There is an entire field of literature from and about Appalachia now. One reason for this momentum is the dedication of small presses that devote their energies and resources to publishing Appalachian writers. A stellar example is Bottom Dog Press in Huron, Ohio. I fear this article will be a case in which I made a fabulous discovery of something everyone else knows about. Bottom Dog Press and Director Larry Smith have been publishing works by Appalachian writers for over 35 years now. Authors published by Bottom Dog Press include folks such as the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition’s own Richard Hague, Sherry Cook Stanforth, and Michael Henson.
The list of writers published by Bottom Dog Press is enormous. Just scrolling through can be daunting. The book catalog represents so many voices of Appalachia, both urban and rural, as to offer a virtual syllabus of Appalachian literature. Director Larry Smith comes to this work as a writer shaped by the industrial north of the Appalachian region, an area often overlooked in popular representations of Appalachia. Larry Smith is from Mingo Junction, Ohio. Positioned across from West Virginia, but in close proximity to the distinctly industrial center of Pittsburg, Mingo Junction remains an inexhaustible source of inspiration for Larry Smith. As he told me, “I’m still writing about Mingo; I’m writing to it. In my recent book, I let Mingo Junction talk to me.”
While the Appalachian region most often conjures images of coal mines, mountains, and even pastoral images of family farms, Larry Smith draws on images of urban areas that have been forgotten with the loss of the industries that once dominated these regions. In his memoir, Mingo Town & Memories, Larry Smith’s stories of a small urban Appalachian town speak for themselves. Richard Hague says of the memoir, “Smith lets us overhear the private griefs and joys of immigrants old and new, of millwrights, coal miners, victims of floods; of college students; Vietnam era survivors, of mothers, wives, and union women in what becomes a kind of chorus of working-class America.” Larry Smith’s commitment to letting the voices of Appalachians speak for themselves is part of the express mission of Bottom Dog Press.
The Bottom Dog Press website provides detailed criteria for their definition of working-class Appalachian writing. This is important for anyone interested in buying books from Bottom Dog Press, and crucial information for writers who wish to submit work to the press. The criteria includes ten points, but I think one is worth highlighting: “The writing creates space for people to speak and represent themselves, includes speech idioms and dialects, curses and blessings.” Considering that the lives of Appalachians and the very identity of Appalachians have been appropriated in ways that have not served Appalachians well, this is a powerful statement. Larry Smith explained that the press is dedicated to publishing writers who speak for the multitude of Appalachians: “We publish writers who speak for all voices of the Appalachian region,” said Smith.
The list of recent publications clearly makes good on the mission of Bottom Dog Press to represent all kinds of people. By way of an example, Unbroken Circle: Stories of Cultural Diversity in the South, edited by Julia Watts and Larry Smith, is a collection written largely by LGBTQ writers of the Appalachian regions. The introduction to this collection by Julia Watts states, “We are a people as varied as the Southern landscape, from the mountains of Appalachia to the deltas of Mississippi to the skyscrapers of Atlanta. We are black, white, Latino, Native American, Middle Eastern, Asian, and multiracial. We are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Wiccan, atheist and agnostic. We are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, straight, and questioning. We are urban and rural, old and young, poor and rich, and all points in between.” Larry Smith also gave me the example of two recent collections of poetry that featured contrasting cover photographs that reveal the diversity and change that characterizes the Appalachian region. “The first, Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia Edited by Charles Dodd White & Page Seay, features a cover photo of a young girl sitting in a rocking chair on a cabin porch as a traditional image of Appalachian life,” said Smith. The second book in this series, Appalachia Now, offers an image of a young woman looking toward the camera from a contemporary industrial landscape, her tattoos visible. Smith said, “These books, writers, and images are all about shedding light on different ways of understanding Appalachia.”
Larry Smith’s own focus is “on the urban and industrial parts of Appalachia.” The old ways are important, but he wants to look at what is happening in Appalachia now. Still, in many ways, Bottom Dog Press functions in the most traditional ways. “The writers support each other—writing reviews of our books and using them is classes.” Smith said they “survived the pandemic, and we are pushing forward with publications.” This is great news for all of us, and this clearly resonates with the mission and work of the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition. Anyone with an interest in Appalachia or Appalachian studies would do themselves a favor by becoming familiar with Bottom Dog Press. From poetry and fiction to history and culture, Bottom Dog Press is one of the best sources for Appalachian literature and Appalachian studies. The website is below.
Bottom Dog Press, Inc/Bird Dog Publishing can be found at this link: https://smithdocs.net/home.
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.