Thursday, October 20, 2011

West Virginia Book Festival

I’m heading to Charleston, West Virginia this weekend to give a presentation Saturday at the West Virginia Book Festival. I look forward to flying into Yeager Airport, and am remembering the bit from Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff in which he theorizes that airline pilots across the country speak in a sort of emulation of West Virginia’s own Chuck Yeager:
“Anyone who travels very much on airlines in the United States soon gets to know the voice of the airline pilot . . . coming over the intercom . . . with a particular drawl, a particular folksiness, a particular down-home calmness that is so exaggerated it begins to parody itself (nevertheless!—it's reassuring) . . . the voice that tells you, as the airliner is caught in thunderheads and goes bolting up and down a thousand feet at a single gulp, to check your seat belts because 'it might get a little choppy' . . . .

Well!—who doesn't know that voice! And who can forget it,—even after he is proved right and the emergency is over.

That particular voice may sound vaguely Southern or Southwestern, but it is specifically Appalachian in origin. It originated in the mountains of West Virginia, in the coal country, in Lincoln County, so far up in the hollows that, as the saying went, ‘they had to pipe in daylight.’ In the late 1940s and early 1950s this up-hollow voice drifted down from on high, from over the high desert of California, down, down, down, from the upper reaches of the Brotherhood into all phases of American aviation. It was amazing. It was Pygmalion in reverse. Military pilots and then, soon, airline pilots, pilots from Maine and Massachusetts and the Dakotas and Oregon and everywhere else, began to talk in that poker-hollow West Virginia drawl, or as close to it as they could bend their native accents. It was the drawl of the most righteous of all the possessors of the right stuff: Chuck Yeager.”
I’ll be listening for it. Meanwhile you can, should you choose, listen to me, sounding as if I’m calling from the far side of the moon, in conversation with Mona Seghatoleslami of West Virginia Public Broadcasting. We discuss Ballet for Martha and the themes of the presentation I’ll be giving. The interview is online here
And if you’re in range of Charleston, I hope I’ll see you this weekend. I’m looking forward to the trip! Festival details are here and details for my presentation are here.

Above: Aaron Copland at work on Appalachian Spring. Not that Copland knew that was going to be the title; Martha Graham surprised him with that.

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