A City of Small-Town People: Jenny Barton Chadourne Calls Knoxville Home
By Beth Newberry
Appalachians living beyond the hills and who are trying to return to the region often search for a new hometown that combines the best of “back home” and the cities they are leaving behind. For many returning Appalachians, the search often includes finding a new city or town that has urban amenities, as well as close proximity to family (but not too close), the visual beauty of the Appalachia, and close-connectedness of the culture and job opportunities. An impossible combination? Maybe not as unimaginable as many ex-Apps or outsiders might think.
When Dublin, Va. native Jenny Barton Chadourne decided she wanted to leave New York City after 9 years and return to the Mountain South, she chose between Appalachian cities Knoxville and Asheville as her new home. “When I lived in New York I missed home all the time: going outside and being alone or having my own little patch of grass to dig in,” says Chadourne, 34, who moved away from New York three years ago.
After visiting both Knoxville and Asheville, Chadourne and her now husband, Matthew, a Seattle native, settled on Knoxville, for its mountain aesthetic, vivid appreciation of Appalachian culture and the people. Knoxville feels like a place where “small town people living in a city environment [which] was part of why I wanted to move here,” she said during a recent phone interview. “Asheville felt too affluent in a way, like a smaller New York. [There were] were a whole lot of people from elsewhere, but Knoxville felt like an Appalachian city.”
But moving to a close-knit, smaller city can have its discomforts for newcomers. While Chadourne, a graduate of both Virginia Tech and The New School in New York, settled in to a new job as an English instructor at Pellissippi State Community College and her husband earned a master’s degree in natural resources economics at University of Tennessee, making connections and building community was a challenge. “It’s not the place so much, but where you are in life. When you’re younger, it’s easier than when you’re older. I don’t feel like Knoxville is unfriendly. Unlike New York, people have known each other forever, or since high school.”
Chadourne’s connections as an Appalachian writer have eased the transition some as she’s connected with the Knoxville Writers Guild and others she knows through the Eastern Kentucky-based Appalachian Writers Workshop. Sections of her novel, Heartaches are Going to the Inside, have been published in a variety of literary journals, including Pindeldyboz, Lost and New Southerner. It’s set in Appalachia —a landscape that preoccupies many artists and ex-Apps alike when they live outside the region. “I wrote my novel [in New York] about where I grew up,” Chadourne said. I’ve come to the conclusion I can’t write about a place where I’m living there. I have a much stronger feeling about the place when I’m not living there.” And it’s this feeling that draws many of us back home.
Beth Newberry is co-publisher of The HillVille.