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Back Talk from Appalachia

Confronting Stereotypes

edited by Dwight B. Billings, Gurney Norman, and Katherine Ledford

Publication Year: 2013

Appalachia has long been stereotyped as a region of feuds, moonshine stills, mine wars, environmental destruction, joblessness, and hopelessness. Robert Schenkkan's 1992 Pulitzer-Prize winning play The Kentucky Cycle once again adopted these stereotypes, recasting the American myth as a story of repeated failure and poverty--the failure of the American spirit and the poverty of the American soul. Dismayed by national critics' lack of attention to the negative depictions of mountain people in the play, a group of Appalachian scholars rallied against the stereotypical representations of the region's people. In Back Talk from Appalachia, these writers talk back to the American mainstream, confronting head-on those who view their home region one-dimensionally. The essays, written by historians, literary scholars, sociologists, creative writers, and activists, provide a variety of responses. Some examine the sources of Appalachian mythology in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literature. Others reveal personal experiences and examples of grassroots activism that confound and contradict accepted images of ""hillbillies."" The volume ends with a series of critiques aimed directly at The Kentucky Cycle and similar contemporary works that highlight the sociological, political, and cultural assumptions about Appalachia fueling today's false stereotypes.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Back Talk from Appalachia

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pp. i-ii


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p. iii-iii


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p. iv-iv


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pp. v-viii

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pp. ix-xi

Appalachia may likely have replaced the benighted South as the nation's most maligned region. Once disparaged as the "bunghole" of the nation, "the Sahara of the Bozarts:'! the South has risen in stature in recent years, and the new "Sunbelt South" now rivals other regions as the symbol of American economic...


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p. xii-xii

I. (Re)lntroducing Appalachia: Talking Back to Stereotypes

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pp. 3-20

This book began as a series of responses to a play, Robert Schenkkan's The Kentucky Cycle, and to the latest round of stereotyping of Appalachian peoples and their cultures that such works exemplify. While the peoples and cultures in the Appalachian Mountains are decidedly plural, outside the region in the arts,...

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Beyond Isolation and Homogeneity: Diversity and the History of Appalachia

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pp. 21-44

Appalachia is a region without a formal history. Born in the fertile minds of late-nineteenth-century local color writers, ''Appalachia'' was invented in the caricatures and atmospheric landscapes of the escapist fiction they penned to entertain the emergent urban middle class. The accuracy of these stories and...

II. Speaking of "Hillbillies": Literary Sources of Contemporary Stereotypes

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A Landscape and a People Set Apart: Narratives of Exploration and Travel in Early Appalachia

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pp. 47-66

We don't have to look hard to find a hillbilly today. Tum on the television, open a newspaper, watch a movie, listen to political debate, or attend a performance of a Pulitzer Prize-winning play and there he is-drinking, feuding, and fornicating. But how has this character, the one who leading national publications...

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"Deadened Color and Colder Horror": Rebecca Harding Davis and the Myth of Unionist Appalachia

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pp. 67-84

"When the civil war came;' Berea College president William Goodell Frost confidently wrote in 1899, "there was a great surprise for both the North and the South. Appalachian America clave to the old flag. It was this old-fashioned loyalty which held Kentucky in the Union, made West Virginia 'secede from...

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The Racial "Innocence" of Appalachia: William Faulkner and the Mountain South

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pp. 85-97

Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, is a long way from southern Appalachia, and William Faulkner has never been noted as a chronicler of the mountain experience. But in at least two instances he did write of southern mountaineers, and in both he emphasized their isolation from the rest of the South, and...

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A Judicious Combination of Incident and Psychology: John Fox Jr. and the Southern Mountaineer Motif

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pp. 98-118

Midway through 1894, Theodore Roosevelt had not yet been challenged by the exigencies of either war or presidential succession and still had time to indulge his considerable passion for history, anthropology, and literature. Into his ever-growing circle of American men of letters, he welcomed a new writer, a central...

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Where "Bloodshed Is a Pastime": Mountain Feuds and Appalachian Stereotyping

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pp. 119-137

A persistent concern among Appalachian writers, activists, and scholars remains the challenge of responding to pervasive stereotypes regarding the peoples, cultures, and communities found--or imagined-in the central and southern sections of the Appalachian Mountains.1 A landmark text in this ongoing...

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Where Did Hillbillies Come From? Tracing Sources of the Comic Hillbilly Fool in Literature

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pp. 138-150

Because I grew up in western North Carolina, graduated from Appalachian State University and the University of Tennessee, live in East Tennessee, and have no qualms about identifying myself as a native of Appalachia, some people expect me to object to the comic image of "hillbillies" depicted in syndicated...

III. Speaking More Personally: Responses to Appalachian Stereotypes

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The "R" Word: What's So Funny (and Not So Funny) about Redneck Jokes

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pp. 153-160

If you happen to be from eastern Kentucky, as I am, then other people's stereotypes of the place you are from are as much a part of your landscape as the hills themselves. They can loom as large and seem as permanent. You have to find your way over or around them. But unlike the mountains, which can be seen...

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Appalachian Images: A Personal History

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pp. 161-173

My mother's people came to the mountains from a variety of places. Some, Honakers and Whitts and Pauleys, followed the early westward migration through Virginia to Kentucky after the Revolutionary War. Others came later, Quakers escaping Confederate North Carolina to the Union stronghold of eastern Kentucky....

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Up in the Country

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pp. 174-183

It is a strange destiny, Thomas Wolfe begins Look Homeward, Angel, that leads from England to Pennsylvania and down into the Carolinas. Or, in my case, a strange destiny (although, in fact, no stranger than any other, for all destinies are equally improbable) that in 1756 brought a Pennsylvania Quaker down the...

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On Being "Country": One Affrilachian Woman's Return Home

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pp. 184-186

One thing I vividly recall about growing up in Indian Creek, Kentucky, with my grandparents is the square-offs between my city cousins and me, the country cousin, during June family reunions. They laughed at the way I spoke and called me country. Country? I had never thought of myself as anything else....

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Appalachian Stepchild

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pp. 187-190

I was born and raised in Charleston, West Virginia. My working-class father, ashamed of his lack of education and my mother's coal camp background, was determined to "make it:' He worked two jobs, and as his income rose, we moved to "better" neighborhoods and adopted middle-class values and attitudes. As...

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If There's One Thing You Can Tell Them, It's that You're Free

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pp. 191-200

I'll tell you, to get to where I am today has not been easy. I was born an Appalachian child in poverty. I was reared in poverty, deprived of an education. But you know, I held onto one dream. I wanted to be somebody. I wanted to do things for other people, and I wanted to change lives for people in the same position I was in....

IV. Sometimes Actions Speak Louder than Words: Activism in Appalachia

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The Grass Roots Speak Back

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pp. 203-214

Contrary to popular images of Appalachians as passive victims, there exists throughout the Appalachian Mountains a tradition of individual and organized citizen efforts to establish community services and preserve community values. This essay describes the variety and extent of local and regional efforts...

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Miners Talk Back: Labor Activism in Southeastern Kentucky in1922

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pp. 215-227

Many writers have worked to overcome stereotypical images of southern Appalachia in recent years. Some of the more stubborn characterizations of the place include Appalachia as a dysfunctional culture, a quaint and unindustrialized wilderness, an internal colony, a hotbed of labor militancy, and/or a deficient...

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Coalfield Women Making History

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pp. 228-250

On the night of June 10, 1972, over two hundred people walked off their jobs at the end of the evening shift at a large eastern Kentucky hospital. Almost all of them were women. The rest of the night they milled around in a huge crowd gathered at the mouth of Harold's Branch where it runs into the Levisa Fork of...

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Paving the Way: Urban Organizations and the Image of Appalachians

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pp. 251-266

For the millions of Appalachians who left the mountains and migrated to urban centers outside the region, the first priority was to find a job and a place to live. Appalachians were-and still are-generally quite competent in finding employment and housing in the host cities. In a few places, such as Chicago...

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Stories of AIDS in Appalachia

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pp. 267-280

There are many stories about human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Some of these are the "official" accounts offered by journalists and experts on AIDS, and some, the literary imaginings of writers such as Fenton Johnson. Others are stories of ordinary...

V. Recycling Old Stereotypes: Critical Responses to The Kentucky Cycle

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America Needs Hillbillies: The Case of The Kentucky Cycle

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pp. 283-299

Anyone familiar with The Kentucky Cycle has likely heard a variation on the following story, the essential details of which appear in most articles and reviews about the play. On a wet spring day in 1981, a twenty-eight-year-old actor by the name of Robert Schenkkan traveled across central Kentucky from...

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The View from the Castle: Reflections on the Kentucky Cycle Phenomenon

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pp. 300-312

Just when Appalachian scholars, writers, and activists have begun to think that perhaps a quarter-century of their efforts had started to make some dent in public perception of their region, along comes The Kentucky Cycle. Robert Schenkkan's lengthy play cycle, inspired by a weekend visit to eastern Kentucky...

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Regional Consciousness and Political Imagination: The Appalachian Connection in an Anxious Nation

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pp. 313-326

When I was about eighteen years old and a student in the Kansas University Library I discovered the history of racial lynching in the United States, especially in my native South. In 1956 my political education was accelerating in response to the Montgomery bus boycott led by Rosa Parks, E.D. Nixon, and...

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Notes on The Kentucky Cycle

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pp. 327-332

The following notes represent a set of thoughts that have been accumulating since I first read The Kentucky Cycle in 1992. I At that time the play had already won approval by audiences and critics alike after performances in Seattle and Los Angeles. Within months the play would be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for...


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pp. 333-335


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pp. 336-351

E-ISBN-13: 9780813143330
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813190013

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2013