Rob Merritt, Bluefield College (editor-in-chief, nonfiction editor); Cy Dillon, Ferrum College (fiction editor); Mark Roberts, Virginia Intermont College (poetry editor); and Joe Champagne, Virginia Intermont College (photography editor, webmaster) released the first issue in the autumn of 2001. It included remarks by Dr. Carol Boggess (Mars Hill College) made earlier that year at the funeral of the ninety-five-year-old writer James Still. “Don’t expect to find stereotyped characters in my fiction,” Still had said, and Nantahala takes its motto—”Transcend Appalachian Stereotypes”—from him. It manifests this mission through work ranging from Thomas Rain Crowe’s international subject matter to Jon Hounshell’s use of modern design techniques to resee history.
Published annually, the magazine strives to exhibit to a worldwide audience new and accomplished contributors who live in, work in, or are influenced by Appalachia. The editors and guest editors (including writers Alyson Hagy, Michael Chitwood, Jeffrey Beam, Thomas Rain Crowe, Ole Bye, Preston Gannoway, and Crystal Wilkinson and visual artists John Hounshell and Ken Hassell) seek out artists who work from local materials without regionalized preconceptions. As well as encouraging new artists and publishing book reviews and editorials, the journal has offered writing by established authors such as Thomas Rain Crowe, Michael Chitwood, Marylou Awiakta, Wendell Berry, Crystal Wilkinson, Frank X Walker, Jim Minick, Ron Rash, Michael McFee, Carl Dennis, and Silas House and photography by John Hounshell, Ken Hassell, Barry Jones, Gil and Jacquelyn Leebrick, Sam Wang, and John Scarlata. Each issue includes an interview with and video clips of a featured artist.
In 2003 the journal won the Appalachian Studies Association’s e-Appalachia Award. The association noted that “the site is an excellent model of how the web can channel and facilitate collaboration in the region.” It maintained that “the content of the site is top-notch and diverse … The site does not limit itself to any narrow definition of who an Appalachian artist is and what he or she does.” The association concluded, “In the hands of Joe Champagne, the web designer, html itself is a form of artistic expression.”
Nantahala takes advantage of its online format to allow viewers to examine photographers’ portfolios, and to see and hear artists in their own words. Supported by a grant from the Appalachian College Association and the Mellon Foundation, Nantahala is hosted on the web servers of Virginia Intermont College. Back issues are housed in the e-journal archives at Virginia Tech.