Foxfire: from high-school project to quarterly magazine to Broadway

Foxfire. The name is not a household word, but since 1967 it has become a familiar name to many Americans. Seven Foxfire books depicting old customs of the north Georgia mountain people have brought the folklife of this area into homes across the nation. An eighth book is due out next year.

Foxfire magazine is published four times a year. But who or what is Foxfire?

Eliot Wigginton sits quietly with his boots off, next to a blazing fireplace in the loft-like second floor of his house, high on a mountain here at the Foxfire headquarters in the woods. Sixteen years ago he was looking around for ways to teach his English students at a local high school how to write without getting bored. He threw challenging topics at them, he says - stimulated their curiosity.

Later a pattern developed of interviewing elderly mountain folk about their customs, recording it, printing the results. Foxfire publications, named (at a student's suggestion) after a fungus that glows in the dark and is found in the area on rotting logs, caught on. The topics were intriguing, and the students did the research and much of the production work. But there were breaks - such as friends in the publishing and journalism fields who early on took note of the project and drew attention to it.

Today some of the novelty has worn off. Book sales have slowed. But Foxfire now offers the high school the services of seven teachers in subjects ranging from folklore to video. To boost income and help provide several jobs for local people, Foxfire has just launched its own small publishing company.

What lies ahead? Lots, says Wigginton.

''My feeling is that this first 16 1/2 years has just been a prelude.'' Among concepts being discussed: helping start other local industries that are ''culturally appropriate'' for the area - ones that boost the economy without detracting from the rich culture of these parts.

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