Coffee Chat: Dr. Jordan Lovejoy, Visiting Professor of American Studies and ACLS Emerging Voices Fellow
Want to learn more about the faculty, students, and staff that make up the Department of American Studies? Follow along with our AMST/FOLK Coffee Chat series, where we ask our community about new research, old hobbies, and everything in between.
This week we’re chatting with Jordan Lovejoy, American Council of Learned Societies Emerging Voices Fellow, Southern Futures Assistant Director, and Visiting Assistant Professor of American Studies. Dr. Lovejoy studies environmental folklife, Appalachian literature, and reciprocal ethnographic engagement. Read on to learn more about her work, her favorite recipe, and her thoughts on community-engaged scholarship.
Q: Where’s home for you?
A: I am from outside of a little town called Pineville in southern West Virginia. It’s in Wyoming County.
Q: What’s it like there? What’s your favorite thing about it?
A: My favorite thing growing up: I’m actually from a holler, so my favorite thing was probably being so close to all the trees. I think back a lot about my family’s relationship to the area around our house. It was an apple orchard, so we had a lot of deer coming all the time into the yard. And I always have these memories of my dad with a coffee can of corn. He would go out and shake it, and he had basically trained the wild deer to come up to him to feed them. And you know, things like hiking, and riding four-wheelers, and playing in the dirt with my brothers. Just growing up close to outdoor recreation.
Q: That sounds wonderful. How would you describe your research to an undergraduate?
A: I’m interested in environmental storytelling about disasters in Appalachia and the South. How do people use their personal narratives about disasters they survive to think about its relationship to climate change, its relationship to extractive industry, its relationship to memory, and their own relationships to each other in the local community and to people outside of their local community who are experiencing similar environmental disasters? And then how do they use those memories and stories to imagine livability and good futures within their place? How do they build from that place of disaster by thinking about it critically through their personal stories?
Q: How does that connect to your latest project or the class you’re teaching this spring?
A: It connects to both of them. My project I’m working on right now is with another folklorist at Indiana University. Her name is Sarah Craycraft, and her research is focused in Bulgaria. We’re working on a project that thinks about mutual aid in response to recent flood disasters, so we’re doing a transnational comparison. She’s looking at how young urbanites in Bulgaria organize mutual aid for older rural populations. I’m looking at how people in West Virginia organized mutual aid for Kentucky flood survivors this past summer. Our question is: what moves people beyond empathy, beyond empathetic viewing of disaster and witnessing, to actual on-the-ground action, organizing in service to other people, even if they’re not personally affected by the events that happened?
A: The class also relates because its topic is environmental storytelling in Appalachia and the southern United States. We are thinking about folklore and folklore methodology, like ethnography or fieldwork, and narrative studies—how do people tell stories, and how do you analyze stories—and environmental criticism. What is the Anthropocene, what is climate change, and what are the intersections of all three of those things through literature, film, exhibits, people’s personal stories, artifacts, memories, memorials, murals, or other kinds of artistic expression that could be either literary or vernacular?
Q: What is your proudest academic moment?
A: I think it’s not as much one shining one as it is a bunch of little ones, but I’ll share two.
A: I’m a first-generation college student, so my biggest one is finishing my Ph.D. It was very meaningful to me, and I think maybe to my family and my community as well. My research on flooding’s primary field site is the county I’m from, Wyoming County. And so, I always see myself as a scholar in service to the people in the community that raised me. My second proudest moment would be: Wyoming County is a very small rural place, and not a lot of people, even in West Virginia, know where it is. A really proud moment for me was when a friend of mine I grew up with in Wyoming County reached out to me and was like, “Hey, I met this person you know, and she asked me where I was from, and I told her I was from Wyoming County, and she asked if I knew you. So, thank you for having more people know where Wyoming County is.” That was really meaningful to me, and that’s probably one of my proudest moments because it means that however small of an audience or readership you’re getting through your work, it can mean something to someone from your community. That’s probably the proudest moment: that I am hopefully serving my community well through my research.
Q: What music do you listen to?
A: I listen to all kinds of music. During the pandemic, I kind of became a Swiftie. I knew who Taylor Swift was, and I listened to her a bit when I was growing up, but when the Folklore album came out—I’m a folklorist—so I was like, well I have to listen, right? When I listen to music, I’m most interested in the lyrics and the storytelling aspect—surprise, surprise. That album, I started listening to it during the pandemic, and I would take my little walks and listen to music, and it really helped me process a lot of what was going on in the world, so I’m a little bit of a Swiftie now. I’ve been listening to Taylor Swift’s new album.
Q: What’s your favorite song of hers?
A: I think it’s “Sweet Nothing.” I think she writes a good love song. I’ve been listening to her, but I think of music as like what I need based on what I’m going through in the moment, so I’ve also been listening to a lot of Beyonce’s Renaissance album and Lizzo’s new album and a lot of Japanese Breakfast, and Tyler Childers—he’s a Kentucky guy, but we like to claim him in West Virginia too.
Q: What hobbies do you have?
A: I probably need more, but I think anything generally outdoors-based. I do a lot of running. I like hiking and walking my dogs. I have two dogs, and I really enjoy cooking elaborate recipes, whether they be meals or even baking and desserts and things.
Q: Is there anything you’ve enjoyed cooking or baking this academic year?
A: My favorite recipe to make is a vegetarian shepherd’s pie from the New York Times cooking app. It is so good, and it’s just an incredible comfort food. It’s so warm and hearty and makes me feel very full and cozy.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A: When I was writing my dissertation, my advisor gave me a piece of advice that’s related to the dissertation, but I think it could also be applied to most any kind of writing or creative project, which is: “it doesn’t have to be good; it just has to be finished.” I take that with me on not just anything I’m writing but anything that I’m doing. I think it’s really easy to get bogged down in the process of trying to finish something, and then you put it off or whatnot because you want it to be perfect. And it’s never going to be perfect, so at least if you have it finished, you can go from there.
Q: What is something you are looking forward to using this academic year or generally?
A: Generally, I’m looking forward to and hoping that it snows here. I look forward to every season, but I feel like snow time is my favorite time. I’m looking forward to working with my students on a collaborative project, a digital magazine we are building based on the environmental stories people are noticing locally or artifacts or materials people are noticing locally.
Q: I’m curious. What are what are your dogs like?
A: They’re very different. My first dog is ten years old. Her name is Luna Wayne, and she is a West Virginia brown dog—kind of like a little pinto bean type of dog. She’s very sweet. She’s so sweet, and old, and sleepy all the time, so she’s an angel dog. And my other dog is Oakie Anne, and she is kind of like a gargoyle. She’s a blue heeler cattle dog and husky/ lab mix, so she experiences emotions on a much higher level than your average living creature, whether they be good emotions or grumpy emotions. She can be the grumpiest dog you’ve ever met or the sweetest dog you’ve ever met. They both mean so much to me, and I love them.