Negotiating a Perilous Empowerment: Appalachian Women’s Literacies by Erica Abrams Locklear (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Negotiating a Perilous Empowerment: Appalachian Women’s Literacies
Erica Abrams Locklear
Athens: Ohio University P, 2011. 254pp.

inline graphic

In the years since Jacqueline Jones Royster’s seminal work Traces of A Stream: Literacy And Social Change Among African American Women (2000), scholars interested in literacy, identity, and social change have continued to pursue ways to include the voices of women who have previously been underrepresented within scholarly work. Indeed, these recovery projects—often considered part of a revisionist enterprise—represent important examples for those interested in the literary and rhetorical practices of women who have been overlooked based on gendered, ethnic, and socioeconomic identities. Illustrating this, scholars have developed a range of archival, rhetorical, and interview projects that uncover women as historical subjects who represent the myriad ways women develop and use rhetorical skills and literacies. For instance, in Refiguring Rhetorical Education: Women Teaching African American, Native American, and Chicano/a Students, 1865–1911, Jessica Enoch describes female teachers who contested the normative educational structures that oppressed marginalized groups and, rather, developed pedagogical strategies that encouraged civic participation. In another recovery project, Beyond the Archives, Gesa Kirsch describes the role of women who participated in a male-dominated sphere as physicians and civic advocates in the 19th century. In the same book, Wendy Sharer illustrates a new understanding of uncovering voices when she finds scrapbook examples of even her own grandmother’s engagement with political literacies. These examples represent just some of the important work that has emerged in order to uncover and reframe the literate and rhetorical legacies of women from multiple subject positions.

Erica Abrams Locklear’s book Negotiating a Perilous Empowerment: Appalachian Women’s Literacies adds a unique contribution to these discussions by focusing on the literacies of women from Appalachia—a region, she argues, too-often characterized by a deficit framework. That is, Locklear challenges the gendered, regional, and classed stereotypes that represent women in Appalachia as “illiterate,” “hillbillies,” “Other,” or [End Page 115] “lesser”; instead, she shows the complexity of literacy acquisition and use for women from this community and confronts simplistic binary thinking that forms from stereotypes. Locklear provides valuable examples of how female writers and female characters negotiate identity through her critical analysis of fiction and nonfiction texts about Appalachia by Harriette Simpson Arnow, Linda Scott DeRosier, Denise Giardina, and Lee Smith, while also providing interview transcripts. In her analysis, Locklear uses these diverse examples of fictional characters and the real women writers who created them in order to explore the range of effects of literacy development, including the rejection of literacy some women chose to maintain their identity, the loss of cultural heritage they sustain, and the existing conflicts and opportunities that occur throughout the process.

Locklear’s book is comprised of five main chapters, including the transcriptions of interviews with Linda Scott DeRosier and Lee Smith, and an introduction and epilogue. The introduction in particular contextualizes Appalachian women’s literacies in relation to important questions surrounding ethnicity, social status, and geographic location that would be extremely beneficial for scholars who work at the nexus of literacy and identity with other marginalized populations. Chapters 2–5 function as a separate analysis of an Appalachian author and their text, while ultimately combining as a representative account of the social, emotional, and educational effects of literacy use for Appalachian women. While it is important not to conflate these accounts, there are many overlapping struggles that these women faced, most notably the negotiation of self and identity in their literacy development. Negotiating a Perilous Empowerment centers on the claim that literacy is neither static nor neutral. Rather, as the title suggests, the goals are to examine its complex—even contradictory—nature as both perilous and empowering, vexing and authorizing, for Appalachian women. In this way, Locklear argues that literacy—both as a term and process of development—is contentious for these women, and “often results in the constant negotiation of self-identity,” particularly in ways that cause women to sacrifice a piece of themselves in order to gain literacy (2). Ultimately, Locklear claims that through her book “we can better understand the saturation of illiteracy stereotypes, the effects of those misconceptions on...