- Seeking Home: Marginalization and Representation in Appalachian Literature and Song eds. by Leslie Harper Worthington and Jürgen E. Grandt
The essays collected in Seeking Home represent the multiplicity that characterizes Appalachia. Together, contributors reiterate the diversity of the region's residents—Cherokee, Melungeon, Affrilachian, and white—as well as the variety of art forms—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and music—that keep Appalachia on our minds.
The volume addresses and acknowledges the known quantities of Appalachian studies (like Henry Shapiro), but also welcomes some interesting guests. Readers might be surprised and pleased, for example, to find Michel Foucault occupying Appalachian coalfields in Roxanne Harde's masterful treatment of how mining songs catalogue and critique, but also generate and exert power. Harde notes that "Collectively, Appalachian mining songs … [End Page 130] shift between criticizing the mining companies and the devastation they cause the environment and humankind, and accepting, even endorsing, the part played by Appalachian people" (186). In a different essay, Jürgen E. Grandt uses Walter Benjamin's work on authenticity to examine the representation of country music in Lee Smith's novel, The Devil's Dream. Grandt argues that the "introduction of recording technology into the world of the novel … neither preserves nor desiccates the authentic, but instead manufactures it" (222). One of the achievements of Seeking Home, then, is its application of European theory and philosophy to Appalachian topics.
The volume should also prove useful in the undergraduate classroom, especially for courses on Appalachian literature. Rhonda Jenkins Armstrong and Daniel Davis Wood deliver excellent work on, respectively, Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer and Ron Rash's short stories. Artress Bethany White also explores Rash's short stories, and juxtaposes them with Natasha Trethewey's poems in order to explore "Race Relations in the Newer South." White concludes that current literary production in the South, including Appalachia, increasingly places "the symbols and the language of the old South … in their proper historical context" (146). Though White does not focus on the Affrilachian Poets, her essay complements the cluster of essays that recount the origins and development of that movement, while also delivering careful analysis of works by Crystal Wilkinson and Frank X. Walker. White points out a problem posed by the existence of the twin categories of Appalachian and Affrilichian: segregating literature based on the race or ethnicity of its author threatens to condone and reinforce divisiveness. White writes, "When educators fall unquestionably into literary separatism, they may in fact foster a lack of critical thinking among their student population, because curricular homogeneity is often read as a true reflection of what is important in a diverse world" (146). Thus, Seeking Home provides two forms of resources for those of us who teach about Appalachia: individual essays that help deepen and enrich student engagement with particular authors and topics, as well as potent reminders about how our course design and pedagogy affect student learning.
The overarching emphasis of Seeking Home is the double-ended paradox nicely named by its title. Though characterized by diversity and multiplicity, Appalachia is nevertheless connected by an emphasis on home; Appalachians are united, the contributors argue, by the longing and search for home. However, the very idea of home is regularly undermined (sometimes quite literally) by marginalizing forces. In her introductory essay, Leslie Harper Worthington suggests that we stand at a turning point in Appalachian studies: "The general recognition that 'traditional' taxonomies of what is and isn't Appalachian and who does and who doesn't belong there are no longer [End Page 131] tenable, given the ramifications of poststructuralist theory, the valuable and crucial achievements of African American, ethnic, and critical race studies as well as the rise of border studies in the wake of the transnational turn in the humanities especially" (8). Though the volume does represent several of the "multiple identities within Appalachia" mentioned by Worthington, the LGBTQ community is notably absent. Thus, the volume maps the complicated concept of an Appalachian home, but does not do so comprehensively...