Guess who’s back (back back), back again? That’s right, it’s“Just Folks,” our series in which we talk to Southerners who have found their way to New York about where they’re from, where they are now, and what home means to them.
This week we have Andi Morrow. An actress, writer, and filmmaker from Huntsville, TN, Andi has lived in New York for four years now, along with her comedian husband, Drew, and their dog, Mick Jagger Pup. While she considers herself a “temporary guest” of the city, she loves what it has to offer, even if it does sometimes make her lonesome for nights in her mountain hometown, dancing under the full moon.
New York, New York
Who are you and what do you do?
I am an actress, writer, and filmmaker. I’m the founder of the NYC Lady Parts Film Club, a community that promotes and supports the work of women in the film industry. I grew up on a small farm in a very rural town in East Tennessee, so I’m most at home outdoors. I love to garden, play guitar, go camping, float down a river, and dance under full moons, and I love to make my own homemade natural tonics, elixirs, and beauty products inspired by my Appalachian heritage. I live in NYC with my husband, Drew Morgan, who is a stand-up comedian (also from the South — a very, very tiny place called Sunbright, TN) and our dog Mick Jagger Pup (#mickjaggerpup)!
Time North of the Mason-Dixon line so far?
What brought you to New York?
From a very young age, NYC had always been my dream. Drew and I are both in the entertainment industry, and this is where we need to be for our careers. Right after we got married, a personal tragedy struck Drew’s family, so we lived in Knoxville for a couple of years to be close to them. It wasn’t part of our plan, but now I’m glad we stayed in the South a little longer. The Knoxville artistic community is so welcoming, creative, and generous. During those two years, I got to explore my art in a way I probably wouldn’t have been able to if I had come to New York right away. It was really difficult to leave our Knoxville community, but we knew it was time.
What’s the most common reaction when people learn where you’re from? What’s something about life in the South that you have to explain to non-Southerners?
It’s usually fascination, which I really like. When I say I’m from Tennessee, most people respond with, “Oh wow, that’s cool!” I really love Tennessee, so it makes me happy that people find it interesting. A lot of people will try to talk about Nashville at first, so I’m up here spreading the good news about East Tennessee!
Describe life in NYC as people at home picture it. Describe life in NYC as it actually is.
I think people back home mostly picture a glamorous, fast-paced, and dangerous daily life. I am pretty busy, but I sleep a lot! I’m still a Southerner, so I like to move at a pretty slow pace. And I’ve never been in a situation where I felt unsafe. I think people forget that New York is home to lots and lots of families. They live in a giant city, yes, but there are still pockets of communities here.
Where do you consider home? Why?
I’m a bit of a wanderer, so “home” is an interesting word for me. But I think home will always be the house I grew up in, where my parents still live, in Huntsville. That house has been in my family for over 100 years. It’s full of my family’s history, and it will always be a part of who I am. I consider Knoxville home, too. I have a big community of friends and artists there, and I feel so at home in that city. Other than that, home is where my husband and pup are!
Do you miss where you’re from? Do you see yourself going back?
I do and I don’t. I miss a lot of things about the South: the community, the scenery, the laid-back atmosphere, the music, my family and friends. But there are things I don’t miss as well. There is this opposition to progress that seems to come with small-town life — an unwillingness to see or accept things any other way. That was always the disconnect for me with my hometown. And I don’t think this is necessarily exclusive to the South; I think a lot of small-town people perpetuate this attitude. I definitely will go back to the South one day, but I don’t think I’ll ever live in my hometown again. I want to be in a Southern city like Asheville or Knoxville. Those are my favorite places. And as an artist, I don’t think I could ever live somewhere again that didn’t have a big artistic community.
Do you consider yourself a Southerner? Do you consider yourself a New Yorker? Why or why not?
I’m Southern as shit! I come from Appalachia, so it’s a different kind of Southern. We are farmers, coal miners, and mountain people. I have a real connection to the mountains and the land. East Tennesseans have historically been very proud, independent, honest to a fault, hot-headed, and stubborn. I am 100% all of those things. I don’t consider myself a New Yorker at all. I’m just a temporary guest. I do really love the city, though, and all the things it provides. I’ve loved meeting people from all over the world, and I’ve found a lot of similarities between them and Southerners. Even on opposite sides of the world, we’ve all had common experiences. I love that.
Which food/drink/song/book/movie/artwork/quotation/gif/etc. defines New York for you?
The movie West Side Story was my first exposure to New York as a kid, which is really funny now that I think about it. The book Just Kids by Patti Smith had a huge impact on me and really solidified my desire to experience this city as an artist. And I don’t think anything has ever more perfectly summed up the NYC experience than the song “New York, I Love You” by LCD Soundsystem.
Which food/drink/song/book/movie/artwork/quotation/gif/etc. defines where you’re from?
Music is the heart of the South, in my opinion. East Tennessee is definitely best-represented through old-time mountain music: Southern gospels, bluegrass, and old-school country. Dolly Parton’s “Early Morning Breeze” is my go-to song when I’m feeling homesick. Waylon Jennings perfectly represents the Southern “give no shits, do what I want” attitude. Sturgill Simpson is the leading voice for this new Southern era. He speaks for a lot of us who love the South so deeply, but have always felt a little out of place there at the same time. There are so many Southern writers I love, but the short story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker has always really resonated personally with me. It’s told from an African-American perspective, but the themes of abandoning and honoring heritage is something a lot of Southerners of all races can relate to. And then the Bitter Southerner is my favorite current publication. They are doing some really amazing things for this New South movement that’s being ushered in.
What is the best cure for homesickness?
Hanging out with my Southern friends who are in the city! Works every time. If i’m really bad off, I’ll take a trip upstate or somewhere else out of the city. Seeing some green landscape always helps.
Bagels or biscuits?