Sandra L. Ballard and Patricia L. Hudson, Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia (University Press of Kentucky, 2003)

Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia is a compilation of writings by 105 women in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. The works featured include prose, poetry, non-fiction, fiction, autobiography and oral history. All that the authors cited have in common is that they are female and have been in some way influenced by Appalachia, a region defined as "the southeastern mountains and foothills--from the mountainous parts of Pennsylvania and southwest Virginia to West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, East Tennessee, western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and northern Georgia and Alabama."

Not only is Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia a comprehensive collection, it is the first of its kind. These 105 writers are almost totally absent from the standard reference works. The only ones I'd ever heard of before myself were Mother Jones and Catherine Marshall.

Anthologies tend to be spotty in quality. This one is not. Here the editors had no lack of good material available to them, and they chose carefully. There isn't a single piece in the book that isn't an example of good writing in its own genre (whether you enjoy that genre or not). Listen Here doesn't try to make a point, except that many women writers in Appalachia are not known widely enough. The stereotypical themes (violence, ignorance, oppression, addictions) attributed to marginalized groups come up from time to time, but they aren't the focus of the anthology. Listen Here celebrates good writing. It would be good writing no matter who wrote it and where they lived.

So which bits did I like best? That's a hard question to answer, but an even harder task would be to find something I didn't like at all. Here are a few highlights for me:

Elaine Fowler Palencia's "Briers" has a chilling justice to it.

The excerpt from Chapter 5 of Sharyn McCrumb's The Songcatcher makes a great to-do about whether you say "Appa-lay-chia" or "Ap-pa-latch-ah". Politically correct in the South or not, here in the northern ranges of the Appalachians they're called "Appa-lay-chians", and it isn't a political thing, just a geographical one. Now in French we say "les Appalaches", pronounced "layz Ap-pa-lash". Perhaps that is more acceptable. (Can you tell this annoyed me? But I can't say it's not well-written, just that I disagree with it.)

Amy Tipton Cortner's vampire poetry is cuttingly funny. The poem "Hospitality" reminds me of my mother, and all the womenfolk in my family, and the way I would like to think I act occasionally myself. There are tragic bits, too, like the excerpts from Verna Mae Slone's What My Heart Wants to Tell and Lee Smith's Saving Grace.

This is a scholarly book. It lists primary and secondary sources and gives a careful list of permissions. It has a short biographical note on each author. Moreover, there is a list of about 100 other women writing in Appalachia that the editors would have liked to include, with bibliographies of their work. Obviously, then, it does not even pretend to be a complete reference work on a field in constant evolution, but it's certainly a good starting point.

[Faith Cormier]

Sandra L. Ballard is the editor of the Appalachian Journal.
Patricia L. Hudson is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in several publications.
She also wrote Inns of the Southern Mountains.
Together, Ballard and Hudson wrote The Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Carolinas and the Appalachian States.

If you are interested in the cultural roots from which these works
come, you may enjoy Richard B. Drake's A History of Appalachia.

For more books from the University Press of Kentucky, see their Web site.