June is Pride Month, and the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition recognizes this by turning our attention to the literature of the LBGTQ communities whose work also comes out of the Appalachian tradition. As we frequently point out, Appalachian culture is rich and diverse, and the LGBTQ communities are well-represented within Appalachian life and culture. We also acknowledge that these communities have lived with unique struggles. Often the complexities of the lives of Appalachian LGBTQ people are represented most powerfully in writing and poetry, and LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia offers an ideal starting point for reading about this topic.
The anthology of poetry and fiction, LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia published by West Virginia University Press and edited by Jeff Mann and Julia Watts, presents a collection of works that capture the complex, and often conflicted, experiences of those who are both Appalachian and LGBTQ. I should emphasize “and” here because the editors of this collection make it clear that being Appalachian and LGBTQ is not a clear or easy choice. Historically, people were forced to choose, you were Appalachian or LGBTQ, you could not be both. This collection allows us to redress that problem.
I spoke with Jeff Mann about his own experiences as a young gay man growing up in West Virginia. Mann explained that he was lucky in many ways, “my parents were non-conformists, and my father raised me to be a non-conformist—reading Emerson and Thoreau. I did not have the pressure so many others lived with of being shunned and threatened with fire and brimstone.” Still, Mann made it clear that coming to fully realize his identity as a young gay man in a small town of about 3000 people in West Virginia was not easy. It was one of his teachers that set him on a path to understand and accept himself as both Appalachian and gay.
After moving around a bit, Jeff Mann grew up in Covington, Virginia. His early experiences as a young man in Appalachia coming to understand his sexuality in a place that was not accepting set him on his personal and academic course. “Much of my work has been about reconciling being gay and Appalachian,” he told me. Even after finding some degree of acceptance after going to college, he knew there was still work to be done both personally and academically. Mann tells us in his editor’s introduction, “I grew determined to balance my Appalachian and gay identities, in my life and in my writings.” Jeff Mann has written extensively on these topics including six books of poetry and three collections of essays, among much more.
In his section of the introduction to the collection, Mann explains: “My escape was a scholarship to West Virginia University.” He goes on to say that there were no literary images of LGBTQ people who were Appalachian, “All the gay novels I read depicted life in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City. There was, as far as I knew, no LGBTQ Appalachian literature.” Much has happened in literature and the arts to change this fact, and this current collection goes a long way toward changing things.
The collection contains works by the editors, Jeff Mann and Julia Watts. It also features work by Carter Sickels, a Cincinnati resident who we profiled on this blog. There are also works by writers many are familiar with like Dorothy Allison, Silas House, Ann Pancake and Savannah Sipple, whose book WWJD and Other Poems, was reviewed by Core member Pauletta Hansel in Still: The Journal. I will provide a link below.
Julia Watts states in her editor’s introduction that she was asked if there were enough LGBTQ Appalachian writers to make up an anthology such as this. Her answer is a resounding “yes… there are enough for more than one.” There are enough people writing from within the LGBTQ and Appalachian experiences to warrant a follow-up to this volume. Toward this end, the book contains a selected bibliography of same-sex desire in Appalachian literature. The editors take care to offer a beginning for anyone to follow the threads of those writing from within the LGBTQ communities who also claim Appalachian identity.
People who are LGBTQ and Appalachian have historically been forced to choose between these two aspects of who they are. The pressures that force this choice remain and there is work to be done on this front. If Percy Shelley was correct in saying that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” and I believe he was, it is our LGBTQ poets and writers who are also Appalachian poets and writers who will lead the way toward relieving people of having to make such a choice. The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition extends a happy Pride Month to all, and we offer LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia, edited by Jeff Mann and Julia Watts, as a welcome addition to the literary life and culture Appalachia.
LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia is published by West Virginia University Press. https://wvupressonline.com/node/775
Pauletta Hansel’s review of Savannah Sipple’s book can be found here: http://www.stilljournal.net/bookreview-hansel-sipple.php.
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He is the author of the forthcoming The Chief of Birds: A Memoir, available later this year from Erratum Press. 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.