By Jessica Salfia
With the new school year in full swing, I’ve seen teachers all over Facebook and Twitter sharing donors choose projects and Amazon Wish Lists filled with books for their classroom libraries and curriculums. As you continue buy books to diversify your classroom libraries, think about the ways Appalachia is represented in your classroom. How are you disrupting single stories of this region?
The WVCTE blogging team has written before about the ways we have worked to teach our students and our colleagues about the importance and power of place. You can search the “Appalachian Studies” category to read some of these blogs or check out the Appalachian syllabus tab on this website. There are so many novels by regional writers that we love: Southernmost by Silas House, Trampoline and Weedeater by Robert Gipe, A Land More Kind than Home by Wiley Cash, Strange As This Weather Has Been by Ann Pancake to name a few.
But oftentimes the pace of the school year does not allow time to teach an entire text, so it’s important to also know where to find quality short fiction, essays, and poetry by Appalachia’s finest.
This year the Shepherd University Appalachian Heritage Writer in Residence is Crystal Wilkinson, and my students read her book Water Street this summer as part of their introduction to Appalachian studies.
According to the Kentucky University Press website:
“The residents of Water Street are hardworking, God-fearing people who live in a seemingly safe and insulated neighborhood within a small Kentucky town: “Water Street is a place where mothers can turn their backs to flip a pancake or cornmeal hoecake on the stove and know our children are safe.” But all is not as it seems as the secret lives of neighbors and friends are revealed in interconnected tales of love, loss, truth, and tragedy.
In this critically acclaimed short story collection, Crystal Wilkinson peels back the intricate layers that form the fabric of this community and its inhabitants—revealing emotionally raw, multifaceted tales of race, class, gender, mental illness, and interpersonal relationships. The thirteen succinct stories offer fragmented glimpses of an overarching narrative that emerges, lyrical and fierce. Featuring a new foreword and a new afterword which illuminate Wilkinson’s artistic achievement, this captivating work is poised to delight a new generation of readers.”
When I was building lessons for my students around Wilkinson’s text, I started thinking about how important collections of short fiction and anthologies are to ELA curriculums. We don’t just need contemporary and diverse novels in our curriculums, but we also need contemporary and diverse poetry, short stories, and essays. (shout out #TeachLivingPoets)
So without further ado, below are four collections of Appalachian prose and poetry that I think belong in every secondary classroom library.
(And the only reason that Wilkinson isn’t on my list below is because my students will get to meet her in a few weeks, and I’ve got a whole blog post planned that is reserved exclusively for her genius. Stay tuned.)
Collections & Anthologies for Your Classrooms and Curriculums
- The Sound of Holding Your Breath by Natalie Sypolt
A native West Virginian, Natalie Sypolt’s debut book is a collection of powerful short stories set in contemporary Appalachia that feature characters pushed to their breaking points. You’ll recognize many people in Sypolt’s stories: the boy next door, the girl next door, the preacher’s son, the waitress at your local diner, the overworked teacher, the vet struggling with PTSD, the vet’s wife struggling to understand and help her husband. But while perhaps recognizable, Sypolt’s characters are anything but ordinary.
From the WVU Press website:
“…tragedy and violence challenge these unassuming lives: A teenage boy is drawn to his sister’s husband, an EMT searching the lake for a body. A brother, a family, and a community fail to confront the implications of a missing girl. A pregnant widow spends Thanksgiving with her deceased husband’s family. Siblings grapple with the death of their sister-in-law at the hands of their brother. And in the title story, the shame of rape ruptures more than a decade later.”
Many of Sypolt’s stories are a perfect fit for secondary ELA classrooms. In my classroom, I have crafted creative writing lessons around “Diving,” “Ghosts,” “Lettuce,” and “Stalking the White Deer.” Whether for a lesson or classroom library, add this book to your “to read” pile soon!
- Shall We Gather at the River, edited by David Joy and Eric Rickstad
There is more one essay in this collection that left me with tears in my eyes and my heart overflowing. Full disclosure: I love fishing. But whether you are a fisherman or not, these essays will move you and your students. And while the stories in this collection are about fishing, they are also the ways we connect to nature, each other, and ourselves. There are essays that will make you laugh and essays that will make you cry. And if you have any reluctant readers who are also sportsman, I can guarantee there is an essay in here for them. Featuring Appalachian writers—Ron Rash and Silas House to name a few—throughout the collection and writers from around the country, this anthology was one of my favorite reads of the summer.
- Appalachian Reckoning, edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll
J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy has been one of the most controversial and contentious books written about our region in decades. Since its publication in 2016, writers, activists, and teachers from the region have been refuting and rejecting Vance’s inaccurate portrayal of Appalachia. In this collection from WVU Press, writers from across Appalachia respond to the single story that, thanks to Vance’s novel, was once again thrust to forefront. Featuring prose, poetry, and photography from a wide-range of diverse authors, this book is a treasure trove of classroom resources. If you are looking to disrupt the single story of Appalachia for yourself or your students, get this collection in your classroom.
- LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia,edited by Jeff Mann and Julia Watts
Once you put down Appalachian Reckoning, pick up this and continue disrupting your single story of Appalachia with this anthology, also from WVU Press. I just finished this beautiful collection of poetry and prose last week and have added it to my classroom library.
From the WVU Press website:
“This collection, the first of its kind, gathers original and previously published fiction and poetry from lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer authors from Appalachia. Like much Appalachian literature, these works are pervaded with an attachment to family and the mountain landscape, yet balancing queer and Appalachian identities is an undertaking fraught with conflict. This collection confronts the problematic and complex intersections of place, family, sexuality, gender, and religion with which LGBTQ Appalachians often grapple.
With works by established writers such as Dorothy Allison, Silas House, Ann Pancake, Fenton Johnson, and Nickole Brown and emerging writers such as Savannah Sipple, Rahul Mehta, Mesha Maren, and Jonathan Corcoran, this collection celebrates a literary canon made up of writers who give voice to what it means to be Appalachian and LGBTQ.”
WVCTE wants to know…
if and when YOU include any of these works into your curriculums or classroom libraries! Shout us out on Facebook, Twitter, or via email with a picture and tell us how it goes! We want to hear from you.