Kendra from Read Appalachia here again to chat about all things Appalachian literature with you.
The day of my dad’s 60th birthday party, northern Kentucky unfurled with sunny skies. The July heat beat down on our backs through the trees. My brother and sister-in-law set up a party tent out back. Guests brought an endless number of casserole dishes, lining them up along borrowed church tables. As the evening wore on, cicadas broke out in song, trying to drown out our rendition of “Happy Birthday” as my dad blew out his candles.
Earlier that year, my dad was hospitalized for COVID. I spent the better part of a week waking up each day and wondering if today would be the day I’d get a phone call delivering the worst sort of news. Watching everyone laugh as my dad opened his presents and read his over-the-hill birthday cards aloud, I couldn’t believe we made it.
Sometimes I hear other “expatalachians” talk about how they couldn’t wait to leave their tiny towns tucked away into the mountains. At happy hours, they put on their original accents like a set of old clothes and mimic their friends and family back home. Those hillbillies—always good for a laugh.
Ten years ago, I might have laughed along with them. When I first left the region, I felt desperate to fit in, willing to do whatever it took to pass as “normal.” But over time, I came to realize that being considered “normal” meant giving up the place my heart has always called home.
Reading Appalachian literature helps me reconnect and reclaim a culture and place that will always be part of who I am. Most of the literature I studied in graduate school featured city folk doing city folk things — walking down streets I’d never heard of, let alone seen.
But when I read Appalachian literature, I’m finally reading about a place and people I know and love. I take pride in seeing the incredible literary art coming out of the region. I recommend Appalachian books to anyone who will listen.
I want people from outside of the region to think of the Appalachia that I know. I want them to think of the people who showed up at my parents house with groceries or helped out with the lawn when my family had COVID. To think of my grandfather out picking tomatoes in his bucket hat as he muttered about the deer jumping the garden fence. I need them to understand why Appalachia is worth fighting for.
This week, I’m recommending some of my favorite Appalachian books that I’ve read in the past couple of years. There’s a little something for everyone!