Winter 2017 Editor’s Note

One of the most formative moments of my life was when I acquired a library card. I was around seven, and one day after school my father, a high school history teacher, took me to the squat, brown-bricked building in downtown Pineville, Kentucky. The kind librarian at the desk handed me a form and, with my father, I filled in all the relevant information: name, address, telephone number. Then came the most thrilling part—my signature, promising to return all items, accepting responsibility for any damage incurred by them. I felt so grown-up as I penned my full name in the new cursive script I had learned the year before, taking care to stay on the black line that ran underneath. When all the formalities were complete, the librarian handed me the laminated card, which I gave pride of place in my blue canvas-and-Velcro wallet. That card was my passport to a deeper life, and I began spending countless afternoons at the library, surrounded by towers of books and literacy posters featuring pop culture icons of the eighties and nineties such as David Bowie and Shaquille O’Neal.

Reading is fundamental, some of the posters said, a sentiment that remains relevant today. In the midst of political turbulence and a barrage of attacks on the media, the arts, an education, it would do us all well to return to our libraries and reflect on that statement, to immerse ourselves in the written word, and in literature in particular.

Countless studies have shown the value of reading and what it can offer the mind and soul of the person willing to slip into another world for a few hours. Reading provides escape, a means of trading one’s reality for another, which can be a balm. Reading offers information, facts and truths about history, politics, religion, and peoples around the world. But perhaps more importantly, reading contributes to building a deep reservoir of empathy within a person, a characteristic that is vital to being a citizen. By offering both escape and information, reading allows us to ponder the perspectives of characters or places different from our own, and to consider how those points of view might compare and relate to our own personal experiences. It tears down walls instead of building them.

There are many voices and experiences with which to empathize in this issue of Appalachian Heritage. There’s the woman on a quest for love and understanding on the manicured streets of Dollywood in Leah Hampton’s moving short story “Sparkle,” and the couple negotiating the demands of purchasing a home and enduring a hard winter in Michael Croley’s “Last Light.” Courtney Balestier sings of West Virginia’s signature food in her essay “The Poetry of Pepperoni Rolls,” while Bill King contributes a lyrical elegy to the outdoors in “Trout Flashes.” In her poems, Kentucky Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon takes us across the pond to the banks of the River Ouse, where the great Virginia Woolf ended her life, and to the Outer Hebrides, where time and memory are fluid and circular. Warner James Wood offers a haunting cycle of poems centered on rural life—a small town where women have their nails done at a salon called Alimony, where “the dog at the gate was a warning.”

We are also proud to announce the winners of the 2016 Denny C. Plattner Awards, given to the finest pieces of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry published in the magazine last year—work that moves, transports, and transforms.

Now, more than ever, we need our literature to do just that.

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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