Hogwarts Professor on Hunger Games Victory Tour: Appalachia, Academia, and it’s All in the Pin

I have just returned from a wonderful whirlwind visit to the fabulous Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University where I was whisked to speak on The Hunger Games as Appalachian novel. I also had the opportunity to present that topic at the much closer but also wonderful Lees-McRae college, and I have been (and will be) doing other Hunger Games-type programs in the midst of the movie hoopla. As our month of Hunger Games movie madness winds down, these programs help bring readers and filmgoers into our on-going conversation about the complexity and artistry of Suzanne Collins’s Panem novels. Join me after the jump to hear more about the talks and about events with our students Mayland Community College where, for me, all this started.
Since I teach The Hunger Games in my ENG 111 courses at Mayland Community College, I get to discuss the novel every semester, which is pretty exciting. I started using the novel two years ago and encouraged most of the faculty and staff to read it as well, leading to my being labeled “patient zero” in the Panem infection that swept our campus before anyone had even been cast for the movie. But with all the film exposure, I’ve had even more opportunities to share about the power, artistry, and depth of Collins’s work.

When news of the movie first broke, my students immediately began asking if we could all go see it together, which we were able to do thanks to the super folks at the Yancey Theater in Burnsville. Members of Mayland’s Circle K (an auxiliary Kiwanis organization) asked me to partner with them for their special Hunger Games events, which included a scavenger hunt and prizes (the coolest buttons and bookmarks ever! My favorite was emblazoned with the great Katniss declaration: “Stupid people are dangerous.”). My program for Circle K focused on the symbolism of the novels, primarily those we can find in the Mockingjay pin Katniss wears as her token: the Mockingjay (and other birds and animals), the number three (in the original illustration, the bird touches the circle at three points) and the circle itself. The program was March 22, which was World Water Day, and allowed Circle K to raise awareness for the many places in the world that are already as exploited and forgotten as District 12. Circle K was also kicking off its book drive with the program.

One aspect of the novels that particularly caught my fancy was the element of Appalachian culture. Though the novel has been an effective classroom choice in schools and colleges across the nation, I found that one of the main reasons it worked for my unique charges was the profoundly Appalachian setting and culture that shape Katniss Everdeen. As one of my students said the first semester when we had just read the first three chapters: “I like this girl. I know what it’s like to shoot squirrels to try to help feed your family.” Of course, they thought, said, and wrote, Katniss would not ever want to owe anyone: We don’t take charity easily.

When friend of this blog, the estimable Dr. Joel Hunter, independent scholar in Arizona, told me he was teaching an entire course on the trilogy at a local university and its many connections to a variety of disciplines, I graciously wiped the drool off my chin and congratulated him on his good fortune (odds are not in favor of my ever having any such course on the schedule). Then, he most graciously asked me to come out to the sunshine state to join the conversation when his students were covering Appalachian issues.

I had the opportunity to visit with Dr. Hunter and his fantastic pupils last spring for a Harry Potter program, so I was delighted to make a return visit. He teaches at a multi-disciplinary college whose faculty members draw from a wonderful web of knowledge to teach thought-provoking and insightful courses. For example, Dr. Hunter’s shingle says “Philosophy,” but he has taught courses that tap into a variety of disciplines, including this multi-faceted Hunger Games venture and his ever-popular Harry Potter class (which still, I hear, holds the record for fastest course filled at his school).

For the class, we talked primarily about the history of coal-mining and coal labor disputes, as the students had just viewed the film Harlan County, USA. I brought some coal and mine scrip and shared about my own family experience with mining as well as material I generally cover in Appalachian Culture courses, tying that in with the conditions in District 12. It was wonderful to visit with the students, who shared their own thoughtful insights and observations.

The school also had me scheduled as part of their week-long “Hunger Games Bonanza” which included a special showing of the film and programs with Dr. Hunter and myself. I shared a more in-depth look at the Appalachian roots of District 12 in this talk, demonstrating how very profoundly the culture and worldview of Appalachia is woven through District 12 and Katniss herself. We began by defining what we mean by Appalachia and the geological and ecological characteristics of the region, and then looked at some of the most important Appalachian aspects of the novels, including food, music, humor, and self-reliance. It is important to note that, as in the novels, stereotypes can be either positive or negative (“Those mountain people are remarkable at finding sustenance!” at one end of the spectrum or “They eat road kill!” on the other–both are stereotypes). Collins, delightfully, spins those familiar stereotypes: a “drunken hillbilly” who is far smarter than most other sober people and whose chemical dependency is a result not of a character flaw but of the Capitol’s machinations; a Granny lady who cooks nearly everything but who is actually a true survivor who cares for her challenged granddaughter; a protagonist whose “Kissing cousin” is no relation to her whatsoever. Much of the way Collins depicts Appalachian life and culture mirrors the way mainstream culture has historically treated Appalachia and reflects, in all those circles the dual nature of Appalachia as place of comfort and place of confinement.

I really enjoyed sharing about Appalachia with the folks in Arizona, who were just delightful, and it’s always a treat to hang out with the brilliant Dr. Hunter (and not just because he puts on a better feed than the Capitol: no wild dog and rhubarb, not even lamb stew, thankfully!)

No sooner had I hit the ground than I was presenting the Appalachian Hunger Games program at Lees-McRae, a wonderful private college in Banner Elk, NC. Donese Preswood of the Lees-McRae library had seen the local newspaper article about my Mayland program and wanted me to come help celebrate her upcoming opportunity to present 20 free copies of The Hunger Games to local students. The event was just lovely, with a large, interested crowd, and I had a great time sitting in on an autobiography class with history professor Dr. Allen Speer and visiting with the super faculty, students, and community members. It was a great event, and I’m now looking forward to my next Hunger Games program, at Boone’s independent bookstore (and purveyor of very nifty yarn) Black Bear Books! If you are in the area on April 13, I hope you’ll join us! If not, keep it here for the lively conversation on The Hunger Games and more!

The lovely ASU campus


  1. joel hunter says

    My biggest thrill in the movie was hearing the whippoorill! Took me back to many summer evenings in NC…

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