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Hey y’all,

Skylar here. As the leaves fall and the weather turns colder, we say goodbye to geonovah, our wonderful Creators and Innovators newsletter host in October. This young hip-hop artist no doubt has a bright future ahead of him. All of us here 100 Days in Appalachia look forward to seeing his career take off.

Music is integral to our heritage here in Appalachia, which is why featuring artists like geonovah – who are the future of Appalachian music – is so exciting. Just as central to our culture, though, is our rich literary tradition. That’s why I am so excited to introduce you to Kendra Winchester!

Kendra now lives in the South Carolina lowcountry, but her roots stretch back to the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky. Inspired by her love of both our region and reading, she created @ReadAppalachia on Instagram to help her reconnect with the mountains and share the best of Appalachian literature with the world.

Her work to amplify the voices of Appalachian authors and poets speaks to my heart and the spirit of 100 Days in Appalachia, making her an obvious fit for our C&I series. I know both her passion for good books and her love for our region will shine through as you get to know her over the coming month. With that, let’s turn it over to Kendra!

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Hello, friends! My name is Kendra Winchester, and I’m the creator of Read Appalachia, an initiative that celebrates Appalachian literature and writing. I’m thrilled to be hosting 100 Days of Appalachia’s newsletter throughout the month of November.
A photo of Kendra, a white woman with brunette hair, with her back against a railing with water behind her. She’s wearing a black t-shirt with the word ”south” on the front. She’s turned her head and is looking off to the right.

Kendra Winchester. Photo: Provided

I grew up in the tiny town of Sciotoville, nestled snugly between the tree-lined hills of the Ohio River Valley. My family has been moving back and forth across the steel bridges that span the Ohio River for the last half-century. I grew up on the Ohio side, but when I travel back to see my family and friends for holidays and birthdays, I drive to the Kentucky side my family now calls home.
Back in September, my grandma passed away. The other day I sat down at my desk to write her a letter, and was already pulling out a notecard before I realized that she wouldn’t be reading my letters anymore.
Whenever grief hits me like this, I flip through old photo albums, trying to better understand who my grandparents were before I was even born. No matter how many of their photos I see, I always come back to this image of the two of them from the '70s.

A sepia photo featuring a white woman and a white man sitting next to each other in old lawn chairs. Both are brunette. The woman’s hair is short, and so is the man’s. The woman has her foot casually placed on the man’s foot rest. He is leaning back and looking at her as she looks at him. They are oblivious to the world around them, which includes people walking by behind them. The style of clothing suggests this photo was taken in the 70s.
Kendra Winchester’s grandparents. Photo: Provided.
I wrote about my favorite photo of them for Read Appalachia:

My grandparents loved the people of Eastern Kentucky and spent the prime of their lives serving the community as best they could.

I remember the first time I saw this photo a few years ago. Their faces are so open in this moment, obviously still very much in love.

My grandfather passed away when I was nineteen. Most of my memories are of him smiling, usually getting in trouble for some sort of antics. But my grandma is much more reserved, and this smile feels like a rare, beautiful flower to me, delicate, in need of care, and afraid to face the sun. But, my stars, she is as strong as steel.

When I read Appalachian literature, much of the time I am grasping at the memories I will never have, images of my grandparents like they are in this photo. But I still try. I still need to understand who they were and where I came from.

Here’s to reading books that create a mirror that I can see myself and my family in, but also to the stories that create a window into Appalachian experiences I could never even imagine. Both are equally vital for anyone trying to better understand the different communities in these mountains.

Read Appalachia is dedicated to the memory of my grandparents. I’ve since traded the hillsides of central Appalachia for the palm trees and seaside views of the South Carolina Lowcountry. But even with all the natural beauty of the wetlands around me, I still ache to look up and see my familiar part of the Appalachian Mountains stretch across the horizon.

So in the hellscape that was 2020, I started Read Appalachia to stay connected with my heritage and culture back in the region I most love. I never expected that what started as a late night whim would turn into a beautiful community of book lovers discussing and celebrating Appalachian literature and writing.

This month, I’ll be sharing snippets of the origins of my own passion for Appalachian Literature, complete with book recommendations to help you discover new-to-you Appalachian writers.

But a month all about reading isn’t complete without a book club, right? So later this month, I’ll be chatting with Bernard Clay, the author of the poetry collection “English Lit”, one of my favorite Appalachian book releases of 2021. Make sure to pick up a copy so you can read along!

As a disabled bookworm who reads only via audio, I want to make sure this newsletter is accessible to readers of all kinds.I’ll be including an audio version of each newsletter, complete with image descriptions.

Okay, that’s all for now. I’ll be back soon with my first round of book recommendations, but until then, happy reading!

 - Kendra
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