In 2016, I (Chea) moved to Austin, TX (the biggest city I’d ever lived) from rural Indiana to begin my PhD in Language and Literacy Studies. All I knew of Austin came from Austin City Limits and the songs of Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, and other favorite Texas singer/songwriters. It was a lot different than what I expected.
While I philosophically felt at home in the program’s commitment to social justice and preparing critical, anti-oppressive educators (for urban schools), I felt out of place in pretty much every other way. It turns out that farms and fields and planters are connected to rural social and language practices that didn’t exactly translate in my new urban environment.
My rurality clearly impacted the way folks (mis)understood me and I (mis)understood them. In an effort to better understand myself as human, teacher, learner, and researcher, I embarked on a dissertation where I got to have lots of conversations with rural out-migrant teachers. Through this work, I became even more aware of how much place matters and shapes our reading, writing, and teaching.
I have come to realize a few things: (1) As a rural student, I had only read one book (that I can remember) where I saw my rurality reflected (Charlotte’s Web); (2) Rural young adult literature is hard to come by; and (3) the teaching practices of rural out-migrant teachers are heavily influenced by their rural identities. In light of these realizations, I decided to create a space like this – one where teachers of all age groups and levels could find and write stories that help to challenge and disrupt the dominant deficit narratives of rural folks for students in both rural and sub/urban places.