Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Jim Webb, November 13, 2015

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:01 - Introduction--Strip mining and writing

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Partial Transcript: Alright. So, I'm going to introduce us real quick. This is Jeff Keith and Rayna Gellert.

Segment Synopsis: Webb explains how he "woke up" in 1975. He explains how he didn't become a serious writer until he quit Appalachian Regional Healthcare. He didn't begin with a focus on Appalachia. He "woke up" when he watched a local documentary on strip mining. His passion for writing was found in this subject because he is so against it. He had memories of strip mining but hadn't paid attention to the damage of it while he was growing up. Suddenly, after this documentary he began to remember what he saw and did in the past related to strip mining.

Keywords: Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH); Barnesville (Ohio); Bob Gates: In Memory of the Land and People; Coffins; Eastern Ohio; Forest; GEM of Egypt; Influences; John Updike; M.A. Hanna Coal Company; Miner’s Memorial Hospital; RECK (literary magazine); Reclamation crew; Robert Gates (filmmaker); Rod McKuen; Save Our Mountains (music festival); Strip mining; Teaching; Wiley's Last Resort; William Sturgill Coal Company; Woods; Writing

Subjects: Appalachia.; Appalachian Regional Hospitals, Inc.; Strip mining.

00:19:03 - Poem--"Buzzsaws in the Rain"

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Partial Transcript: Um, the sun's going down on us here so we're going to go inside here in a second...

Segment Synopsis: Webb reads one of his poems that relates to strip mining. It is titled, "Buzzsaws in the Rain." The interview moves indoors and he begins to explain the poem that was just read. He explains who the people were that he satirized in the poem. He describes events that led him to write this poem.

Keywords: Buffalo Creek Flood; John D Rockefeller IV; Matt Bevin; Poems; Poetry; Satire; Writing

Subjects: Appalachia.; Strip mining.

00:27:00 - Flood of 1977

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Partial Transcript: Let's talk some about that flood because I know that you, uh, were involved in terms of creating response from the Tug River Valley.

Segment Synopsis: Webb explains that the area was prone to flooding, but the strip mining made it worse. It was hard to get help after the flood so he and his friends had to put a group together themselves. A community meeting was held in order to figure out what to do. The Presbyterian church was not flooded so they set up a food shelter in the basement of the church. It was called the Tug Valley Disaster Center. They did a lot of work in order to benefit community and help them recover from the flood. They were able to offer basic medical help because some nurses became involved. The name was changed to Tug Valley Recovery Center and became political. They wanted to abolish strip mining. Once a petition was out and signed for the cause they were asked to leave.

Keywords: 1977; Clear cutting; Community meetings; Flood; Food banks; Homelessness; Nancy Adams; National Guard; Pikeville (Ky.); Politics; Rainforest; Sandy New Era; Sandy New Era (newspaper); State troopers; Strip mining; The Day the X Men Came (poem); Tug Valley Disaster Center; Tug Valley Recovery Center; Wiley Quixote; Williamson (W. Va.)

Subjects: Appalachia.; Mingo County (W. Va.); Strip mining.

00:44:37 - Departure from teaching

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Partial Transcript: So, um, briefly, what was the context for your departure from, uh, from teaching?

Segment Synopsis: Webb became very active in the Tug Valley Recovery Center. He began writing a satirical political article under the name of Wiley Quixote. He brought the satire into his classroom through his play "Elmo's Haven" (1979). The play was completely local, but the local newspaper did not cover it. He liked teaching at the school he was at, so he applied for tenure. The dean at the college did not like his methods and wanted to get rid of him. He was denied tenure because the dean did not want him there. Students protested, and he was told that if he took 3 more hours of anything he would be able to have tenure. He decided he would not take a class and left to be a poet.

Keywords: Bank loans; College; Elmo’s Haven (play); Politics; Puns; Red Robin Inn; Satire; Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College; Taverns; Teaching; Tenure; Tug Valley Recovery Center; Wordplay

Subjects: Appalachia.; Mingo County (W. Va.); Teachers.

01:09:50 - First job after teaching

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Partial Transcript: Well and I'm--and--uh, and so once you had left Southern, or been forcefully--

Segment Synopsis: Webb's girlfriend left him after he left teaching. That meant he had to pay all the bills but he did not have money. He took his aunt to Georgia to visit another one of his aunts. His family from Michigan was there and he heard about a canoeing business that one of their sons had. His cousin needed someone to watch the business he had because he was leaving for Canada. Webb decided to "apply" for the job. He did that job for two summers.

Keywords: Bars; Canoe delivery; Canoes; Michigan; Red Robin Inn; Unemployment

Subjects: Appalachia.; Appalshop, Inc.; Mingo County (W. Va.)

01:21:07 - Living in New York

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Partial Transcript: That was eighty--

Segment Synopsis: Webb left for New York to be with his brother. He never had to wait tables or anything. He read poetry in New York. A publisher found him and wanted to publish his book. His father had a stroke so he went back home to take care of his dad and never followed up with the publisher.

Keywords: Family; New York; Poetry; Publishing; Reading

Subjects: Appalachia.; Appalshop, Inc.

01:25:52 - Volunteering at Appalshop

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Partial Transcript: Then I saw in the paper--you're gonna be happy now. I saw in the paper that Appalshop was going to start a community radio station.

Segment Synopsis: Webb went to an organizational meeting for Appalshop. Appalshop went on the air in 1985. Then, two weeks later he had a show that he worked as a volunteer. He worked a specific shift because he was not sure if he could stay committed to it. It was difficult to get teenagers to be consistent.

Keywords: Community; Duck Soup; Herb E. Smith; Liz Olds; Music; Radio; Records; WMMT (Radio station); Wiley Quixote

Subjects: Appalachia.; Appalshop, Inc.

01:33:52 - Working at Appalshop as an employee

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Partial Transcript: Uh, or, when did you begin to work at MMT?

Segment Synopsis: Webb began working at WMMT in June of 1986. His dad had passed away, so he was able to work daily. He began doing plenty of different shows. He wanted to be sure to have a diverse set of shows in order to keep the tone of the station true to what Appalshop was about. He wanted to have various shows to fill the slots. He has been employed continuously at Appalshop since 1986.

Keywords: Employment; Keith Shannon; Kelly Blair; Liz Olds; Marty Newell; Next of Kin (motion picture); Patrick Swayze; Program directors; Programming; Radio; Variations; Whole Grain Elevator; Work

Subjects: Appalachia.; Appalshop, Inc.

01:43:10 - Radio and community activism

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Partial Transcript: I want to know about, um--sort of, I want to braid together some of the threads of your conversation by talking about, um, tensions between and potential, um, synergies of activism and community rad, radio.

Segment Synopsis: Webb explains that he has a disclaimer before many of his shows to separate the station from himself. He talks politics and it can upset many people. He isn't writing much, but his art is in radio.

Keywords: Art; Community; Disclaimers; Politics; Radio; WMMT (Radio station)

Subjects: Appalachia.; Appalshop, Inc.