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Josephine Carson, Johnson City

Published September 21st, 2011 9:28 pm

October 9, 1946-September 19, 2011
Jo Carson, writer and storyteller, died on September 19, 2011, of complications from colon cancer.
Jo was a life-long resident of Johnson City, Tennessee; she died at home, surrounded by her loved ones.
Jo is survived by her long-time companion, Al Bentz, of Johnson City; her brother LP “Skip” Carson, of Spruce Pine, NC; her nieces, Mary Ellen Carson and Heather Marie Carson Segura and children; her many cousins and relatives; and hundreds of friends and colleagues throughout the nation.
Jo was the daughter of L. Pierce and Marie Carson of Johnson City. She was the beloved human to her dog, Bear, and her horse, Kate.
Jo was the author of “Stories I Ain’t Told Nobody Yet” (1989), which is taught widely in Appalachian Literature courses. In 2008, Theatre Communications Group published “Spider Speculations: A Physics and Biophysics of Storytelling,” which considers how stories work in our bodies and our lives. “Liars, Thieves, and Other Sinners on the Bench,” published by TCG in 2009, is a collection of Jo’s favorite material from plays she wrote from stories gathered in distinct communities all over the country.
Jo was widely acknowledged in the United States and abroad as the premiere author of community story plays, with more than thirty written for cities, towns and tiny places throughout Appalachia and the Deep South as well as the Midwest. Her final community story play will be produced in the summer of 2012 in Sautee Nacoochee, Georgia, directed by her long-time collaborator, Lisa Mount.
Jo’s book “Teller Tales” was published by Ohio University Press in 2007, and contains two plays — “Men of Their Time” and “What Sweet Lips Can Do” — written for the Orchard at Alta Pass on the Blue Ridge Parkway, an historic property preserved by her cousins, Bill and Judy Carson and Kit Trubey.
Jo’s traditional plays include “Daytrips,” which won the Joseph Kesselring Prize for the Best New Play in America in 1989 and received productions in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, and many other US cities; “The Bear Facts” which was produced in Nashville, TN, and Abingdon, VA; “Whispering to Horses,” which was produced in Atlanta at 7 Stages Theater and in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, at the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble; and “A Preacher With a Horse to Ride,” which was produced by The Road Company in Johnson City, and was included in the anthology “Alternate ROOTS: Plays from the Southern Theater” (1993).
Jo published three books for children, “Pulling My Leg” (1990), “You Hold Me and I’ll Hold You” (1992) and “The Great Shaking” (1994), all by Orchard Books. “The Great Shaking” is an eyewitness account of the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812, as told by a fictional bear. Bears were prominent figures in a number of Jo’s play, and one real one, Bear Number 75, came to her house in Johnson City and looked in the kitchen door.
In 1993, Gnomon Press published Jo’s book of short fiction, “The Last of the ‘Waltz Across Texas’ and Other Stories.” She graduated from East Tennessee State University in 1973 with degrees in Speech and Theater, and returned to Johnson City from a brief sojourn in New York in order to do graduate work at ETSU.
In 1976, Jo organized the founding meeting of Alternate ROOTS, an organization of activist artists working in the South, creating work by, for, about and with communities of tradition, place or spirit. In June of this year she gave the keynote speech at the Alternate ROOTS’ 35th anniversary festival in Baltimore, MD. The text can be found at
A memorial service will be held on September 24, 2011, at 3 p.m. at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 500 N. Roan Street in Johnson City.
In lieu of flowers, please make donations to the Jo Carson Fund at Alternate ROOTS
Memories and Condolences may be left for the family at
Appalachian Funeral Home and Cremation Service, 800 E. Watauga Ave., is assisting the Carson Family. (423) 928-6111