Summer 2016 Editor’s Note

Dog days are upon us, those dreaded summer weeks of stifling temperatures and humidity that blanket the mountains and bottomlands. Some evenings, just before the gloaming descends, one can actually see the moisture hanging in the air, a ribbon wending just above the treeline. What helps to make these scorching days bearable for me are the tomatoes—a little late this year after such a parched summer.

They have come in all at once, so many that we are struggling to make use of them. Some have been canned. Others have been enjoyed right away, sliced to accompany a simple evening meal or placed on a sesame cracker with a dab of pesto and Welsh cheese for tea. Later this week, I’ll be using the latest round to make gazpacho. They have become for me a symbol of hope this summer, the perfect antidote to this season of fear and anxiety in which we now find ourselves.

These are troubled times, with a presidential election that promises to be the most negative of many cycles, senseless shootings and attacks that have ravaged communities around the country and globe, and increasing amounts of vitriol and verbal assaults—fueled in part by social media—that have contributed to some of the worst divisions our country has ever seen. In such turbulent times, literature and the arts become even more important, helping us make sense of our tumultuous world and to appreciate the value of diversity and inclusivity. As President Kennedy once said, “When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”

What better cathedral than nature to serve as an antidote to such turmoil? A sunset “sending citrine light over the meadow canopy / Full summer crowns of maple and white oak,” as in Jesse Graves’s evocative poem “The Field at Rest.” Or a wind that “worries the ridge” as “the pin oaks rattle and branches clack” in Jane Hicks’s “Safety of Small Things.”

What better way than thoughtful consideration to challenge ourselves? In his essay “Losing My Religion,” Vic Sizemore does just that as he grapples with faith, reason, and doubt. Our interview with award-winning creative nonfiction author Sonja Livingston explores the connection between geography and identity. And Amanda Jo Runyon’s craft essay “Robbing the Headlines” examines how real-life events can be used as inspiration for quality fiction.

What better strategy to conquer heat and fear than to confront them head on? In this issue’s fiction, you’ll encounter the story of a troubled home that unfolds poolside on a hot afternoon in Samantha Atkins’s “Warble,” a divorced couple whose ongoing lust and arguments are all bound up in a shared sorrow in Laura Leigh Morris’s “Muddin’,” and a young widow and daughter who are submerged in a season of grief in Chelyen Davis’s “Junebug.”

As the summer begins to wane, I hope you’ll carry this issue of Appalachian Heritage with you to the porch in the evenings or to read with your coffee in the cool of the mornings. I hope you’ll allow the words of our contributors to both challenge and cleanse you. And I hope you’ll savor the beauty and hope of homegrown tomatoes.

Jason Kyle Howard is the author of A Few Honest Words and co-author of Something's Rising, both works of literary journalism. His essays, features, and commentary have appeared in the New York Times, Oxford American, Salon, The Millions, The Nation, Sojourners, and on C-SPAN's Book TV and NPR. Howard is editor of Appalachian Review, a literary quarterly based at Berea College, where he teaches and directs the creative writing program. He serves on the graduate faculty of the Spalding University School of Creative and Professional Writing, and holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and degrees from The George Washington University and the University of Kentucky.

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