In 1953, William Styron was riding high on the success of his debut novel, Lie Down in Darkness, which had been published two years earlier to great acclaim. He was just twenty-eight when he sat down with Peter Matthiessen and George Plimpton at a café on the Boulevard Montparnasse in Paris for an interview that appeared in the spring 1954 issue of The Paris Review. It’s easy to imagine the young Styron there, sipping an Americano, and musing about what qualifies as good literature. “A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end,” he said. “You live several stories while reading it.” [End Page 5]
Over sixty years later, Styron’s proclamation continues to ring true. However, I would modify it to apply to shorter creative works as well—to short stories, creative nonfiction, and poetry—and indeed, to the writing that appears in this issue of Appalachian Heritage. With that, dear readers, you have been given fair warning: you will reach the end of this issue having inhabited several lives and visited many places, including a courtroom, a diner, an Intensive Care Unit, a dive gay bar replete with Whitney Houston drag queens, a junkyard, an amateur animal sanctuary, and an art gallery to name but a few. You may close the back cover with a sheen of sweat on your brow, in need of a stiff drink. But you will have lived.
You will be guided on this journey by Michael Henson, whose story “Probation” tackles the ravages of small town drug addiction and a woman trying to stay clean and sober; by emerging writer Rachel Garringer, who creates a strange and mystical world in “Not the Mountain Kind”; by Carter Sickels, author of the stunning novel The Evening Hour, whose essay chronicles his emerging identity as transgender and Appalachian; by bestselling novelist Denise Giardina in a scene from her first play Robert and Ted. You will pause to consider the words of poets like Rachel Morgan and Catherine Pritchard Childress, who write of absent family members and discovering what’s right in front of you. And in this issue’s craft essay, you will explore with novelist and memoirist Karen Salyer McElmurray the act of transforming experience into art, both fiction and creative nonfiction, and why memoir remains a relevant and thriving literary genre “in this often self-referential world.”
But before you depart, please take time to applaud the winners of the 2013 Denny C. Plattner Awards, presented to the authors of the work deemed by our judges to be the best [End Page 6] pieces of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry that appeared in the magazine last year.
The finest writing, Styron noted that day in Paris, should move the reader on multiple levels, “not only in its style, but in its total communicability, like the effect of good poetry.” I guarantee that the writing in this issue will leave you moved— and slightly exhausted, but only in the best possible way. [End Page 7]