Editor’s Note

What is buried in the ground isn’t always what you think. It’s just the beginning.” With these evocative, mysterious words, Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle begins to draw the reader into the world of Cowney, a nineteen-year-old Cherokee man who serves as the protagonist in her debut novel Even As We Breathe. He wants more than his hometown of Cherokee, North Carolina is able to offer, so at the height of World War II, Cowney moves to Asheville to   work at the Grove Park Inn, where he finds himself caught up in a mystery and stigmatized because of his Native American identity.

While these words help to open Clapsaddle’s tale of familial and cultural identity, they also serve as a metaphor for her deep, language-driven prose—and for the writing of her fellow featured authors. Alongside Clapsaddle in this special double issue, we are spotlighting Annie Frazier, author of the novel Crazy House, and Wesley Browne, author of Hillbilly Hustle, which will be published in March by West Virginia University Press. 

In Crazy House, the reader follows Lizzie Robinson from her childhood spent in a doublewide in Raleigh, North Carolina, with a single mother, Burdette, to attending Duke University. After graduation, Lizzie opts to spend time in Connecticut with her boyfriend James as his wealthy, dysfunctional family unravels. There, she is moved to examine her own childhood and her relationship with Burdette. A graduate of Spalding University’s Masters of Fine Arts in Creative & Professional Writing program, Frazier has written a novel that examines the complex bonds between mother, daughter, and place.

Browne’s Hillbilly Hustle is something of a literary page-turner. Comic, noirish, and full of suspense, the novel tells the story of Knox Thompson, the owner of an eastern Kentucky pizza shop who spends his life hustling to tend to his business and parents. But things turn dark when he wins a backroom poker game. Knox descends into an underworld after being coerced into using his pizza shop as a front for dealing pot, putting his livelihood and family at risk.

In addition to our featured authors, this issue includes sterling, character-driven stories from Terrance Wedin and Jennifer Lee. Richard Hague returns to our pages with “Scalpeen,” an essay steeped in language and ancestral memory. Leatha Kendrick does double duty, contributing several poems and a craft essay on practicing mystery in poetry. We are also proud to include a series of bewitching poems from Tina Parker, an evocative poem centering on women in Chernobyl from Nicole Yurcaba, and numerous other poetic voices. For our interview, Clapsaddle joins bestselling novelist Silas House in a conversation from the 2019 Appalachian Symposium.

All of these contributions dig deep into the fallow ground of character and place. Read on: this is just the beginning.

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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