- "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."
-- Irene McKinney, West
Virginia Poet Laureate
LISTEN HERE is an extraordinary accomplishment. Sandra Ballard and
Patricia Hudson have gathered the work 105 Appalachian women writers in a
much needed anthology. The women included were selected because they have
lived a significant portion of their lives in the region; they identify
themselves with the region; their lives have been influenced by the
region; and/or their writings concern the Appalachian experience.
Defining the region as consisting of "the mountainous parts of
Pennsylvania and southwest Virginia to West Virginia, eastern Kentucky,
East Tennessee, western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and
northern Georgia and Alabama," the editors want to remind readers of the
universality of experience while celebrating land, people, culture, and
place often considered outside the American mainstream.
Lee Smith, one of the region's most respected authors, examined the
public's perception and concluded that, "Appalachia is to the South what
the South is to the rest of the country. That is: lesser than, backward,
marginal. Other. Look at the stereotypes... A bunch of hillbillies sitting
on a rickety old porch drinking moonshine and living on welfare, right?
The editors' choices provide a refreshing cultural diversity in addition
to many hours of fine and lively reading. The majority of the writers
included are contemporary and many will be familiar to fans of Southern,
women's, and popular writing (Dorothy Allison, Lisa Alther, Kathyrn
Stripling Byer, Annie Dillard, Nikki Giovanni, Gail Godwin, Barbara
Kingsolver, Sharyn McCrumb, Jayne Anne Phillips, Mary Lee Settle, Lee
Smith, and Adriana Trigani). Several "newcomers," most notably Catherine
Landis, are anthologized for the first time. The inclusion of literary
predecessors, Mary "Mother" Jones and Rebecca Harding Davis, provide
context and contrast for the changes in the region.
Most of the women have juggled the demands of gender -- being wives and
mothers, helping support their families with "day" jobs, and taking care
of parents -- while also carving out time for their writing. Several have
been nominated for and/or received the Pulitzer Prize, National Book
Awards, and Newbery Awards. They've found critical and commercial success
despite the so-called "regionalist" nature of their writing.
Lisa Koger writes, "I suspect that trying to separate a writer's work from
his background is a little like trying to separate a turtle from its
shell.... Remove home and its influence from my back and I will have lost
not just shelter but an essential part of me."
Listen Here is an important addition to the Southern literary
Sandra L. Ballard, professor of English at Appalachian State University,
is the editor of Appalachian Journal. Patricia L. Hudson, a former
reference librarian at the University of Tennessee, is a freelance writer.
Her work has appeared in American Heritage, Appalachian Heritage,
and Southern Living. Ballard and Hudson are the coeditors of The
Carolinas & Appalachian States in the Smithsonian Guide to Historic
- Southern Scribe
© 2003, Southern Scribe
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