Making Our Future

Visionary Folklore and Everyday Culture in Appalachia

By Emily Hilliard

312 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 18 color plates, 15 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7162-8
    Published: November 2022
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7163-5
    Published: September 2022
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6273-0
    Published: September 2022
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7161-1
    Published: November 2022

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Awards & distinctions

Finalist, 2022 Weatherford Award for Nonfiction, Berea College and Appalachian Studies Association

Drawing from her work as state folklorist, Emily Hilliard explores contemporary folklife in West Virginia and challenges the common perception of both folklore and Appalachian culture as static, antiquated forms, offering instead the concept of "visionary folklore" as a future-focused, materialist, and collaborative approach to cultural work.

With chapters on the expressive culture of the West Virginia teachers' strike, the cultural significance of the West Virginia hot dog, the tradition of independent pro wrestling in Appalachia, the practice of nonprofessional women songwriters, the collective counternarrative of a multiracial coal camp community, the invisible landscape of writer Breece D'J Pancake's hometown, the foodways of an Appalachian Swiss community, the postapocalyptic vision presented in the video game Fallout 76, and more, the book centers the collective nature of folklife and examines the role of the public folklorist in collaborative engagements with communities and culture. Hilliard argues that folklore is a unifying concept that puts diverse cultural forms in conversation, as well as a framework that helps us reckon with the past, understand the present, and collectively shape the future.

About the Author

Emily Hilliard is a folklorist and writer based in central Appalachia. She is the former West Virginia state folklorist and the founding director of the West Virginia Folklife Program. Find more of her work at
For more information about Emily Hilliard, visit the Author Page.


“A fascinating example of folklore fieldwork in West Virginia. People from the state . . . will find places and concepts they recognize thoughtfully and respectfully represented, and outsiders will gain an understanding of the deeply complex and communal past and present of the Mountain State.”—Southern Review of Books

"An incontrovertible case for viewing folklore as a dynamic force not just of the past, but of the present & the future."—Appalachian Mountain Books

"Making Our Future brings fresh and profound insights to our current understanding of Appalachian culture and music."—Songlines

"[Hilliard] is . . . in an excellent position to observe her surroundings, able to see things from a curious outsider’s perspective and with a degree of freshness that lends authority to her observations. Not once does she condescend.”—Los Angeles Review of Books

“An important intervention in a field that has too often constructed Appalachian culture as stuck in the past, and Hilliard’s non-hierarchical methodology offers a framework for future work that might also consider conservative and reactionary culture in the region as also connecting past, present, and future.”—Ancillary Review of Books

"A benchmark in public folklore. Hilliard's ability to weave together many voices has given us a work that expands the horizons of critical heritage work to encompass hot dog condiments, wrestling matches, and teachers' strikes, calling attention to community life itself as the object of cultural stewardship."

—Mary Hufford, Ohio State University and the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network