by Mike Templeton
Having so many writers and poets involved with the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition offers us an embarrassment of riches when it comes to Appalachian literary voices. That said, finding resources that focus specifically on Appalachia and Appalachian people can be a challenge. This is an area of American literature that often either gets overlooked or becomes relegated to a regionalism that pops up only when someone makes a splash in the news. Kendra Winchester recognized this blind spot in the literary world and set to work rectifying that issue with her project, Read Appalachia, which is becoming one of the finest resources of contemporary Appalachian literature on the web.
I stumbled upon Read Appalachia quite by accident. It is a rare case in which scrolling social media led me to something genuinely worthwhile. I clicked on the Instagram page out of curiosity and was immediately pulled in, because Kendra Winchester’s project is a serious showcase for Appalachian literature. Scroll through the page and you will clearly see this is the work of someone deeply committed to celebrating the writers of the Appalachian region with an openness that takes in the many and varied experiences of Appalachia. With Read Appalachia, we get launched far beyond the narrow confines of the images of Appalachian people we get fed by popular culture.
Recent posts on the Read Appalachia Instagram page highlight books such as Another Appalachia: Coming up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place by Neemia Avashia, Horsepower, a collection of poetry by Joy Priest, and link to an article on the catastrophic flooding in Eastern Kentucky. It is clear that we are offered a deep and careful resource here, one that takes in a wide and complex view of what it means to talk about Appalachian writers and Appalachian literature. While the Instagram page provides a window, the Read Appalachia website offers the details. The Read Appalachia blog is a genuine resource. For example, the collection by Avashia gets a careful exploration by West Virginia writer Garret Robinson who explains that this collection of essays presents a window into Appalachian experiences that are not widely understood. As Robinson explains in the blog article: “With each essay, she strikes a new chord of her identity: a queer woman, a queer Indian, an Indian West Virginian, a second-generation immigrant.” With Read Appalachia, Kendra Winchester is driven to present a vision of Appalachia that is far beyond the stereotypes.
Winchester has the credentials to take on a project like this. She spent six years working with and helping to build the Reading Women podcast, a project that showcases books by or about women. Winchester told me this was “a whirlwind project that just took off.” From just two people talking about books and talking to women writers, they built up a following that now includes thousands of listeners. While working on this project with her professional work in publishing, Winchester noted a glaring absence in the literary spotlight. “As I got into publishing, I realized there was not much attention paid to my own culture and background,” she explained. She went on to tell me, “I got a bee in my bonnet and started interviewing Appalachian women writers.” After a break to regain her breath, she began Read Appalachia. Like her previous project, this has quickly gathered steam.
In speaking of her own culture and background, what Winchester means is her life growing up in Appalachian Ohio and that common experience for many of us of drifting back and forth from Ohio to Kentucky. “I grew up in Sciotoville, Ohio, right on the river. My dad’s family was from Ross County, but my grandparents moved to Eastern Kentucky. Later, my dad moved back to Ohio.” she told me. The porous border of the Ohio River offers the porous experience of growing up with a feeling of belonging to both sides of the river, one that is familiar to many of us. And Winchester’s experience gave her the sense of being deeply and indelibly Appalachian. She is uniquely qualified to bring Read Appalachia to the world.
Read Appalachian began two years ago with the Instagram account. The website came online last year. Kendra Winchester said that the next step is a podcast that will begin in 2023. The list of Appalachian writers she has profiled and the books she has presented are too numerous to name. Suffice to say that Read Appalachia has profiled some of the most powerful voices in Appalachian fiction, non-fiction, and poetry at work today. I will just take this opportunity to mention that Winchester interviewed Ohio’s own poet laureate, Kari Gunter-Seymour to mark the two-year anniversary of Read Appalachia on August 3. You can watch that interview on the Instagram page.
Read Appalachia is a magnificent resource for anyone with an interest in Appalachia and Appalachian literature. But perhaps more than that, Kendra Winchester has managed to present Read Appalachia as so much more than a niche literary site. The writers and works we learn about on Read Appalachia articulate contemporary America itself, complete with all the complexity, messiness, beauty, and reality. Read Appalachia is distinctly Appalachian in its focus, but it offers anyone a multitude of detailed portraits of contemporary American life, not just Appalachian life. One of the main reasons the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition emphasizes communities in the plural is that Appalachians, and specifically Appalachian writers and poets, articulate contemporary experience in all its complexity while grounding these portraits in the distinctly Appalachian perspective.
The Read Appalachia website can be found here: https://www.readappalachia.com/.
Read Appalachia Instagram can be found here: https://www.instagram.com/readappalachia/
For anyone interested in Reading Women, that link is here: https://www.readingwomenpodcast.com/.
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.