13th Annual Ozarks Studies Symposium

September 19-21, 2019

Theme: The Ozarks in Reality and Imagination

Entrance to the symposium is free and pre-registration is not required. Those who attend will be invited to register on site when they arrive.

All presenters found in the Full Conference Program.

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Thursday, September 19, On the Mezzanine, West Plains Civic Center

5:30 - 7:00 p.m.
West Plains Council on the Arts Exhibit: The Ozarks in Reality and Imagination
Description:An art exhibit titled “The Ozarks in Reality and Imagination,” designed to complement the 2019 Ozarks Studies Symposium, will be featured during the opening reception. Ten area art teachers, both current and retired, have taken on the challenge of expressing this theme through their artwork. The members combined have over 180 years of teaching experience. Many have studied with national and international artists. They have been both student and instructor, inspiring many young artists.

Artists will present their works that relate to the Ozarks in reality, or as the area is perceived by those in and outside the culture. “We recognize that we have an untapped resource in our local art educators. Those years spent encouraging and mentoring young people, while postponing their own artistic endeavors do not go unnoticed,” organizers say. “We’re excited to discover what they will contribute to this interesting theme.”

Participating artists include Kelli Albin, Michelle Carlson, Lee Copen, Nate Ferree, Janey Hale, Dawn King, Karen Pitts, Rhonda Richter, Mary-Louise Tollenaar, and Barbara Williams.

Refreshments will be served, and the artists will be available to discuss their works.

Friday, September 20, Redbud and Gohn Rooms, West Plains Civic Center

8 - 9 a.m.
9 a.m.
Welcome: Dr. Shirley Lawler, Chancellor, Missouri State University-West Plains
9:15 a.m.
Dr. Thomas Kersen, Associate Professor of Sociology, Jackson State University
Presentation: Li'l Abner and the Trickster Archetype
Description:Beyond the cultural boundaries that constitute Ozark identity, there are mythical boundaries as well. In this presentation, I enter the mythical territory of Ozark identity by way of popular culture through the famous cartoon character of Li’l Abner and his town of Dogpatch. The South, and particularly the Ozarks, occupies two worlds—the world of myth where popular cultural creations such as Dogpatch and The Beverly Hillbillies exist. There also is the real world in which the inhabitants occupy socioeconomic arenas. Often the mythic world, which outsiders have created primarily, paints a picture of the Ozark people as buffoons. However, in the case of Li’l Abner, I argue that he is more a trickster than a dimwit. Li’l Abner’s creator, Al Capp, found a character who was able to challenge social norms and make people stop and think about a number of basic assumptions in American life. In an interesting twist, modern folk stories about flying saucers emerged at the height of Li’l Abner’s popularity. Al Capp used aliens deftly to ask Li’l Abner pointed questions about American culture, particularly religion, politics, and gender relations. Like Li’l Abner, the archetypical Ozarkian lives in a liminal world between isolation and community, between history and modernity. In the end, the Hillbilly as the trickster offers us lessons about who we are and the way we can navigate the arising issues of modernity.
9:40 - 9:45 a.m.
Audience Questions
9:50 a.m.
Leslie Reed, Instructor of English, Arkansas State University
Presentation: Do You Still Live There? An Investigation of the Rhetorical Discourse of Success and Hometowns in the Ozarks
Description:From the beginnings of the western movement of American settlers to the people of today’s communities, the Ozarker has been long plagued by stereotypes. These stereotypes have been responded to in many different ways throughout the years, and reactions vary from person to person. Some residents take offense to the clichés while others wear them proudly with honor. Since this is not an easily settled issue, the way we interpret these labels will continue to be debated, but are these stereotypes affecting more than the way others see us? How are these stereotypes affecting our views of our hometowns and communities as a whole? The trope of the necessity of leaving one’s hometown in order to become successful is a long-standing idea in American culture, yet one must wonder if the “hillbilly” and “backward” stereotypes being presented in poplar television shows and other media throughout the decades have created a larger issue. My project seeks to examine the rhetorical discourse in poplar media and elsewhere in order to investigate the rise in the Generation X’s and Millennials of the Ozarks who proclaim to “hate” their hometown and express disdain for those daring to display admiration of their local communities. By investigating the language, we can determine the how the effects of stereotypes are concretely changing our communities.
10:15 - 10:20 a.m.
Audience Questions:
10:20 a.m.
10:35 a.m.
Dr. Andrew Milson, Professor of Geography, University of Texas at Arlington
Presentation: Mapping Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s Environmental and Cultural Perceptions of the Ozarks
Description:In his published travel narrative, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft commented frequently on both the environmental and cultural characteristics that he observed in the Ozarks during his excursion of 1818 to 1819. This presentation focuses on perception maps that I created to better understand the geographic patterns evident in Schoolcraft’s language. The cultural and environmental perception maps were created by using GoogleEarth to locate each observation made by Schoolcraft. The observations were divided into cultural observations and environmental observations. Each observation was further divided into positive, negative, and descriptive categories. Descriptive observations were those in which Schoolcraft described environmental or cultural features without offering his judgment or opinion about those features. Positive perceptions were those in which Schoolcraft described an environmental or cultural feature and then offered a judgment or adjective that indicated that he approved of or took pleasure in this feature. Negative perceptions were those in which Schoolcraft indicated that he disapproved of or was disgusted by an environmental or cultural characteristic. The resulting perception maps reveal spatial and temporal patterns in Schoolcraft’s perceptions of the Ozarks. First, Schoolcraft was much more negative in his commentary during the first half of his trek than he was in the second half of the journey. Second, his cultural commentary further supports the long-recognized biases of American men of his class and regional background in favor of cultural ecologies and landscapes that are settled, commercial, and agricultural. Finally, Schoolcraft’s environmental commentary was largely negative as he trekked across the Salem Plateau, where he perceived the land to be sterile, rough, and barren, while his language was more positive during his travels through the valleys of the White and James Rivers.
11:00 - 11:05 a.m.
Audience Questions:
11:10 a.m.
Dr. Sharon Buzzard, University of Missouri-Columbia
Presentation: The Far End of the Ozarks: Reality and Imagination in Suzette Haden Elgin's The Ozark Trilogy
Description:Suzette Haden Elgin's Ozark Trilogy of novels (Twelve Fair Kingdoms, The Grand Jubilee, and And Then There'll Be Fireworks) might sound to a casual observer like a quintessential work of Ozarks literature, involving elements like mules, granny magic, deep forests, and tight-knit clans. Elgin was a prominent linguist, novelist, and poet, perhaps best known for her nonfiction work The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense. She retired to the Arkansas Ozarks in 1980 and lived there until her death in 2015. But Elgin's Ozarks as depicted in this trilogy are on another planet, and the story takes place in a distant future. The mules are telepathic, and they can fly.

Can a work of speculative fiction also be a work of Ozarks literature? How much "Ozark" is necessary to fit the category? This presentation will explore these definitional challenges and others as it examines The Ozark Trilogy in the context of its participation in Ozark themes and language. Its setting may be a faraway planet populated by exiled Earthlings and exotic alien creatures such as Skerrys and Gentles, but critical elements of the trilogy are as Ozark as any other work that fits a more conventional description.

11:35 - 11:40 a.m.
Audience Questions:
11:45 a.m.
Dr. Ken Hada, Professor, Department of English & Languages East Central University
Presentation: The River White: A Confluence of Brush & Quill
Description:Dr. Hada will share a visual presentation of The River White: A Confluence of Brush & Quill (Mongrel Empire Press, 2011), a collaborative project of plein air watercolors (painted by his brother Duane Hada) and his poetry. The book follows 700 miles of topography along the White River, from its spring source in northwest Arkansas, to its eventual confluence with the Mississippi River. The paintings create a narrative, as do the responding poems, the combination making a combined narrative. The book also provides a short historical overview of the river and its context (written by Greg Patterson). The corresponding poems address a variety of issues, including ecology, making history, and other more common lyrical responses, such as beauty and the human situation within Nature.
12:10 - 12:15 p.m.
Audience Questions:
12:15 p.m.
Missouri State University-West Plains Students Share Their Poems about the Ozarks
12:30 p.m.
2:00 p.m.
Dr. Steve Wiegenstein, author of Slant of Light; This Old World; and The Language of Trees
Presentation: Fiction Reading: Land of Joys
Description:In his series of novels, Steve Wiegenstein explores the evolving history and culture of the Ozarks through the lens of a single village on the banks of the St. Francis River. The first three novels followed the village of Daybreak from its founding as a utopian community in the 1850s, to its suffering during the Civil War and rebuilding in the years afterward, and finally to its transformation in the late-century timber boom. In his current work-in-progress, working title Land of Joys, the inhabitants of Daybreak find themselves becoming part of the “Ozarks of the imagination.” One resident writes a sentimental novel, The Hill-Billies of Heaven Holler, which becomes an unexpected success. Soon, curiosity-seekers appear in Daybreak, looking for authentic Ozarkers like the ones in the book. Daybreak becomes a tourist destination, with some community members seizing the opportunity to cash in and others resenting the unwanted interest. The line between representation and reality becomes ever more blurred as the citizens of Daybreak discover the temptation to participate in their own stereotyping. This reading comes from an early chapter in the book.
2:25 - 2:30 p.m.
Audience Questions:
2:35 p.m.
Mara W. Cohen Ioannides, D.S., Senior Instructor, English Department, Missouri State University, and President of the Ozarks Studies Association
Presentation: The Am Olam Commune Experience: From Memoir to Novel
Description:There are only two descriptions of the Am Olam commune outside Newport, Arkansas. One is the section of Kate Herder's memoir published in OzarksWatch about that period in her life and another is a news story based on this experience in a 1929 issue of The Jewish Tribune. From these two short pieces and other academic work on the creation and development of the Am Olam community from Odessa to Vineland, New Jersey, and other Jewish communes in the Midwest, Ioannides wrote Yellow Jack and Turpentine. This novel of historical fiction recreates the commune in the Ozarks, the desires that built it and the reality that destroyed it. The presentation will highlight sections from the novel and how the author moved from fact to fiction.
3:00 - 3:05 p.m.
Audience Questions:
3:10 p.m.
Dr. John J. Han, Professor of English and Creative Writing, Missouri Baptist University
Presentation: The Perception and Reality of the Ozarks as “Holy Hills”: Insights from Harold Bell Wright’s Fiction
Description:In Holy Hills of the Ozarks (Johns Hopkins UP, 2007) Aaron K. Ketchell offers a sociological analysis of the relationship between religion and tourism in Branson, Missouri, noting that Harold Bell Wright “embrac[ed] the sanctity of the Ozarks” (xi). In her article “Missouri: An Ozarks Native Crosses the Show Me State,” Rachel McBride Lindsey—a professor at St. Louis University—also refers to Highway 44 as a road that connects “the holy hills of the Ozarks” and “the red bricks of St. Louis.” Fervent, conservative faith—Lindsey calls it “Holy Ghost religion”—dominates the Ozarks. Yet, Harold Bell Wright’s fiction reveals that the appearance of holiness among the Ozarkers can be deceptive. In his Ozark-based novels such as That Printer of Udell’s, The Shepherd of the Hills, and The Calling of Dan Matthews, Wright acknowledges the profound place of religion in the lives of the residents while pointing out that they also are guilty of the same transgressions Christians in other regions commit: hypocrisy, unkindness, and ignorance. In Wright’s novels, outsiders (such as Dick Falkner, Dad Howitt, and Auntie Sue) or those who have been mentored by outsiders (such as Dan Matthews) enlighten the Ozarkians on their way to a true religion—a lived Christianity, not what Wright calls “churchanity.”
3:35 - 3:40 p.m.
Audience Questions:
3:45 p.m.
Dr. Sarah Hultine Massengale, County Engagement Specialist in Community & Economic Development, University of Missouri Extension
Presentation: “Oh, Everybody Does That!” Evaluating the Community Wealth Impacts of Wild Harvesting in the Ozark Highlands
Description:While wild harvesting or foraging may seem commonplace in the Ozarks, often self-procurement food strategies such as foraging are overlooked in the local food systems and economic development research, because of limited economic impacts of these often informal and non-market practices. Yet there are significant cultural, social, and individual impacts of wild harvesting in the Ozark Highlands, and these practices continue to grow and evolve, providing new opportunities for families, businesses, and communities. This presentation will share the results of a study to better understand and document the comprehensive rural wealth impacts of wild harvesting in the Ozark Highlands. Comprehensive rural wealth, a new framework developed by USDA-Economic Research Service, provides a tool for rural economic development that considers multiple forms of capital including social, financial, human, natural, and cultural, and allows for evaluating a wider range of costs and benefits of local food systems investments within a local context. Using narrative inquiry interviews and critical reflection sessions with Ozark harvesters, the stories and ideas shared by the participants have helped to consider assets and liabilities in our rural communities that influence the practice of wild harvesting and opportunities for the future. Stories shared in the interviews will be discussed to identify new ways to use local food systems as a strategy to strengthen rural communities and broaden our understanding of food systems in rural places. This research also highlights the value of learning through local stories and experience, and building collaborations between research and practice.
4:10 - 4:15 p.m.
Audience Questions:
4:15 - 4:45 p.m.
University of Arkansas Press Signing Event with Dr. Phil Howerton, Dr. Jared Phillips, and Dr. Andrew Milson
Presentation: Spend some time at the University of Arkansas Press booth to browse their Ozarks collection and talk with the authors of three new books
  • Dr. Phil Howerton, The Literature of the Ozarks: An Anthology
  • Dr. Jared Phillips, Hipbillies: Deep Revolution in the Arkansas Ozarks
  • Dr. Andrew J. Milson, Arkansas Travelers: Geographies of Exploration and Perception, 1804–1834

View the entire University of Arkansas Press catalog at

5:15 p.m.
Keynote: Dr. Jared Phillips, Assistant Professor of International Studies University of Arkansas
Presentation: Hipbillies: Deep Revolution in the Arkansas Ozarks
Description:Counterculture flourished nationwide in the 1960s and 1970s, and while the hippies of Haight–Ashbury occupied the public eye, a faction of back to the landers were quietly creating their own haven off the beaten path in the Arkansas Ozarks.

In Hipbillies (University of Arkansas Press, 2019), Jared Phillips combines oral histories and archival resources to weave the story of the Ozarks and its population of country beatniks into the national narrative, showing how the back to the landers engaged in “deep revolution” by sharing their ideas on rural development, small farm economy, and education with the locals—and how they became a fascinating part of a traditional region’s coming to terms with the modern world in the process. His keynote address will include a roundtable discussion with some of the central figures of his book who were integral to the back-to-the-land movement in the Ozarks.

Social Hour at Wages Brewing Company

6:30 - 10 p.m.
Wages Brewing Company (1382 Bill Virdon Blvd., in the East Towne Village Center, West Plains, )

Saturday, September 21, Gohn and Redbud Rooms, West Plains Civic Center

8:30 a.m.
Dr. Blake Perkins, Assistant Professor of History, Williams Baptist University
Presentation: "Mountain Life is Far From Ideal": Catherine S. Barker's Yesterday Today: Life in the Ozarks (1941)
Description:The Great Depression era witnessed the "discovery" of the Ozarks mountaineers in the national consciousness. Noted Ozarks chroniclers like Vance Randolph romantically depicted a simple and hardy hill culture that had presumably escaped the superficial trappings of American modernity in the region's isolated ridges and hollers. But Catherine S. Barker's 1941 book, Yesterday Today: Life in the Ozarks, sought to illuminate another side--a reality--of what she called "remnants of eighteenth-century life and culture": poverty and despair. Drawing on her encounters and experiences as a federal social worker in the backwoods of the southeastern Ozarks in the 1930s, Barker's book described the mountaineers as "lovable and pathetic and needy and self-satisfied and valiant," declaring that the virtuous and independent people of the hills deserved a "better way" and "more abundant life." Though often overshadowed by other Ozarks writings of the period, Yesterday Today deserves its proper place among the region's great Depression-era accounts and will soon reappear in print--edited, with a new introduction, by historian Blake Perkins--as part of the University of Arkansas Press's Chronicles of the Ozarks series.
8:55 - 9:00 a.m.
Audience Questions:
9:05 a.m.
Dr. James Fowler, Professor of English, University of Central Arkansas
Presentation: Poems on Ozarks Culture
Description:Dr. Fowler will read eight poems dealing with Ozarks culture from the late nineteenth century onward. Topics include apple growing in northern Arkansas, draft resistance during the Great War, the trajectory of towns in the region, racist "sundown" practices, a maker of primitive guitars, Eureka Springs, an Ozarks tall tale, and an outdoor glass sculpture at Crystal Bridges Museum.
9:30 - 9:35 a.m.
Audience Questions:
9:40 a.m.
Darren Bell, Archival Assistant, Arkansas State Archives
Presentation: African Americans and the Cooperage Industry of Leslie, Arkansas: A Reinterpretation
Description:The H.D. Williams, and its successor, Export Cooperage Companies operated in Leslie, Searcy County, Arkansas from 1907 to circa 1929 and advertised itself as “The world’s largest cooperage company.” History about the Williams or Export Cooperage companies is limited despite this claim regarding its size; reasons include lack of company records, personal papers, or local newspapers. The companies employed African American workers and provided a segregated community for them and their families to reside, but like the history of the companies, a history of the community is limited. County historian Orville McInturff asserted in Searcy County, My Dear (1963, p.107) that the Williams Cooperage Company brought many African Americans workers from its previous location, Poplar Bluff, Butler County, Missouri. Nola Leslie Boyd, in History and Folklore of Searcy County: Source Book (1977, p.127), states that the Williams Company brought in 500 African American families, and in an interview with Gordon Morgan, Nathaniel Henley contends the number of African Americans were between 200-300 (Black Hillbillies of the Arkansas Ozarks, 1973, p.128). These local accounts of African Americans in Searcy County from 1907 to 1929 (particularly McInturff) have influenced scholarship regarding the community.

Analysis of the 1900 United States Census for Poplar Bluff, along with the 1910, and 1920 Census for Leslie provides additional details concerning the African American community. Further arising from the analysis are issues that contest the accuracy of the mentioned local accounts showing that while some African Americans may have arrived with the Williams company from Poplar Bluff, many who worked for both companies in Leslie may have come from other places. This presentation does two things: first, it surveys the historiography of African Americans in Searcy County; second, using several sources, it attempts to broaden awareness about the African American community in Leslie, including census data.

10:05 - 10:10 a.m.
Audience Questions:
10:10 a.m.
10:30 a.m.
Dr. Robert Griffith, Dean of Academic and Student Affairs, Ozark Technical Community College, Table Rock Campus
Presentation: Wayfaring Strangers: Rural Students and the Integration of Faith and Reason in the Ozarks
Description:This presentation explore the attitudes of rural students towards reading, writing, and academic culture. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in Branson, Missouri in 2012 and a decade of personal experience in rural college instruction and administration, three characteristics of these rural students’ epistemologies are identified: 1.) They are likely to demonstrate a dualistic (“right/wrong”) epistemology. 2.) Accordingly, they expect their academic reading to make matter-of-fact truth claims. 3.) Finally, first generation rural students are unlikely to understand the transformative nature of any educational enterprise, hoping instead to acquire discrete skills and knowledges that can be used to secure higher-paying, more stable employment.

In addition to this purely descriptive work, the presentation will propose a model for hospitality and the ethical acculturation of rural students, who have long been overlooked in higher education’s discussion of disempowered and alienated student groups.

10:55 - 11:00 a.m.
Audience Questions:
11:05 a.m.
Dr. Charity Gibson, Assistant Professor of English, College of the Ozarks
Presentation: The Telling of the Dee Dee and Gypsy Blanchard Case: Reifying Negative Imaginings of Ozark Mothers
Description:Dominant Western culture has a longstanding habit of blaming mothers. Adrienne Rich claims, “The institution of motherhood finds all mothers more or less guilty of having failed their children” (223). Susan J. Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels point out how the media and entertainment often capitalize on stories of bad mothers, fueling the public’s preconceived notions and continuing beliefs that mothers fail and are worthy of mother-blame.

Ozarkians in general are often perceived as backward and lacking. Ozark women are no exception. Ruth I Newman notes, “Women of the Ozarks traditionally have been described by a common and unflattering stereotype that they are ignorant, barefoot, and pregnant.” The mother- blame abounding in dominant culture is especially prominent in portrayals of Ozark women.

This is evident in the case of mother Dee Dee and daughter Gypsy Blanchard, who resided in Springfield, MO. Dee Dee forced her daughter to feign multiple serious illness, for which they received much public attention and monetary support. In 2015, Gypsy encouraged her boyfriend to murder her mother, which he did. Gypsy was arrested and is currently serving a ten-year sentence for second degree murder.

Not only have there been countless news stories on the case, but the entertainment industry has also capitalized on it. A few renditions are HBO’s documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest and Hulu’s The Act. While Dee Dee Blanchard’s actions were reprehensible, fascination with her story exists because she embodies the monstrous mother motif. She embodies undesirable characteristics such as being single, uneducated, poor, and overweight which only propel negative perceptions. Her Ozarks mother persona furthers the stereotypes. Although Dee Dee likely had mental and/or emotional instabilities, her perspective is seldom sought, which aligns with Mariann Hirsch’s claim of a longstanding tradition of mothers being written about rather than being active subjects or tellers of their own story. Studying the coverage of the Dee Dee and Gypsy Blanchard case provides insight into ways that Ozarks mothers continue to be imagined.

11:30 - 11:35 a.m.
Audience Questions:
11:40 a.m.
Prof. Mark Spitzer, Associate Professor of Creative Writing, University of Central Arkansas
Presentation: The Damnation of Ozark Riverine Systems vs. the Weirdness of Paddlefish in Reality and Imagination
Description:The engineering of dams on the Osage River to create Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Reservoir has redefined the natural environment of the Missouri landscape and provided a number of challenges for fisheries in the state. Author and extreme angler Mark Spitzer proposes to address a sample of these concerns at the 2019 Ozark Symposium by reading from Chapter 4 of his book Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West, published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2017. “Snagging in the Ozarks: There’s Nothing Not Weird About Paddlefish” chronicles the adventures of Spitzer and his sidekick Hippy (aka English instructor Eric Tumminia at Missouri State University–West Plains) as they investigate the evolving geography of a unique western topography. As both a metaphor and an actual creature with a complicated conservation status, this bizarre primitive species serves as a focus for imagining where we’ve been and where we’re going in an ever-increasing battle to preserve and exploit depleting natural resources.
12:05 - 12:10 p.m.
Audience Questions