Often referred to by the press as “Mr. Appalachia,” Cratis D. Williams was a pioneer in the field of Appalachian Studies. A newly published book co-edited by his son, Dr. David Cratis Williams of the University of Missouri-Rolla, chronicles Williams’ memoirs of childhood in Kentucky.
The book, Tales from Sacred Wind: Coming of Age in Appalachia, was published in March 2003 by McFarland & Co. It was co-edited by Williams, an assistant professor of speech and media studies at UMR, and Dr. Patricia D. Beaver, director of the Center for Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University, in Boone, N.C.
Tales from Sacred Wind is the second volume in the Cratis Williams Chronicles. The first volume, I Come to Boone, also edited by Williams and Beaver, was published by Appalachian Consortium Press in 1999.
Born in a log cabin in Caines Creek, Ky., in 1911, Cratis D. Williams, who died in 1985, was the first person from the town to attend and graduate from the county high school. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Kentucky, teaching in one-room schoolhouses to support himself. He later earned a Ph.D. from New York University.
In 1942, Williams accepted a teaching position at the Appalachian State Teacher’s College, now known as Appalachian State University. He held various positions from teacher to dean of the graduate school (which was ultimately named for him) to acting chancellor. His field was English, but he also taught courses in speech, drama, folklore and Appalachian culture.
Cratis D. Williams was a pioneer in the field of Appalachian studies.
“Appalachian studies is an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the cultural life and history of the southern Appalachian region,” David Williams explains. “It is concerned with the history, economics, literature, speech, music, religion, politics, philosophy, folk tales and folk art of those who identify themselves as Appalachians.”
Williams describes his father as a “self-reflective Appalachian.”
“In trying to come to terms with his own experiences in life, he helped in significant ways in creating the field of Appalachian studies,” Williams says. “The media was fond of calling him ‘Mr. Appalachia,’ but in later years they also referred to him as ‘the father of Appalachian studies.'”
Much of the material included in the book was collected from Cratis Williams’ files, says David Williams. “The other material came from digging through old trunks, boxes of dusty papers from half-a-century ago, and from transcriptions of papers and talks.”
Williams’ family donated many of his papers and research materials, as well as thousands of books about southern Appalachia, to the new library at Appalachian State University, which is currently under construction. They will be housed in the Cratis Williams Reading Room.
In March, Williams attended the Appalachian Studies Association Conference at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Ky., a program focused on the book and its significance. Other participants included Loyal Jones, former director of Appalachian Studies at Berea College in Kentucky; Grace Toney Edwards, director of Appalachian Studies at Radford University in Virginia; and Gurney Norman, professor at the University of Kentucky and a noted Appalachian novelist.