I had known all my life the world would end with the…
I’ve been thinking a lot about Cincinnati lately, recalling the first glimpse of the Queen City as one rounds the bend on I-75 and begins the descent down toward the riverbed just before Covington. A few days ago, I opened my Internet browser and pulled up a map of the Ohio River on my screen, tracing its crooked line with my finger, considering the muddy border that bisects Kentucky and Ohio, and landing on Cincinnati.
Perhaps my mind has wandered here because the city and the river have been in the news lately, what with the heartbreaking February flood that has affected so many. Or maybe it is because the upcoming Appalachian Studies Association Conference will be held there in just a few weeks, when the region’s leading creative writers, musicians, scholars and thinkers will converge for the annual gathering to highlight the historic link between Cincinnati and Appalachia. Although it lies beyond the region topographically, I, like many others, consider Cincinnati an Appalachian city. During the Great Appalachian Migration of the last mid-century, the city became a haven for mountain folk displaced by unemployment and economic hardship, or for those who simply needed a wider expanse to serve as the backdrop for their lives. There, on the streets of neighborhoods like Over the Rhine and Lower Price Hill, they and tens of thousands of others like them were greeted with responses that ranged from welcome to prejudice to outright contempt. My family were some of those migrants, with uncles and aunts on both sides moving north from southeastern Kentucky to find work in factories such as General Electric and Mosler Safe Company. Some of those who stayed, who did not end up returning to the mountains, had a different perspective than those back home—an understanding of the world that was not necessarily better or richer, but one that naturally turned more outward than inward.
It is that less insular perspective that I hope you have seen reflected in the pages of this magazine—a trend that continues in this issue’s offerings, which includes fiction from Chelyen Davis, Shaun Turner and Jolene Barto; creative nonfiction from Karen Salyer McElmurray, Gail Tyson and Jennie Ziegler; and poetry from a host of talents including Lynnell Major Edwards, Jeff Worley and Lujain Almulla, a writer from Kuwait who found herself drawn to Appalachia during her graduate school studies in Kentucky. In addition to these pieces, this issue features a craft essay from Dana Wildsmith about choosing Appalachia as her spiritual home and an interview with Jesse Donaldson, author of the recently released memoir On Homesickness. We are also proud to announce the recipients of the 2017 Denny C. Plattner Awards in Fiction, Creative Nonfiction and Poetry.
Cincinnati’s distinctive Roebling Suspension Bridge graces our cover in a stunning photograph by Jon Reynolds, who has called the Greater Cincinnati area home for twenty years. When I look at this photograph, when I study the purpling sunset beyond its cables and towers, I find myself thinking of all the people from the mountains who have crossed it, whose dreams and aspirations were framed by its backdrop. I imagine the lives they lived in its shadows, and how the world must have appeared from its expanse, sprawling and open, remote and closed. A sight to behold.