Dr. Ann Pancake wrote some of her best works about West Virginia while living outside of the state. She lived all over the country, yet somehow ended up back in West Virginia. As a writer, educator and advocate for the environment, she has an interesting and tumultuous relationship with the West Virginia hills.
“I have never been able to completely leave, although I have tried,” she said.
Pancake is now a professor of English and Appalachian studies at West Virginia University, where she has the opportunity to inspire a whole generation of Appalachian writers, scholars and activists. Her book “Strange As This Weather Has Been,” was named one of Kirkus Review’s Top Ten Fiction Books of the year, was a New York Times Editor’s Choice, won the 2007 Weatherford Prize and was a finalist for the 2008 Orion Book Award.
Like many West Virginians, she struggles with a love/hate relationship with the people of Appalachia. She loves mountains, valleys and streams, so it breaks her heart to see West Virginians destroying the land for extractive industries such as coal or natural gas.
“I am queer and that’s hard, although maybe not as hard as some people think…the hardest thing for me is to witness over and over and over again the destruction of the natural world.”— Dr. Ann Pancake
And while the people of Appalachia cause her pain, they are also the source of her joy.
“I love how kind people are,” she said, adding that of all the places she’s lived and people she met, that Appalachians are the kindest, warmest and most helpful people.
She also loves the culture here. The way Appalachians tell stories is a part of the culture that Pancake feels is important and unique.