cover image After Coal: Stories of Survival in Appalachia and Wales

After Coal: Stories of Survival in Appalachia and Wales

Tom Hansell. West Virginia Univ, $27.99 (264p) ISBN 978-1-946684-55-4

Written in conjunction with a documentary of the same name, this visually appealing mix of photographs and short, easily read sections of text recounts filmmaker Hansell’s quest to initiate fruitful dialogue between Appalachians facing the decline of the local coal industry and Welsh miners who experienced a similar decline 20 years earlier. Appalachian coal mining communities are dying out and even disappearing, with mine closures and younger inhabitants moving away to find work. During the 1980s, the Welsh mining community suffered under privatization and massive closures, but managed to find ways to stabilize communities in mining regions. Hansell spent years researching both regions in hopes of helping American mining communities find their own “postcoal” paths to survival, building on groundbreaking research from the 1970s highlighting the similarities between the regions: mountainous rural geography, farming history, and economies completely dominated by coal. This text combines personal interviews, transcripts of symposium discussions, and media reports to explore the difficulties and possibilities of “community regeneration” in the Appalachian region. Not surprisingly, given his line of work, one of Hansell’s conclusions is that the arts play an economic role in steadying Appalachia’s economy; he stresses the performing arts without delving into the region’s existing strong tradition of wood, quilting, and other tangible forms of craftsmanship. Hansell promises no easy answers, but his optimistic work showcases multiple community-building efforts by locals and the Welsh model for saving coal regions’ way of life. (Nov.)