- In Memoriam Sidney Saylor Farr
Appalachian Heritage and the Appalachian literary community is mourning the death of Sidney Saylor Farr last May 27. She served as editor of Appalachian Heritage from 1985 until 1999, and, until earlier this year, she contributed a regular column of Appalachian recipes and recollections for this magazine. We have lost a truly nurturing soul, a dear friend, and a consummate professional.
Sidney Saylor Farr grew up in coal camps and subsistence farms in Bell County, Kentucky. Her father's only source of cash income was occasional work at a sawmill or as a logger. When she was in the seventh grade, she quit school to take care of her mother, who was bed-ridden, and her nine brothers and sisters. At the age of fifteen, she married Leon Lawson, a man of similar background but ten years her senior. When her husband discovered that she was taking correspondence classes in hopes of getting a high school diploma, he threw her books in the fire, but she never gave up her quest for learning. The couple moved to Indianapolis and then, in 1962, to Berea, Kentucky, in search of employment. When they arrived in Berea, Sidney Saylor Farr quickly became well-known as an outstanding secretary—smart, fast, and dedicated. Her career in publishing began with a job for Mountain Life and Work. Later, she went to work for Berea College and began taking college classes, gaining her college degree the hard way while raising two boys, Wayne and Bruce.
When Sidney Saylor Farr was hired in 1985 to edit Appalachian Heritage, she took on a daunting task. Our founding editor, Albert Stewart, had created literary anthologies and founded writers' workshops and enjoyed a myriad of contacts in the literary world. The magazine was off to an awesome start, but there were no guarantees that this momentum could continue without him. Furthermore, Berea College had gone out on a limb agreeing to take over sponsorship of the magazine. It still is unusual for a small college to contribute to scholarship by publishing an academic journal, something usually done by large universities. Nevertheless, Sidney Saylor Farr had deep Eastern Kentucky roots in the folk culture, and she was a practitioner of writing who empathized with her fellow [End Page 8] regional writers. Farr managed not only to keep the magazine afloat, but to strengthen it. While she was editor, she was one of James Still's closest friends, has been credited by Silas House and many others as giving the encouragement that allowed them to embark on careers as writers, but was always as attentive to the least developed talents as to the giants in her field. In 1990, the grandson who she helped raise, Ritchie, was killed in a tragic car accident when he was still in high school. Practically the whole town of Berea grieved with her as the life of this upbeat, young star athlete and popular student was cut short.
The books published by Sidney Saylor Farr demonstrate her diverse enthusiasms and talents—a book of poetry; a bibliography of Appalachian women; two books about a truck driver, Tom Sawyer, who had a near-death experience; two books of recipes and recollections; and finally her memoir, My Appalachia, published by the University Press of Kentucky in 2007. Sidney Saylor Farr did not have an easy life—never—but she was determined to brighten the lives of those around her and succeeded in that to a remarkable degree. After bad health forced her to leave Appalachian Heritage, she continued to work with others who wanted to write. To the women of the New Opportunity School for Women, she was not only an important teacher but also a role model, and she worked closely with many other aspiring writers, including a group that lived in a high-rise old-folks home in Richmond, Kentucky.
The life of Sidney Saylor Farr serves as a beacon to those who are overcoming obstacles and an inspiration to those who wish to encourage other writers. Appalachian Heritage is proud to be attempting to carry on her legacy and grateful for her key role in making our magazine...