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A photo of the Ohio river as seen from the Ohio side. A bridge spans the river, connecting the two states. A river barge floats down the river.
A bridge over the Ohio River. Photo: Provided.

A photo of Kendra, a white woman with long brunette hair, wearing a white shirt that says “APPA-LATCH-UH”. She’s wearing black glasses and a gray dad hat. A bookshelf of Appalachian books can be seen in the background.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.

Step Into the Circle: Writers in Modern Appalachia” edited by Amy Greene and Trent Thomson

This slim, vibrant book features Appalachian writers profiling some of their own favorite Appalachian authors. With full-color, glossy photos, readers get a sense of who each writer is both from the text and the beautiful portraits throughout.

A photo of a copy of “Step Into the Circle: Writers in Modern Appalachia,” edited by Amy Greene and Trent Thomson, lying on a yellow backpack.The idea of a modern Appalachia represents a key point to this book. All too often, the outside world thinks Appalachian people are a thing of the past. But we’re very much still here, still creating incredible art through our writing. “Step Into the Circle” celebrates Appalachian literature and encourages others to pick it up and read more of it.
 
Black Bone: 25 Years of Affrilachian Poets” edited by Bianca Lynne Spriggs and Jeremy Paden

A photo of the book “Black Bone: 25 Years of Affrilachian Poets,” edited by Bianca Lyne Spriggs and Jeremy Paden, sitting on a stone shelf near a wooden beam.The Affrilachian Poets collective is a cornerstone of Appalachian literature. These poets include Kentucky Poet Laureates Frank X Walker and Crystal Wilkinson and National Book Award winner Nikki Finney, just to name a few. Edited by Bianca Lynne Spriggs and Jeremy Paden, “Black Bone” gives a sampling of Affrilachian poets’ work across the years. Each of the featured poets has their own body of work to seek out and support, giving readers a path to hundreds of poems to treasure and appreciate.

Bernard Clay, who I will be talking to later this month on a 100 Days' Instagram Live, also has a couple poems featured in the collection. Be sure to check out his first full-length poetry collection, “English Lit,” before our live show on November 22nd.
LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia” edited by Jeff Mann and Julia Watts
 
When you first open this book to the dedication page, it reads, “For those who stayed.” When I read those four words, I had to take a moment. So much said. So much still to say.A photo of a the book “LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia,” edited by Jeff Mann and Julia Watts.

This anthology captures the complex feelings of so many of us who sit at the intersection of being both queer and Appalachian. In so many ways, it can feel like we have to choose one identity and abandon the other. These selections reflect that reality, both celebrating queer Appalachians and expressing what it feels like to love a place that often feels like it doesn’t love you back.
Other Titles  
That’s it for this week! I’ll be back next week with even MORE Appalachian book recommendations, but in the meantime you can find @ReadAppalachia on Instagram and TikTok, visit our website, www.ReadAppalachia.com, or reach us via email at readappalachia@gmail.com.
 
Happy Reading!

- Kendra
Some links are affiliate links through which Read Appalachia may receive a small commission. Thank you for supporting Read Appalachia.
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