Executive Interview with Dr. Cece Conway

I first met Dr. Cece Conway during my junior year at Appalachian State University when I took Studies in Folklore with her. At the time, I had no prior experience in Appalachian Folklore, and I had no idea how much I would enjoy her classes. I later went on to write my senior capstone, “Certain Themes and Folklore Embedded in Their Eyes Were Watching God, Fair and Tender Ladies, and Buffalo Dance,” with Dr. Conway as my advisor. Dr. Conway has inspired a deep fascination for Appalachian Folklore within me, something I’m continuing to explore. 

What is your current position at Appalachian State University?

I am a professor of English (20th C American Literature), Folklore, and Appalachian Studies.

Director of Black and Global Roots Concerts and Documentations (funded by NEA 2017-2019).

What were your career aspirations during your time at Duke University?

In my sophomore year, I shifted from being a Math major to an English major and wrote my MA on a Jungian Interpretation of T.S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party.  I worked as an intern at Duke Mental Wards and before I was tenured in English, I did therapy training in Transactional Analysis and Redecision Therapy. During my MA at Duke, I also became interested in NC traditional music and fiddlers conventions that take place every weekend from May until late September.  

When did you decide that you wanted to study Folklore and Appalachian culture?

After I started attending fiddlers conventions, I began doing documentary fieldwork of young university and city revival and elderly traditional musicians. Eventually, I began learning to play the dulcimer and banjo. Later, I met and fell in love with a UNC Ph.D. Philosophy candidate, instructor, musician, and strong banjo player. He soon played in bands that made recordings and performed in an off-broadway musical hit. After that semester, during the summer, I served as the stage manager. Being a folklorist gave me a significant role in our joint interests, fieldwork, and other endeavors. 

When was the most challenging part of your career?

Being a UNC Ph.D. graduate student, mom of a youngster, and sometimes serving as a single parent.

What do you love most about your job?

Helping students – including locals – appreciate and participate in traditional mountain culture – teaching students about many great Appalachian novels from 1940-2020 and about the African roots of the banjo and other global influences upon traditional culture. I have also enjoyed making films, PowerPoints, and CDs about great musicians like NEA Heritage Fellow fiddler Tommy Jarrell and African American banjo players like Dink Roberts, John Snipes, Joe Thompson, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. 

Is there anything you would have done differently throughout your career, looking back on it?

I wish I had had even more energy, flexibility, and talents to juggle the different responsibilities I considered important on the journey. 

What advice would you give someone looking to go into a similar career?

Follow your interests and try to connect with inspiring, engaging artists and smart folks – culture elders as well as highly educated folks.