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Bloodroot: Reflections on Place by Appalachian Women Writers

Joyce Dyer Editor
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Winner of the 1997 Appalachian Studies Award Appalachian Writers Association 1999 Book of the Year Winner of the Susan Koppleman Award of the Popular Culture Association for Best Edited Collection in Women's Studies Joyce Dyer is director of writing and associate professor of English at Hiram College, Ohio."

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4339-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)
    Joyce Dyer

    This is a volume of celebration. Of general celebration of the literary renaissance that is taking place in the hills of Appalachia among its sons and daughters. And of special celebration of the writing women of the Southern Highlands who are making such a profound and prolific contribution to American letters.

    How is it that such light can be issuing from what we have long been told is the most dimly lit corner of America? How is it possible for us to replace the images of women on crumbling porches burned into our eyes by Walker Evans’s photographs with the...

  5. Flowering Ivy
    (pp. 16-20)
    Sheila Kay Adams

    When someone dies, Daddy says they have moved down the road and up on the hill, meaning to one of the several graveyards there in Sodom. And they still receive visitors on a regular basis.

    The young girl in the story was my great-grandmother on my mother’s side. Her name was Betty Ray Norton; everyone referred to her as Mother. She was born in 1853, and died in 1917. I was born a hundred years after her birth, but I know many things about her. She was 5 feet 11 inches tall. She had dark red hair that reached almost...

  6. Border States
    (pp. 21-30)
    Lisa Alther

    When she was ninety-six, Hattie Elizabeth Vanover Reed, my paternal grandmother, would put on a stylish silk suit with a skirt to her knees, nylons and two-inch heels, costume jewelry, and full-battle makeup whenever visitors were expected at her nursing home in Kingsport, Tennessee. Right to the end, she maintained her standards for a Virginia lady.

    I remember my grandmother best presiding over Sunday dinners in the nightclub that she’d bought from a bootlegger and remodeled into her home. An open-air deck, where patrons had once drunk moonshine, ran the length of the living room, overlooking the slow-drifting Holston River,...

  7. The Mountains Dark and Close around Me
    (pp. 31-39)
    Maggie Anderson

    I don’t like the term “influence.” The large shaky hand of Harold Bloom’s anxiety hovers over it; and for women writers, “influence” has too often been used as a way of establishing our partriarchal lineage and our lack of originality. When I think of who and what have had lasting effects on my work, I prefer to think of “confluence,” coming together with intent. “Influence” hierarchizes. The landscapes I have known, the writers who are essential to me (those I have known in person, and those I have known only through their books), the words and songs and trees I...

  8. Sound
    (pp. 40-51)
    Marilou Awiakta

    In mid-May 1996, I stepped before a university audience in Ohio to give a presentation from my recent book,Selu: Seeking the Corn-Mother’s Wisdom.The people were warm and responsive. Feeling good, I announced the first poem, “Song of the Grandmothers,” and opened the book.

    The pages were white—blank! Without warning, my near vision was gone, my far vision blurred. Fortunately, I’m a sayer—a sounder—and know most of my poems and stories by heart. Also, generations of grandmothers were whispering in my ear, “Don’t be puny, honey. Get the job done.” So I did. But I could...

  9. Root Hog, or Die
    (pp. 52-60)
    Artie Ann Bates

    Unlike the big cities, where survival depends on the delivery of goods and services, Appalachia is a place where many still root a living out of the land. For my ancestors of five generations, the creed of survivors was “root hog, or die.”

    My past started in eastern Kentucky long before I was born. David and Nancy Back, my great-grandparents, bought the farm in the head of Elk Creek in 1907, about thirty-five years after it was built by her brother. Their youngest daughter, Artie, my grandmother, was married in the living room of that farmhouse in 1913.

    Her oldest...

  10. Deep Water
    (pp. 61-70)
    Kathryn Stripling Byer

    “Solitude,” said Emma Bell Miles inThe Spirit of the Mountains,“is deep water, and small boats do not ride well in it.” No one who has lived for long in these mountains can doubt the power of that solitude. It can cause a woman to sink into its depths and never rise again. It can drive her crazy trying to break its hold on her, all the while drawing her closer and closer to the edge of some jump-off, the distance rising up before her like a vision of freedom.

    The worst thing that icy blue water can do...

  11. Good Questions
    (pp. 71-79)
    Jo Carson

    In 1994, I was one of thirty playwrights in the country invited to apply for a major award. I did not win the award. It went to a man who was dying of AIDS, and it allowed him the wherewithal to die at home. The award was for a body of work, a sort of achievement award, as opposed to being project-specific as most grants are. Most grants ask that you describe the project you want funded, submit a budget for it, and at the end, assuming you get the money, write a final report. This one offered a substantial...

  12. Paradise in Price Hollow
    (pp. 80-86)
    Lou V.P. Crabtree

    Paradise in Price Hollow was partly Adam’s paradisebeforethe apple got caught in his throat.

    Was I a spirit set down in that paradise for sixteen years, to find out what it is to be human? Or was I a human set there to absorb the spirit that would last eighty years and plant something in the heart of me? That something would save me—help me to stand apart, isolated, all the while observing the diversity of life’s systems, circles, patterns. That something would give me roots to write from.

    Price Hollow is a small hollow between hills...

  13. All This, and Honeysuckles Too
    (pp. 87-97)

    Once, in an aerobics class, the instructor told us to check our pulses. I checked, then told her I didn’t have one, so she showed me how to find it. In a similar way, external sources taught me how to find my heart: northeast Georgia. While living here, from age five to fifteen, I was aware that I enjoyed the scenery and the seasons. Other geographical areas, between age sixteen and forty-five, provided conscious acknowledgment of and an aching need for “my” Appalachia. But even as a girl I already “had an I,” defined by people, experiences, and landscapes of...

  14. Mutant in Bandana
    (pp. 98-104)
    Hilda Downer

    I was supposed to have been a ballet dancer. However, there were no dance classes anywhere near Bandana, the small Appalachian town I grew up in. I practiced leaps and singing in this place named for the red bandana Clinchfield Railroad tied to a laurel branch to denote an imaginary train station. That train, often rattling baggage in my sleep and offering a prediction of snow for the next morning by the strange way its whistle sounded, never tunneled through my door with ballet slippers, but there was paper and pen.

    Since the roots of poetry for me dig into...

  15. “The Past Is Never Dead. It’s Not Even Past”
    (pp. 105-110)
    Wilma Dykeman

    In the beginning there were the two of them.

    Then there was the place: the woods and wild azalea and rhododendron thickets, the spirited creek, the moss-backed boulders, where they made their nest, which was as personal and sturdy as any nest built by thrush or eagle.

    It was the relationship between my mother and father and the ways in which they related to the world around them that shaped, in varying degrees, everything I have written.

    Two major differences challenged my parents, or rather I should say challenged their acquaintances. When I was born my father was sixty years...

  16. Women Born to Be Strong
    (pp. 111-119)
    Sidney Saylor Farr

    I am the oldest of ten children. My family lived about as far back as it was possible to go in Bell County, Kentucky. Father worked in the timber woods and at a sawmill, when there was employment to be found, and when there was no work he made and sold moonshine. We ate what we grew on the place or could glean from the hillsides. Just about everything was made by hand. We had little contact with people outside the region.

    I married shortly after I turned fifteen; it seemed there was little else to do. I wanted to...

  17. Salt-Water Geechee Mounds
    (pp. 120-127)
    Nikky Finney

    Long before Frank X. Walker, a local artist in Lexington, Kentucky, read in a 1989 edition ofWebster’s Dictionarythat Appalachian meant “the white residents of mountainous regions of the country”; long before he took his pen and carving tools and grafted the word “Affrilachian” out of his need to be recognized and to bring recognition to the African presence in Appalachia; long before I moved to Kentucky and began reading about the thousands of black folk who had lived and raised families all along the hills of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains for generations; years before a...

  18. No Scapin the Booger Man
    (pp. 128-131)
    Denise Giardina

    I learned to read and write in standard English at Thorpe Elementary School, but before the teachers enticed me with the clean preciseness of spelling and grammar, mine was a different language. I was no prodigy who reads at age two or three and goes bored and superior to first grade. I stared with some curiosity at the tiny black squiggles that were supposed to be words, but I did not read until I was urged to it. I saw no need to hurry. I had the stories.

    I heard the stories first while perched upon the bony knees of...

  19. 400 Mulvaney Street
    (pp. 132-139)
    Nikki Giovanni

    I was going to. Knoxville, Tennessee, to speak. I was going other places first but mostly to me I was going home. And I, running late as usual, hurried to the airport just in time.

    The runway is like an aircraft carrier—sticking out in the bay—and you always get the feeling of drunken flyboys in green airplane hats chomping wads and wads of gum going “Whooooopie!” as they bring the 747 in from Hackensack to La Guardia. It had been snowing for two days in New York and the runway was frozen. They never say to you that...

  20. Uncle Orphy
    (pp. 140-145)
    Gail Godwin

    Every few weeks, my widowed grandmother would sigh wistfully and say to my mother and me, “I feel like going out to see Uncle.”

    “Uncle” was her older brother, Orpha Rogers. She’d had a younger brother, Furman, but he was killed by a train when he was twenty-five. I called Uncle “Uncle Orphy.” My mother, who liked to concoct naughty names for those close to her, called him “Uncle Orful,” not to his face, of course.

    “Out,” where Uncle Orphy lived, was about as far as you could get from Asheville without being somewhere else altogether—or so it seemed...

  21. The Standing People
    (pp. 146-152)
    Ellesa Clay High

    I live in a place of sacred white deer and slag heaps. My son and I drink from a spring pure and forthcoming as dawn, which downhill joins the Cheat River, one of the ten most endangered streams in the nation. A wolf spirit guided me here, and together we protect a spot I call Wolf Trail Spring. Who I am, what has influenced me, and where I’m going might best be understood by a walk around this farm. Here, I’ll unlock the gate.

    Of course, we might just define this place as the tax assessor and real estate agent...

  22. Writing in the Smokehouse
    (pp. 153-166)
    Lisa Koger

    When I was a young girl growing up on Ellis Fork of Tanner Creek in Gilmer County, West Virginia, our hills were alive not with the sound of music but, literally, with multiflora rose. The shrub had been touted by farm magazines and county agents as modern agriculture’s answer to the worrisome cost of maintaining fences. “Horse High, Hog Tight, Bull Strong!” advertisements had said, and soil conservation representatives had promised that a landowner who situated the plant next to an existing fence would be able to spend an extra day fishing instead of replacing rotten posts.

    What no one...

  23. Voiceplace
    (pp. 167-174)
    George Ella Lyon

    Early in “Song of Myself,” Walt Whitman declares that he is “one of the Nation of many nations, the smallest the same and the largest the same” and then gives us fourteen long lines of places and ways of life, from the “Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn” to the fishermen “off Newfoundland, /at home in the fleet of iceboats.” He concludes the catalogue by saying: “I resist any thing better than my own diversity, /Breathe the air but leave plenty after me, /And am not stuck up, and am in my place.”

    Whitman knew that democracy did not...

  24. Keepers of the Legends
    (pp. 175-186)
    Sharyn McCrumb

    When I was four, I thought that was the saddest story in the world. It was a Jimmie Rodgers tune, I later learned, but I only ever heard it sung a cappella by my father in our old Chevrolet on the five-hour drives to visit my grandparents in East Tennessee.

    Who was the fellow in the song, I wondered, and how did he get stuck out there on the desolate Texas prairie all alone, so far from the mountains? He seemed to think he was going to make it home all right, but for the duration of the song, he...

  25. Letter from a Poet in West Virginia
    (pp. 187-191)
    Llewellyn McKernan

    Caught off guard by the blues this afternoon, I recover by crooning a few notes on poetry in these words I write to you. Lonely, alone, I listen with an attentive ear to the sounds in the small mountain holler where I live. Will you listen, too—to the black walnuts that thud on my lawn, to the birdsong that threads the trees topping the hill behind my home (it slopes down to my sprawling brown house in a coat of many colors: green grass, white Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod, amethyst thistles-some of them in my herb garden).

    Except for...

  26. A Natural History
    (pp. 192-199)
    Heather Ross Miller

    It is hard for me to talk about writing, mine or anybody else’s. I’d rather talk about stories and poems in the raw—the origins of all that energy and joy and anguish that percolate into what we call Life, or maybe Love—those things that come together and make a natural history. My life, my love, and my natural history now ramble over three mountain ranges, the Uwharries, the Appalachians, the Ozarks. The Uwharries, my birthplace, are part of the Oconee range, the oldest mountains in the East, worn to rolling hills thickly forested, with hard granite escarpments and...

  27. Leaving Pre-Appalachia
    (pp. 200-208)
    Elaine Fowler Palencia

    In 1962, my parents and I moved from Morehead, in the Knobs region of eastern Kentucky, to Cookeville, Tennessee, on the edge of the Cumberland Plateau. As we drove away from the house I had grown up in, I sprawled in the back seat of our Chevy, my nose stuck in a mystery novel.

    From the front seat, her voice trembling with emotion, my mother asked me, “Don’t you want to take a last look at the house?”

    Surly teenager that I was, I mumbled, “No,” and kept on reading.

    This was probably the moment that sealed my future as...

  28. Premature Burial
    (pp. 209-217)
    Jayne Anne Phillips

    I’m ten years old in 1962 and my hometown is still pretty. It’s a college town, the county seat, in north-central West Virginia. It seems more a college town than a coal town, though in fact it is both—home to a private Methodist college where Bible classes are required curriculum, home to a network of rural deep mines connected by two-lane roads. In fifteen years the mines will begin to close, give way to stripmining that will ruin the land even faster, fill the air with fine black dust that subtly changes the colors of the houses. The coal...

  29. Counting the Sums
    (pp. 218-224)
    Rita Sims Quillen

    “We are all the sums we have not counted,” Thomas Wolfe wrote, “and every moment is a window on all time.” In my writing, I attempt to count my life’s sums, revisiting the mystery of particular moments. I am positive that I would have become a writer regardless of my life’s circumstances, but I am also sure that had I lived somewhere else, had I been grown in other soil, I would have been a different writer. The time and place of my birth is crucial to understanding some things about my material and my viewpoint.

    Like many of the...

  30. The Song about the Story—The Story behind the Song
    (pp. 225-232)
    Jean Ritchie

    I was born into my big family, the fourteenth and last child, at the end of 1922. All my life I have heard us called “The Singing Ritchies.” What not all folk know is that we were just as much a family of storytellers as singers. Well, songsarestories in a way—at least the old ballads, “Barbry Ellen,” “Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender,” “The House Carpenter.” Songs like that. And singing them of a summer evening on our little porch, settled down in a ring of listening hills and accompanying branch-waters, would always call back all those long-gone...

  31. Westward from Bald Mountain
    (pp. 233-242)
    Bettie Sellers

    Seven miles as the crow flies, more than twenty as the road winds, the Young Harris Valley lies westward from Enotah Bald, the highest mountain in north Georgia, while Choestoe and Nacoochee Valleys are just over the ridge not far away. If you stand on almost any mountainside, you can see the tower on Bald rising against the sky or veiled in the blue haze that gives these mountains their name, the Blue Ridge. Pine and oaks, poplar golden in fall, joe-pye weed and wild honeysuckle hide the deer and rabbit, nests of the cardinal and rufous-sided towhee. At night...

  32. The Search for the Beulah Quintet
    (pp. 243-246)
    Mary Lee Settle

    In 1953, I began a third novel—O Beulah Land—before the first two had been published. It grew from a questioned image. A man hit a stranger in a drunk tank on a hot, summer night in a small town in the Alleghenies. The image was modern. “Why?” was the question about one act of violence that would draw me away from the present—how far back I had no idea then. I began to learn a past and a language. I found fears, dreams, and hatreds that once had reason, frozen into prejudice. I began to see people...

  33. Piddlin’
    (pp. 247-252)
    Anne Shelby

    More clearly than yesterday, I remember a summer afternoon over forty years ago. I was, perhaps, seven. We lived in Jackson County, Kentucky, in McKee, the county seat (population 100), a town that had, it seemed to me then, exactly what it needed with nothing extra left over. There was one bank, one grocery store, one five-and-dime, a restaurant, a filling station, two funeral homes, and half a dozen churches. Throw a rock from the courthouse steps, you could hit about anything in McKee.

    The town lay in a flat narrow valley between two ridges. On one ridge sat the...

  34. Big Stone Gap
    (pp. 253-260)
    Betsy Sholl

    In 1976 I moved from Boston, Massachusetts, to Big Stone Gap, Virginia, with my husband and two young children. We lived in Big Stone for seven years, most of them in a double-wide trailer on Clinch Haven Farm in Powell Valley, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Though I don’t often write about those years directly, they remain germinal for me in many ways, having an almost elemental quality to them and having effected elemental changes in me. When I think of those years four things come to mind: the astonishing beauty of that valley, the cultural...

  35. Appalachian Loaves and Fishes
    (pp. 261-271)
    Bennie Lee Sinclair

    I came into life part of a mountain family whose landscape, culture, and people were my own. But before I was five, my parents’ separation closed this world to me.

    At nineteen I reentered it when I married Don Lewis and we began our pilgrimage of the hills. Now I am fifty-seven and have come to know this world with special intimacy. Its influences on my life and work I consider to be gifts of biblical proportions, my Appalachian loaves and fishes. Why?

    My father was born on a mountaintop between Fruitland and Bearwallow, North Carolina, in 1912. My great-uncle...

  36. Inside Discoveries
    (pp. 272-276)
    Barbara Smith

    The word “eureka” may belong to Archimedes, but the sensation doesn’t. He shares that with his physicist buddies, his oil painting relatives, and all serious writers. It comes with the creator-inventor-explorer territory, with the discovery of gravity, the brand-new shade of cerulean blue, the absolutely perfect ending to a story. And it comes with the discovery of who you are. The sound of it may be a chorus of hosannas or it may be a declaration of independence or it may be a whimper.

    Eureka will feel different, too, sometimes as smooth and cool as frozen yogurt, sometimes as slick...

  37. Terrain of the Heart
    (pp. 277-281)
    Lee Smith

    Although I don’t usually write autobiographical fiction, my main character in a recent short story sounded suspiciously like the girl I used to be: “More than anything else in the world, I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t want to learn to write, of course. I just wanted to be a writer, and I often pictured myself poised at the foggy edge of a cliff someplace in the south of France, wearing a cape, drawing furiously on a long cigarette, hollow-cheeked and haunted. I had been romantically dedicated to the grand idea of ‘being a writer’ ever since I...

  38. This House and This World
    (pp. 282-288)
    Jane Stuart

    I have found a world at home. Even when I traveled to other places, I wanted to remember things and bring them home with me. It's the eloquence of home that overwhelms me, and that I write about.

    One evening long ago my father borrowed my watercolors, went out on a walk, and began painting. All my life I have tried to sketch and draw, but what I found I really could do was recall that evening—recall that evening with words, not paint. I still see the trees, his trees, and the moon.

    Later I listened to people talk...

  39. An Inquiry into Who My Grandmother Really Was
    (pp. 289-298)
    Meredith Sue Willis

    Soon after I moved into his apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, my boyfriend, Andy—now my husband—started a grueling medical internship. He was on at the hospital every third night, and when he came home, he slept. I was working on a master of fine arts degree and trying to write a novel. At the end of that same summer of 1970, a friend of Andy’s came to stay with us. This friend had dropped out of medical school and was trying to get himself back on track. Once he arrived, though, he sat around our...

  40. Works Cited
    (pp. 299-303)