Skip to main content

COVID-19 Update

Stay up to date

Skip Navigation LinksLibrary News

Let Us Now Listen - Explore the History of Substance Abuse and Recovery in Southern Appalachia


From Buncombe County Libraries:

Pack Memorial Library is hosting an oral history exhibition that explores the history of substance use and recovery in Southern Appalachia. The exhibition was created by documentary filmmaker John Kennedy who spent the past two years collecting oral histories from individuals who are currently using substances or are in recovery.

“Let Us Now Listen” will feature recorded oral histories, portraits by professional photographers, and a “living library” of peers who will be on hand to share their stories and answer questions. The exhibition is a partnership between Kennedy, Pack Memorial Library, Buncombe County Government, and Mountain Area Health Education Center.

Kennedy has collected 53 stories to date with a goal of 100 stories representing a diverse group of men and women who are active or former substance users from across Western North Carolina. These stories explore the intersections between drug use, mental health, sex work, and trauma. The collection also explores the empowerment and hope that can be found in community-based services, peer support, and treatment.

The opening for the exhibit will be Friday, January 10 from 6-8pm at Pack Memorial Library. The exhibit will be at the library for the month of January. These events are free and everyone is invited

About the Oral Historian

John Kennedy is a master at listening. In 2017, he produced a documentary for PBS Frontline, with The New York Times, about individuals leaving the prison system called “Life On Parole.” In 2018, he directed and produced a 14-part video series for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Teaching Tolerance” program about community traditions and better health outcomes. John has also directed and produced short documentary pieces for Open Society Foundations, the UN Millennium Campaign, and the Global Fund. His journalism has appeared in USA Today, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and other publications. He has also received international attention for his art activism.

Kennedy named this exhibit "Let Us Now Listen" in honor of James Agee's collection of Southern Appalachian oral histories from the Great Depression entitled "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men." Agee’s work inspired Kennedy to always look for the beauty in people’s stories.