Interview: Saro Lynch-Thomason

Saro Lynch-Thomason singing ballads on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Saro Lynch-Thomason singing ballads on the Blue Ridge Parkway

I lived in Appalachia for four years, and it’s there that I encountered–and fell in love with–Appalachian ballad singing. Sparse and haunting, ballads are usually sung without instrumentation and tell melancholy tales of betrayal and lost love. Many draw on traditional literature–like folklore and fairy tales–and the medieval romance tradition. I wanted to know more, so I asked my friend Saro Lynch-Thomason, a folklorist and ballad singer, a few questions.

Lynch-Thomason–who is based in Asheville, North Carolina–is also an illustrator, author, and social activist. In 2012 she completed Blair Pathways: A Musical Exploration of America’s Largest Labor Uprising–a researched compilation of over 20 historic songs from West Virginia’s labor wars. Saro has led the Asheville Community Sing since 2010 and regularly teaches regional ballad workshops, Wassailing choruses, and May Day choruses on social justice themes. In 2013, Saro completed her solo CD Vessel–an acappella compilation of ballads and songs from Appalachia and the British Isles. Her distinct, powerful singing style transports audiences to Appalachian mountain hollers, 19th-century coal camps and old meeting houses.

(As a heads up, this interview mentions sexual assault.)

Ballad singing traveled from the British Isles to Appalachia, where you live. Can you tell me a little bit about ballad singing, how it originated and how it ended up in the U.S. Mountain South?

Ballads as they are often referred to today reference a particular story-song form that has been in Europe for nearly 1,000 years. Often a ballad involves first or third person narration, a simple rhyme scheme and a repeated melody. In the 1100s and 1200s, this form of storytelling was popular across what is modern-day France and Spain. A class of minstrels, supported by nobility, traveled and composed poetry and songs in this format. Over 2,000 poems have survived from this period, along with hundreds of melodies.

Since then there have been several periods of songwriting popularity, during which everyone from nobles to peasants took an interest in creating and singing their own ballads. Many ballads were written in the Middle Ages, about 300 of which survive today. But many ballads come from a revival period that began in the 1600s and had its heyday with the creation of the letterpress. People wrote and dispersed songs across Europe and America, drawing on old melodies and themes but with updated characters and political messaging.

During this period many ballads came to America, brought by immigrants from England, Ireland, and Scotland who arrived throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Immigrants families carried and adapted these songs for generations as they worked and settled across the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, the Piedmont in North Carolina, and the Appalachian Mountains. These song styles became dispersed into Afro-Appalachian communities as well, where people continued to change them.

Continue reading Interview: Saro Lynch-Thomason

Once Upon a Cartographer Contest: We Have Winners!

LOMB©ARD-3020-hirez.tifWe’re excited to announce the four winners of Tiny Donkey‘s Once Upon a Cartographer Contest. We enjoyed reading all of the essays submitted to the contest, and these four stood out for their writing, scholarship and creativity.

First Place: “Simultaneous Map,” Brian Ma

Second Place: “Lady Folk,” René Ostberg

Third Place: “White as Snow,” Kathleen Sawyer

Fourth Place: “Fairy Tale Cluedo,” Elizabeth Hopkinson

Brian Ma’s “Simultaneous Map” will be published this coming Wednesday, January 13. The rest of the pieces will follow throughout the month of January.

Image: The Land of Make Believe Map by Jaro Hess

Contest: Once Upon a Cartographer . . .

Write us a folk or fairy-tale essay in the form of map.

This map can be an image, cartoon, written essay, photograph, video, audio, Google map, interactive media or in any other medium you can think of. It can be a traditional essay or image that “maps” a certain landscape, journey or idea; or it could take the concept of a “map” and reinterpret it in a whole new way. You can graft a folk or fairy tale on to a map of a certain place, or make a map out of a folk or fairy tale that you love. There’s virtually no wrong way to interpret this prompt–just let your imagination run wild, have fun with it and send us your best work!

One first-place winner will receive a copy of the Mauve Issue of Fairy Tale Review, signed by founding editor Kate Bernheimer, and will have their work published by Tiny Donkey in January 2016. Up to three other winners will also have their essays published throughout the month of January.

Submissions will be accepted from September 1 until January 1. Written essays should be 400 words or less. Visual submissions should consist of just one image. Video, audio and interactive media submissions should be two minutes or under in length. Please email submissions to tinydonkeyeditorial@gmail.com or upload them to our online submission manager under the Tiny Donkey category. Please put “Maps Contest” in the submission subject line.

Tiny Donkey and the brief fairy-tale essay

Tiny Donkey is an online journal of short-form fairy-tale nonfiction focusing on, but not limited to, undergraduate writing. Tiny Donkey will publish short essays (up to 400 words in length) that explore fairy tales through scholarly, personal and cultural lenses. Tiny Donkey has a strong focus on original thought and dexterous, polished writing, and will only consider writing that meets these standards.

You can write Tiny Donkey essays from a lot of different angles (our first three posts include a piece that analyzes a film in relation to Bluebeard, one that ties in wolf re-introduction in New Mexico to wolf tropes in fairy tales, and a personal essay about hollow mountains, Jack Tales and the coal industry in Appalachia). You might come up with an entirely new idea, or turn a class paper in to a polished micro-essay. We’re open to challenging and unique form and content, just get in touch!

Please send pitches to: tinydonkeyeditorial@gmail.com.