Laura Leigh Morris. Jaws of Life. Morgantown, W.Va.: Vandalia Press,…
Don’t get above your raising. It’s a saying with which many, if not most, Appalachians are familiar. I have heard the phrase all my life, particularly from my family and many in my community when I left southeastern Kentucky at eighteen for an internship on Capitol Hill and subsequently to attend university in Washington, D.C. I often considered that admonition as I explored the city, discovering and learning neighborhoods including Dupont Circle and Woodley Park, turning it over and over again in my mind.
On one hand, I appreciated the reminder and its affirmation. Always remember where you come from. Don’t forget your roots. But I also recognized the other side to this maxim, the implicit cocked eyebrow and finger-wag it also carried. We’re watching you. Don’t become too different. There’s only one way to be, and we make the rules.
I was reminded again of this saying after reading Lois Wolfe’s wonderful story “Maxims in Winter,” which is featured in this issue and includes a number of lessons handed down from a grandmother to a granddaughter. As I reexamined this quintessential Appalachian maxim, I recognized its presence in Savannah Sipple’s moving poem “What We Tell Ourselves,” in which the narrator is fighting back against strident gender roles and expectations proscribed by her culture, becoming a stranger to her family and community in the process. The complexities of Appalachia are on full display in this poem, and in other writings featured in this issue.
These include “Surface Level,” a lyrical new story from Chris Holbrook, an award-winning master of fiction; “The Tennessee Kid,” an essay by renowned critic and essayist Hal Crowther about the great musician Jesse Winchester and excerpted from Crowther’s new book Freedom Fighters and Hell Raisers: A Gallery of Memorable Southerners; a revelatory conversation between bell hooks and Fenton Johnson about solitude, queerness, and home; poems from acclaimed poets including Jeff Hardin, Susan O’Dell Underwood, and others; and a craft essay about magical realism from Rebecca D. Elswick.
Their voices are diverse, different, proving that there is, in fact, more than one way to be in this region. As such, these writers and many of their characters have broken that Appalachian rule—they have gotten above their raising, and thankfully so. But they have also maintained a fidelity to its central affirmation, remaining firmly rooted in Appalachian soil. They know where they come from.
Nearly twenty years after I mused about it in the streets of D.C., I continue to have a complicated reaction to this maxim, recognizing both its virtues and drawbacks. My typical response is defiance, to quote Walt Whitman: “I contain multitudes.” And so, increasingly, does Appalachia—its land, its people, its literature.