Hello, friends! Kendra here with Read Appalachia, an initiative that celebrates Appalachian literature and writing.
In my day job, I’m the co-founder and executive director of “Reading Women,” a podcast with Lit Hub Radio that features books by or about women. All day, every day, I wade through book submissions and try to figure out how I can feature more underrepresented titles. And, of course, I always try to sneak in as many Appalachian authors as I can.
One time, I was being interviewed for a live show over Zoom, and the host asked me to recommend some books. I pulled out my copy of “Black Bone: 25 Years of Affrilachian Poets” and said, “I’m from Appalachia, so I have to tell you about some of our poets!” The host laughed and said, “Really? Appalachia?” After I confirmed, she kept laughing and said, “Oh, sorry, I just didn’t expect that kind of writing to come from there.”
Responses like this demonstrate the need for a wider range of Appalachian literature represented on bookshelves across the nation. Especially after so many schools required their students to read “Hillbilly Elegy” (don’t even get me started on that one), most people from outside the region hold fast to negative stereotypes of Appalachia and expect the books they pick up to confirm those stereotypes.
In recent years, many Appalachians have pushed back against these harmful narratives with books like “What You Are Getting Wrong about Appalachia” by Elizabeth Catte and “Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy” edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll.
For me, I want to expand people’s minds on what it means to be Appalachian, because no singular voice or experience can capture this beautifully diverse region of ours. In that vein, I love to recommend anthologies. These books give readers a taste of a wide range of writing, in different genres and styles.
Anthologies have played a huge role in my study of Appalachian literature. I first discovered Silas House this way when I read his story in “LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia,” edited by Jeff Mann and Julia Watts. I pored over that story, each scene sticking in my mind. I felt that spark when you know you’re reading a new favorite author for the first time.
These magic moments give readers a love for the place they came from, a mirror to see your life experience reflected back at you. They also give readers a chance to see through to other Appalachian experiences different from theirs. That’s the power of literature.
Here are a few of my favorite anthologies to get you started on your way to finding some new favorite authors.