How do the wordsmiths of today describe Appalachians? The people who don't let a day go by without putting down on paper a song, or a rhyme, or a tale that they just had to get off their chest? What kind of worlds do they create in their writings?
This week's episode of Inside Appalachia is a nonstop conversation with some of the best, and most entertaining, fiction writers and poets from central Appalachia today.
There are plenty of words for what people on the outside like to use to describe Appalachians. There’s hillbilly or redneck, or ignorant or poor backwards or even closed minded. At the same time Appalachians are often considered resourceful, hard working and fiercely loyal.
Marie Manilla is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her fiction has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Prairie Schooner, Mississippi Review, Calyx, SouthWrit Large, and other journals. Her novel Shrapnel won the Fred Bonnie Award for Best First Novel. Still Life with Plums: Short Stories was a finalist for both The Weatherford Award and ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year. The Patron Saint of Ugly, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, won the 2014 Weatherford Award. Click here for more.
Glenn Taylor was born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia, and he teaches Creative Writing at West Virginia University. He is the author of three novels, The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart, which was a finalist for the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award, The Marrowbone Marble Company, and A Hanging at Cinder Bottom (2015). In a review of his latest novel, The New York Times wrote that "Taylor has a poet’s eye, and though he trains it on somber themes — how progress eats our young, how the past cannot be outrun, how none of us, poor or rich, are in a position to do much but trudge through 'man’s thin attempt at living' — he believes in the end that, damaged or not, we harbor the capacity to take the muck of our mistakes and our milieu and make 'beautiful things.' Just as he has done." Click here for more.
Silas House is the writer of five novels, including Clays Quilt (2001) and This Is My Heart For You (2012) He is the winner of the E. B. White Award, the Audie Award (best narration), the Nautilus Award, a two-time finalist for the Southern Book Critics Circle Prize among others. House serves as the NEH Chair of Appalachian Literature at Berea College and on the fiction faculty at Spalding University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. House was selected to edit the posthumous manuscript of acclaimed writer James Still, Chinaberry (2011). He recently finished his novel Little Fire, which will be published in 2016.
Frank X. Walker
Frank X Walker is the author of four poetry collections: When Winter Come: the Ascension of York (University Press of Kentucky, 2008); Black Box (Old Cove Press, 2005); Buffalo Dance: the Journey of York (University Press of Kentucky, 2003), which won the Lillian Smith Book Award in 2004; and Affrilachia (Old Cove Press, 2000). A 2005 recipient of the Lannan Literary Fellowship in Poetry, Walker serves as Writer in Residence and lecturer of English at Northern Kentucky University and is the proud editor and publisher of PLUCK!, the new Journal of Affrilachian Art & Culture.
Scott McClanahan is a writer of six novels including Hill William (2013) and Crapalachia (2013). In 2010, McClanahan made Dzanc Books' list of "20 Writers Worth Watching". The Washington Post called Crapalachia "the genuine article: intelligent, atmospheric, raucously funny and utterly wrenching.” Earlier this month the book was listed by the Huffington Post as one of 17 Books You Should Add To Your Usual Back-To-School List. When the Crapalachia was first released, Scott shared his thoughts on being recognized nationally but also as a regional writer.
25-year-old Kaitlen Whitt grew up in Nicholas County, West Virginia. She graduated from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 2012 and then headed to Bulgaria for a year to teach English as a Fulbright scholar. She worked as an AmeriCorps member in Pocahontas County, West Virginia at Allegheny Mountain Radio, writing for the Traveling 219 multi-media project. She's currently an MFA Creative Writing student at Virginia Tech. Her essay "A Love Letter to West Virginia" was recently published on matador.com.
The Poet Laureate of West Virginia, Marc Harshman, is a storyteller and teacher and is also the author of eleven picture books for children, including Rocks in My Pocket, which he co-authored with the late Bonnie Collins. Only One was a Reading Rainbow review title on PBS TV and The Storm was a Junior Library Guild selection, a Smithsonian Notable Book for Children, a Children's Book Council Notable Book for Social Studies, and a 1995 Parent's Choice Award recipient. Raised in Indiana, Harshman has lived his adult life in West Virginia with his wife, Cheryl Ryan and his twenty-year-old daughter, Sarah.
Irene McKinney was West Virginia's Poet Laureate until her death in 2012. The daughter of a schoolteacher, poet Irene McKinney grew up on her family’s farm in Belington, West Virginia. She earned a BA at West Virginia Wesleyan College, an MA at West Virginia University, and a PhD at the University of Utah. McKinney published several collections of poetry, including The Girl with the Stone in Her Lap (1976); Six O’Clock Mine Report (1989), which was chosen for the Pitt Poetry Series; and Vivid Companion (2004). Unthinkable: Selected Poems 1976–2004 was published in 2009. McKinney’s work is also included in the anthology Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia (2003), edited by Sandra L. Ballard and Patricia L. Hudson. In the introduction, McKinney admits, “I’m a hillbilly, a woman, and a poet, and I understood early on that nobody was going to listen to anything I had to say anyway, so I might as well just say what I want to.” Her lyrical poetry is steeped in the rural Appalachian landscape and frequently explores the connections between people and place.
Listen to a conversation from a recent discussion about Appalachian Literature, held at Berea College earlier in September, called The Appalachian Symposium:
Here are some suggested Appalachian readings, recommended by our Inside Appalachia staff and by our listeners.
We want to know: what Appalachian book are you in love with? Send us a tweet.
Or, send us your poem about "MY Apppalachia". Can you write a poem in less than 140 characters (minus the hashtag)? Send that in a tweet to InAppalachia #MyAppalachia. You can also talk with our host, Jessica Lilly, at JessicaYLilly, and our producer, Roxy Todd, at RoxyMTodd. You can also send us an email at: email@example.com.