In 1966, bored high school students in an English class at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in the Georgian Appalachians opted to start a magazine rather than do regular homework. They decided to call it Foxfire, after the bioluminescent fungus that grows on rotting wood in the local mountains. They would interview their relatives and neighbors for the articles, and it would be good for their writing skills when it came time to write them up.
The magazine became much, much larger than anticipated. The Appalachian Mountains stretch from New York to Georgia and are, even now, home to isolated pockets where the culture is still deeply influenced by the memory of the original Scottish and English immigrants who settled there in the 1700s. Student journalists turned up stories of proper hog butchering, how to make shake shingles, eye-witness accounts of bank robberies with machine guns, faith healing, and demonstrations of “shape-note” singing.
The magazine became so popular that in the early 1970s Random House started publishing The Foxfire Book, a series which has grown to include 12 core volumes. The books are expanded version of articles which first appeared in the magazine, with additional writing and research. This year, in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the original Foxfire class, they released a series of 12 e-books through Vintage Shorts. Each $0.99 e-book contains articles pulled from the main series but is gathered around a theme: Boogers, Witches, and Haints: Appalachian Ghost Stories or Moonshining as a Fine Art.
Aside from archiving and telling the stories of the homesteaders of the Southern Appalachians for the past 50 years, Foxfire has been a distinct force for good in the community. Royalties from the book series allowed what had become the the Foxfire Fund to buy land and begin to build the Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center in 1974. The Heritage Center is now made up of several buildings, some original and moved to the site and some built using traditional methods, and walking trails, and sees upwards of 12,000 visitors per year.
The magazine is still run by students today. The Foxfire Class moved to Rabun County High School in 1977, but students still conduct and transcribe all of the interviews. They decide who to interview, handle the subscriptions, make marketing decisions, do bulk mailings, and handle payments. The magazine comes out twice a year, in two double-issues. Yearly subscriptions are $12.95 for domestic subscribers and $24.95 for international subscribers.
The Foxfire Class can no longer be offered as part of the English curriculum, as it doesn’t fit in with state standards, but is now considered a vocational course. Students can work on the magazine for all four years of high school and are paid in future scholarships, designated to the program from a private donor and fan of the magazine. Fifth and sixth grade students at Rabun County Elementary School write a smaller digital-based version called Foxfire Today.
The Foxfire Book of Simple Living is the fiftieth anniversary book, and was released in August this year. Among essays on storytelling, rope-making, and blacksmithing, there are two interviews with Foxfire alumni.
Foxfire. The Foxfire Fund, www.foxfirefund.org, Accessed 06 Nov 2016.
“The Foxfire Book of Simple Living.” Penguin Random House, www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/240317/the-foxfire-book-of-simple-living-by-edited-by-kaye-carver-collins-jonathan-blackstock-and-foxfire-students/. Accessed 06 Nov 2016.
Kiley, Amy. “Georgia’s Foxfire Magazine Reaches 50th Anniversary.” WABE 90.1, http://news.wabe.org/post/georgias-foxfire-magazine-reaches-50th-anniversary. 30 Sept 2016. Accessed 06 Nov 2016.
Rice, Keith. “Foxfire Nation: Meet the Original Hipsters of Appalachia.” Signature, www.signature-reads.com/2016/08/foxfire-nation-meet-the-original-hipsters-of-appalachia/. Accessed 06 Nov 2016.
Shapiro, Ari. “In the Mountains of Georgia, Foxfire Students Keep Appalachian Culture Alive.” NPR, www.npr.org/2016/11/03/500279267/in-the-mountains-of-georgia-foxfire-students-keep-appalachian-culture-alive?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=202703. 03 Nov 2016. Accessed 06 Nov 2016.
Tipper. “The Foxfire Books.” The Blind Pig and the Acorn, www.blindpigandtheacorn.com/blind_pig_the_acorn/2012/02/the-foxfire-books.html. 16 Feb 2012. Accessed 06 Nov 2016.