The Mountain Arts Community Center (MACC) is sponsoring a production of “Deeper Roots,” the play inspired by the life of Emma Bell Miles and the history of Walden’s Ridge, on April 6 and 7 and April 12 and 13. The production will be held at the Bachman Community Center, with performances at 7 p.m. both evenings. Written by Peggy Douglas, the play will be directed by Trish Wileman Ross as part of the Centennial observances celebrating the founding of the town of Signal Mountain. Tickets can be purchased at the MACC or bought at the BCC door. Tickets are $15 each regular admission and $12 student admission with student ID. There are group discounts for 10 or more, and those discounted tickets are $10 each.
The two-act play portrays elements of the life and works of Emma Bell Miles, a poet, musician, and painter who achieved some national prominence during the early 1900s. Miles, who was born October 19, 1879, and died March 19, 1919, is known for her portrayal of the natural world and her celebration of Southern Appalachian life. Her early childhood was spent in Rabbit Hash, Ky., a small town on the Ohio River. When she was 9 years old, her family moved to Red Bank, then to Walden’s Ridge.
“Deeper Roots” celebrates Miles’ life, set to Tom Brown’s original music, which was written in the spirit of Appalachian music. The lives of men and women of the time are depicted with raw realism as they deal with love, loss, abandonment, alcoholism, poverty; the importance of family, nature, and spirit is evident. Included in the cast are Emily McKay, Allison Hastings, Michael Gray, Dennis Parker, Monica Baker, Sharon Schwab, Bruce Shaw and Tammy Lewis. Butch Ross is the musical director.
A talented young woman, Miles studied art in St. Louis, Mo., but missed the mountains so much that she returned after two years. She met and married George Franklin Miles only three weeks after her mother’s death and over her family’s objections. They had five children, twins Jean and Judith in 1902, Joe in 1905, Kitty in 1907, and young Frank in 1909. Young Frank died of scarlet fever in 1913. Their marriage was marked by loss.
Emma’s life was not an easy one, and she often became the breadwinner for the family, supporting them by selling her short stories, poems, and art, often in the form of greeting cards. Her major work was “The Spirit of the Mountains,” a cross-genre book that combines short story, travel narratives, memoirs, and cultural analysis. Harper’s Monthly published many of her works. She was a columnist for the local papers, including a column labeled “The Fountain Square Conversation.” Her book “Our Southern Birds” was published posthumously. Manuscripts for several other works disappeared after her death.
Miles’ marriage suffered from poverty and hunger, as well, and Frank struggled to care for his family. They separated several times, and she lived in the Francis Willard Home for women in order to work in Chattanooga. She gave regular lectures and was writer-in-residence at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn. The beauties of mountain life continued to call her back to Signal Mountain. At one point, she secured regular work with the Chattanooga News, briefly putting the family on a solvent footing, but in a weekend return to the mountain, she became pregnant, losing her opportunity. She wrote in her journal, “All is lost now; my hope, my health all sacrificed to a man’s pleasure,” revealing the problems faced by women prior to the advent of reliable birth control.
In 1915, she contracted tuberculosis and spent several years in the Pine Breeze Sanitarium in Chattanooga before her death in 1919. She is buried in Red Bank in the Chattanooga Memorial Park.
MACC Director Barb Storm says, “The MAAC is thrilled to be able to support this tribute to the joys and sorrows of mountain life with this significant work celebrating the contributions of Emma Bell Miles.” The production is set for Bachman Community Center, pending the completion of renovations to the MACC auditorium, which is being refurbished with modern stage conveniences, lighting, and climate control.
Tickets can be purchased at the MACC or at the door. Call 423-886-1959 for reservations.