Monday, October 2, 2017

Women of Appalachia Project - Women Speak Events and Urban Appalachians

I have lots going on lately.

First off, I am thrilled to have been selected to read my short story, "Invisible Girls," this past weekend at West Virginia University as part of Women of Appalachia Project - Women Speak events.

"Invisible Girls," published online and in audio at Streetlight Magazine, is not explicitly Appalachian, but speaks to the otherness and need to create community that's common among Urban Appalachian children.

I was literally labeled as Urban Appalachian at a diversity training at my workplace about twenty years go with a Hello My Name Is sticker. I had never heard the term. I'm a Matney girl, so I argued with the facilitator. He said the term is for people raised in Appalachia who moved to the city - or for people who live in the city but have a parent or grandparent raised in Appalachia.

When I recently used the term with my great aunt who grew up in the hills of eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia, she scoffed at me and said that wasn't a thing. But I think it is - kind of a big thing for young people especially.

In the 1960s, there was an Appalachian diaspora. Mountain people moved to the cities after the mines became so mechanized that there wasn't enough work. Cincinnati had automotive factories. One of my great uncles set out to Cincinnati first, got hired at the General Motors factory in Norwood, and the rest of my mom's side of the family followed, all but one of my mom's siblings.

Here's the thing. I went to college and could have gone to grad school in my twenties if I had the money or support to do that. I went to work in a suit and carried a new leather briefcase and a Franklin planner. Who I was had nothing to do with who my parents and grandparents were, I thought. But everyone in that diversity training conference room could smell it on me - I'm pretty sure it smelled like biscuits.

It's likely that the feeling I had all my life of not quite fitting in and of not quite being good enough wasn't just me. Now, I think part of it was the fact that other people could see I was ethnically different even if I couldn't. It's probably a good thing I didn't know.

This past weekend at the reading, I fit right in with this group of lovely, talented women I had never met before. I am happy to be reading with them over the next several months at various locations. The next one up is Ohio University Southern, in Ironton, Ohio.

I have much more than this going on and am planning on writing some reviews of some amazing books and short story collections. If any of you are near Ironton, Ohio (pretty sure it's near the point where Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia meet), please stop in. I am told there will be visual artists and musicians in addition to story-tellers and poets.


  1. Congratulations! You found a niche for yourself. And nothing wrong with smelling like biscuits.

    1. There are much worse smells. LOL. The pity on the faces of the people in the room was unforgettable.

  2. I think it's normal to feel less connected to our background and parents and grandparents when we're in our teens and twenties and only gradually come to realise all that is part of the adult we eventually become.

    I'm British, so biscuits means something different over here – I'm imagining you smelling sweet and buttery with a hint of vanilla pod.

    1. Definitely no vanilla or sweetness. Butter, yes. I agree about connecting with your family later in life. But I lived my life completely unaware that I was part of a cultural sub-class that tends to be discriminated against and treated like they are ignorant. That was the shock of it for me.