Misty Marie Rae Skaggs kicks ass…and tells it like it is.
Misty and I first met at a reading put on by the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative during the 2013 Appalachian Studies Association. She was reading from her chapbook Prescription Panes, which deals with the opioid epidemic in Kentucky. Direct and unflinching, Misty exposed the world beyond the statistical headlines about addiction and incarceration rates, a place where people we love fall away from us in a flash of hot lightning or by fading into oblivion over and over again until they disappear.
I know this dance with death. Because I come from Appalachian Ohio, just across the river from Huntington, WV, where a New York Times reporter rode along with the first responders on 27 overdoses in a single day—and it wasn’t an outlier. Because my childhood spent watching people drink themselves to death suddenly felt small compared to the desperate, strung-out people that make it unsafe for my niece and nephews to go to the park. Because I’d recently come from burying a man I’d known since he was in the first grade, a man who made THAT trip back from Florida in a bag instead of foggy behind the wheel. Because I’d looked into a small casket at the aftermath of it, that destroyer of worlds. Lines like these made it feel like home, the worst part of it:
He characterized it,
lean muscles going to grit,
right in front of me.
Slow suicide on the front porch.
But Misty’s work is not all about the pillbilly violence, the corpses with missing teeth, the children with dead eyes or just dead. She writes about a different kind of everyday life in Appalachia, too—the staying and going and returning, the changing rural landscape and economy, the beauty of the home she loves fiercely. And there is another side to Misty’s voice in her visual art, which she calls “Hillbilly Pop,” portraits of women paired with stories, bright ideas and paint that grab your attention and hold it.
It was a beautiful Kentucky spring day when I met up with Misty to chat. She met me in town, and then told me to sit shotgun and enjoy the ride. Redbuds just coming into bloom, small poke shoots just peeking their way out of cool soil, the medicinal plants that only elders remember starting to offer up their healing ways. We read the headstones at her family graveyard, including the ones with no names or stories to go with them. We drove by old homesteads and their ghosts. We sat in her “Mistybago” and listened to the birds while the breeze swept the sweet scent of dogwood over us. We talked about grannies, superstition, rural gentrification, and the importance of working-class voices being heard.
You can listen to my full interview with Misty here.
To see and support Misty’s work, follow her on Tumblr. Her blog’s called Lipstick Hick.
You can also buy a copy of Quarried: Thirty Years of Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, read/contribute to Rabble Lit, or find out about the art show she just curated for It’s Good to Be Young in the Mountains.
Here are a few examples of Misty’s Hillbilly pop art.
Frankie Wolf is an Appalachian myth-maker and teller of small tales. She was the first woman editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary magazine of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative. Her essays and short stories have been published in Nantahala Review, Appalachian Journal, New Madrid, and Still: The Journal. She was named a finalist in the Carnegie Center’s Next Great Writers Contest, has been a recipient of multiple Kentucky Foundation for Women Artist Enrichment and Arts Meets Activism Grants, and earned an Emerging Artist Award for Nonfiction from the Kentucky Arts Council. She lives in Lexington, KY, where she is currently at work on a novel set in the Red River Gorge. You can sometimes find her teaching new writers aged 5 to 75 at the Carnegie Center. To see more of Frankie’s work, visit frankiewrites.com.