Appalachian writers produce a tremendous amount of work, but finding it isn’t always easy. Katherine Ledford and Theresa Lloyd, professors of Appalachian literature at Appalachian State University and East Tennessee State University respectively, decided to create an anthology they could use in their classrooms.
The effort took more than a decade, but it is finally available in the form of the 745 page “Writing Appalachia Anthology” from the University Press of Kentucky.
Eric Douglas spoke with Lloyd and Ledford by Zoom to learn more about the book.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Douglas: Tell me how this project started.
Lloyd: I started teaching Appalachian literature in 1997 and I was frustrated. There were some good anthologies out there, but I was frustrated by what they didn't have in them. There were few African American writers, for example, and almost no urban writers. I thought that it was really important to include those people in Appalachian literature. So, I started putting together a course pack, and in some respects, I've been researching this thing since 1997.
Douglas: What was the selection process like? How did you choose what to keep in and what to let go?
Ledford: We have a variety of times represented; we have a variety of authors represented. We have a variety of places within the region, both rural and urban; suburban spaces. We have the sweep of the geographical space of Appalachia. We consciously worked very hard to make sure we were including northern Appalachian writers. So, there are writers from Pennsylvania and New York.
We did use the Appalachian Regional Commission's definition of what Appalachia is geographically. So, we have quite a few northern Appalachian writers in addition to writers from central Appalachia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and then southern Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Douglas: There's this perception that all Appalachian writing is about grandma living up a holler and it's stereotypical, even as writing goes.
Lloyd: I call that “mama and biscuits literature.” And there are a lot of writers out there who are from Appalachia, or who write about Appalachia, who don't write about mama and biscuits. This isn't to say that there's not some really important material that comes out of rural Appalachia. I mean, clearly there is, but for us to say that that's all there is to the region, it's really to perpetrate the same stereotypes of people who are critical of the region. Yes, I think it is important to redeem the attitude toward the rural, but it's also important to acknowledge the full diversity of writers who are here.
Douglas: Have you two actually read the entire thing?
Both: Yes. Yeah, many, many, many times.
Douglas: I didn’t know if you split it in half or something.
Ledford: We tag-teamed quite a bit, but then we would flip. So, Tess might write a headnote, take a first stab at writing the introductory biographical information and situating that writer and the work within a larger context, and then eventually we would flip those around and I would give my opinion on that as well. We really know this inside out.
Douglas: Any big surprises for either of you? Any writer or essay that made you think “This is new to me and this is fantastic?” Any big AHA moments?
Lloyd: In a way, I've been having these AHA moments for 20 years as I come upon these writers. One of the most recent moments that I've had, as I was just thinking about the anthology, we knew we wanted to include poets from Black Mountain College, the Black Mountain poets. We just think that's a really important part of Appalachia. But I wasn't totally sure who we should include because there's some really outstanding people there.
I went to one of my colleagues, Jesse Graves, who is a poet that teaches at East Tennessee State, and he suggested that we should consider Jonathan Williams. When I read Jonathan Williams’ poetry, that was a true AHA moment for me.
Ledford: I think for me, Robert Gipe’s novel, “Trampoline: An Illustrated Novel.” We have a chapter from that. I'm a literature person through and through. Robert’s work isn't necessarily a graphic novel in the sense of a cartoon panel kind of thing. That's not what Robert is doing. But he includes pen drawings, line drawings, that he's done himself, every few pages, sometimes multiple ones on a page, that comment on the story that's being told.
I like words on the page. I'm a word girl. So, I want words, words, words. For me, getting to really dig into Robert’s novel, select which chapter we wanted, gave me a new appreciation for this new, emerging form of literature where you have those drawings that are commenting on and supporting and giving a new perspective on the text.
The Writing Appalachia Anthology is a collection of works from more than 150 writers, spanning from the days of the earliest settlers until modern day.
This interview is part of a series of interviews with authors from, or writing about, Appalachia.