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Appalachian Learning Initiative
Recommended Reading Lists

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Winter 2024

Winter 2024 Recommended Reading List

The Appalachian Learning Initiative participates in the Amazon Affiliate Program. APPLI earns a commission on any books purchased using the following links.

Book cover for A is for Appalachia: The Alphabet Book of Appalachian Heritage

A is for Appalachia: The Alphabet Book of Appalachian Heritage

Linda Hager Pack

An exquisitely illustrated and heartfelt look at the traditions, history, and life of Appalachia, A is for Appalachia! introduces young readers to the alphabet while providing an endearing look at a region with one of the oldest and most distinctive folk cultures in the United States. This treasured book tells the story of the Southern Appalachian Mountains by showcasing the day-to-day life of the people and their struggles, unique culture, and oral traditions.

Written with a sincere appreciation for the history of life in Appalachia, Linda Hager Pack's eloquent, educational, and even humorous introduction to the alphabet appeals to young and old alike. Featuring more than thirty bright and whimsical illustrations by Pat Banks, this collection of traditional folk tales, recipes, Jack Tales, expressions, music, and even ghost stories come to life on the page. Truly a unique journey back in time, A is for Appalachia! provides an informative and entertaining representation of authentic Appalachian life.

Book cover for African American Workers and the Appalachian Coal Industry

African American Workers and the Appalachian Coal Industry

Dr. Joe William Trotter, Jr.

Essays by the foremost labor historian of the Black experience in the Appalachian coalfields.

This collection brings together nearly three decades of research on the African American experience, class, and race relations in the Appalachian coal industry. It shows how, with deep roots in the antebellum era of chattel slavery, West Virginia’s Black working class gradually picked up steam during the emancipation years following the Civil War and dramatically expanded during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

From there, African American Workers and the Appalachian Coal Industry highlights the decline of the region’s Black industrial proletariat under the impact of rapid technological, social, and political changes following World War II. It underscores how all miners suffered unemployment and outmigration from the region as global transformations took their toll on the coal industry, but emphasizes the disproportionately painful impact of declining bituminous coal production on African American workers, their families, and their communities. Joe Trotter not only reiterates the contributions of proletarianization to our knowledge of US labor and working-class history but also draws attention to the gender limits of studies of Black life that focus on class formation, while calling for new transnational perspectives on the subject. Equally important, this volume illuminates the intellectual journey of a noted labor historian with deep family roots in the southern Appalachian coalfields.

Book cover for Out of the Mountains: Appalachian Stories

Out of the Mountains: Appalachian Stories

Meredith Sue Willis

Meredith Sue Willis’s Out of the Mountains is a collection of thirteen short stories set in contemporary Appalachia. Firmly grounded in place, the stories voyage out into the conflicting cultural identities that native Appalachians experience as they balance mainstream and mountain identities.

Willis’s stories explore the complex negotiations between longtime natives of the region and its newcomers and the rifts that develop within families over current issues such as mountaintop removal and homophobia. Always, however, the situations depicted in these stories are explored in the service of a deeper understanding of the people involved, and of the place. This is not the mythic version of Appalachia, but the Appalachia of the twenty-first century.

Book cover for What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia

Elizabeth Catte

In 2016, headlines declared Appalachia ground zero for America's "forgotten tribe" of white working class voters. Journalists flocked to the region to extract sympathetic profiles of families devastated by poverty, abandoned by establishment politics, and eager to consume cheap campaign promises. What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia is a frank assessment of America's recent fascination with the people and problems of the region. The book analyzes trends in contemporary writing on Appalachia, presents a brief history of Appalachia with an eye toward unpacking Appalachian stereotypes, and provides examples of writing, art, and policy created by Appalachians as opposed to for Appalachians. The book offers a must-needed insider's perspective on the region.

Book cover for At Home in the Heart of Appalachia

At Home in the Heart of Appalachia

John O’Brien

John O’Brien’s deeply evocative book re- veals a place and a way of life—and the lives of an estranged father and son whose differences rest, ironically, in their own powerful bonds to Appalachia.

John O’Brien was born in Philadelphia, his father having left his beloved home in the West Virginia mountains after an impoverished childhood made all the more painful by family tragedy. Struggling to escape a father defeated by disappointment, displacement, and poverty, John too left home. When John decided to settle near his father’s birthplace in West Virginia, he hoped to comprehend the elder O’Brien’s attachment to the land, as well as the disabling fatalism he had carried north.

What he discovered is hardly the mythic Appalachia most Americans imagine, but a world of extravagant beauty—lush with green mountains, deep forests, ice-cold trout streams, and small hill farms. The people we meet who inhabit this land are for the most part unpretentious, working class, straightforward, open, commonsensical, and easygoing. They tend to look back more than most Americans do, defining themselves by how they fit into an extended family that includes their ancestors. We are in a mountain culture that feels old and deeply rooted, that follows a traditional way of life. It is a world the author would finally love and call his own.

We also come face-to-face with provincialism, intolerance, and—perhaps Appalachia’s defining legacy—the horrors of the coalfields and chemical plants. We see clearly what rapacious greed and exploitation have done for generations to much of the landscape and to the lives of the people. And we learn of the stream of reformers and missionaries, ever ready to show Appalachia the way, whose real contributions tend to be negligible or absurd.

In this clear-eyed, beautifully rendered telling of his story and his father’s, John O’Brien gives us, as well, the history and true heart of Appalachia.

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