House, Mitchell, Parson, & Shelby

here and now. In Spider Speculations (2006), Jo Carson writes, “Our stories should be [. . .] our theater. [. . . ] So much of the entertainment business creates ‘art’ as some kind of escape. Too many shamans are throwing away their tools. Making art truly local is a way to recover some of those tools.” Likewise, as a poet, I want to infuse the language of Tennessee in my work, its music and coloration. I want to say and hear the occasional “yonder,” the “right smart,” the “pretty penny,” the “boy howdy.” I want those old expressions and wry humor to flow naturally from my characters even as the Holston and the French Broad embrace to form the Tennessee River, delineating my state’s three grand divisions. I want my work to spring from my adopted southern Appalachia, so long portrayed in negative stereotypes in literature and the media, this land and culture of “in betweenness.” I want to show its complexity through the sometimes grievous relationships of its people and history, especially in east Tennessee, where the Blue and the Gray recruited from either side of Gay Street in downtown Knoxville. And in speaking those sharp truths and divided loyalties, I want to focus on the local and the regional, on those human universals of leaving home and finding it again unawares, of stumbling onto the lost and broken pieces in secret places, of lightening the burdens we carry from the past to the future, all of us trying our best to navigate the darkness in between. AS: Apparently, nobody ever actually sets out to become a playwright. I, too, feel something of an imposter; and I, too, will say some things you have heard before, but maybe that will just reinforce what we have in common in spite of the differences in the work that we do. I never meant to be a playwright, as I said, and I’m surprised to find myself having written some plays. But I think that numerous, pretty big things in my life and about where I was from made it inevitable that I would be here talking about this, and I’m glad about that. I don’t know if people who do presentations at conferences in other parts of the country talk about their grandparents as much as we do here, but I have to begin this story with my great-grandparents and the Cornett family reunion in Berea, Kentucky, about 1955. My great grandfather was a Baptist preacher. My family is a big bunch of storytellers: several of us rather unpromising looking children who attended that family reunion turned out to be writers. My family was one of those families that played

In my other plays are similar struggles. Kate Hughes in Decoration Day must come to understand her parents’ complicated and tumultuous relationship and the larger meaning of family, home, and tradition. They gather northeast of Knoxville to clean and decorate the family cemetery—Kate, her mother, Cordie (in spirit), and father, Boyd, just returning from prison for attempted murder— all prodigals “in between” in their own way, not knowing how or by whom they will be received, whether in the present time or in memory. As they sidestep the graves of their ancestors, they ultimately realize how bound they are to their native land, no matter how they may have tried to escape it in the past. In my new adaptation, Macbeth Is the New Black , co written with Jayne Morgan, Shakespeare’s tragedy is performed in a girls’ juvenile detention center in east Tennessee. We chose the setting of our home ground to bend gender expectations, with women playing the traditional roles, and to look freshly and fiercely at the problem of sexual abuse by authorities in real institutions. The young inmates are indeed “in between” a closed patriarchal environment and desperately trying to save each other and themselves, each bearing the heavy crown of her own failed choices. Even in a work of much larger scope, Lambarene , my 1991 musical on the life of Albert Schweitzer with composer and lyricist John Purifoy, I had to see past the renowned humanitarian of the 1950s Life magazine pages. In interviews with Schweitzer’s only daughter, Rhena, we peeled those layers down to the dramatic core: a daughter’s longing to be part of her father’s world and his initial reluctance to share it. Remove them from the hospital Albert founded in Africa, and you have a universal struggle at its heart. Although I address societal problems like sexual abuse, domestic violence, and class differences in my plays, except for the new Shakespeare adaptation, so far they are not what I would call “cutting edge,” overtly political or controversial. I do employ certain techniques to lift the narrative beyond the linear: a character steps into her childhood and returns to the present; another speaks to her dead sister through a suspended window; and acts of violence are more chilling when staged as a balletic Apache dance. I must write from the issues that drove me to begin writing nearly forty years ago—daughters on the cusp of returning to the good grace of family and acceptance, parents peering through the mirror of brokenness they’ve unknowingly caused, the seemingly unscalable ridge of mountains in between leading to the shaky terrain of the

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