Winter 2014 Editor’s Note

Nine years ago, my paternal grandmother was in the final weeks of her life. I joined my family in keeping vigil back in southeastern Kentucky as often as I could, making the eight-hour drive down Interstate 81 or flying to nearby Knoxville, Tennessee, from my then home in Washington, D.C. In between visits at her bedside, I reverted to what I’d always done in her house since I was a child—examining the contents of her many bookshelves that lined the walls of her living room, dining room, and bedrooms like sentries keeping watch, like all of us gathered there.

During one of these ramblings, I discovered a trove of back issues of Appalachian Heritage. What I read was a balm— stories by Lee Smith and Harriette Simpson Arnow, poetry by James Still and Jim Wayne Miller. Since being named editor of Appalachian Heritage last fall, I’ve often been carried back to those magazines in my grandmother’s home, to the lyricism of the writers and the wisdom of past editors. I am committed to preserving the legacy they created in this publication. But I’m also reminded of what I believe to be true about the literature of our region.

Appalachian literature is a living thing, kept alive in the hills and hollers and cities of the region, certainly, but also in places various and sundry beyond its physical borders—on the streets of New York, in apartments in Portland, across
the pond in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Appalachia is too significant a place to be defined by mere topography or whether one was born within its borders. Instead, it occupies a “geography of the heart,” to borrow a phrase from Fenton Johnson, one of the contributors to this issue, a place that can take up residence in the spirits of natives and non-natives alike. It’s a region of great complexity, of rural and urban, living and leaving, acceptance and prejudice, wealth and poverty, religion and drug abuse, literacy and dropouts, individualism and homogenization—and everything in between. Appalachia, to paraphrase Walt Whitman, “contains multitudes.”

This is the region that I hope will be captured in these pages—a place where an irate father can blow a television to kingdom come as in C. Williams’s chilling story “Chicken Shit Pistol,” a state of mind where one can muse about pacifism while touring an Arizona missile museum as in Johnson’s essay “Power and Obedience,” an idea that is clung to by a character like Joanne in Patti Frye Meredith’s aching story “The Big Chair,” a moment in time marked by birdsong as in L.S. McKee’s poem “Alva and the Blackbird, 1944.”

I hope that you will savor and be challenged by all the Appalachias that are present in these writings—and then go and create your own.

Jason Howard is the author of A Few Honest Words and co-author of Something's Rising, both works of literary journalism. His essays, features, and commentary have appeared in the New York Times, The Louisville Review, The Nation, Sojourners, on NPR, and in other publications and venues. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is editor of Appalachian Heritage.

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