This is Letters from Jeni Hankins – writing from an Appalachian songwriter living in England. Here you can expect to read about song anatomy, ancestors, patchwork, books, found objects, found stories, Heaven, and the pleasure of “a good quiet set of directions.” *
My sister and I grew up with our young parents during the school year – mostly in cities including Boston, Omaha, Nashville, and Las Cruces. In the summers, we flew –unaccompanied and feeling very magical – to Tri-Cities airport in Kingsport, Tennessee. From there, my grandmother picked us up in whatever boat-like car she drove at the time and carried us up to “the mountain” – a tiny hamlet in the Appalachian mountains of Southwest Virginia. Up on Smith Ridge (and down “in town”), we lived an entirely un-citified life of collecting water in cisterns, church three times a week, and the thrill of garden snakes.
My sister became an actress, director, and teacher of theatre. I became a writer, singer, and stitcher. My songs are mainly drawn from family stories and what I saw and still see on that seven-mile-long ridge, 3300 feet high in Southwest Virginia. I make patchwork goods and clothes in the way I was taught by the women of Smith Ridge and by my mom. I also make all kinds of art like prints, paintings, and assemblages. For nearly twenty years, my parents had a small-town newspaper in North Carolina. I once asked my Dad if he thought I should go into journalism, his reply was, “You already have, kid. You just add a tune to it.”
You can hear my most-requested and covered song about home here. I based it on a story told to me by my great uncle Roy Lee Smith.
You can hear a song-version of my childhood – complete with frozen dinners, Days of Our Lives, and Pentecostal church – here.