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Dear Appalachia: Readers, Identity, and Popular Fiction since 1878

by Emily Satterwhite

Availablepaperback$28.00s 978-0-8131-6110-5
Availablecloth$40.00x 978-0-8131-3010-1
Availableweb pdf$40.00x 978-0-8131-3011-8
Availableepub$40.00x 978-0-8131-4011-7
396 pages  Pubdate: 03/03/2015  6 x 9  15 b&w photos, 13 maps

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Much criticism has been directed at negative stereotypes of Appalachia perpetuated by movies, television shows, and news media. Books, on the other hand, often draw enthusiastic praise for their celebration of the simplicity and authenticity of the Appalachian region.

Dear Appalachia: Readers, Identity, and Popular Fiction since 1878 employs the innovative new strategy of examining fan mail, reviews, and readers’ geographic affiliations to understand how readers have imagined the region and what purposes these imagined geographies have served for them. As Emily Satterwhite traces the changing visions of Appalachia across the decades, from the Gilded Age (1865–1895) to the present, she finds that every generation has produced an audience hungry for a romantic version of Appalachia.

According to Satterwhite, best-selling fiction has portrayed Appalachia as a distinctive place apart from the mainstream United States, has offered cosmopolitan white readers a sense of identity and community, and has engendered feelings of national and cultural pride. Thanks in part to readers’ faith in authors as authentic representatives of the regions they write about, Satterwhite argues, regional fiction often plays a role in creating and affirming regional identity. By mapping the geographic locations of fans, Dear Appalachia demonstrates that mobile white readers in particular, including regional elites, have idealized Appalachia as rooted, static, and protected from commercial society in order to reassure themselves that there remains an “authentic” America untouched by global currents.

Investigating texts such as John Fox Jr.’s The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1908), Harriette Arnow’s The Dollmaker (1954), James Dickey’s Deliverance (1970), and Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain (1997), Dear Appalachia moves beyond traditional studies of regional fiction to document the functions of these narratives in the lives of readers, revealing not only what people have thought about Appalachia, but why.

Emily Satterwhite, associate professor of Appalachian studies and popular culture at Virginia Tech, has published in American Literature, Journal of American Folklore, and Appalachian Journal.

An important new contribution to our understanding of the creation and survival of the idea of Appalachia in the popular mind. Based primarily on a careful reading of fan mail and an impressive grasp of the scholarly literature, Dear Appalachia provides critical and fresh perspective on the politics of American identity. -- Ronald D Eller, author of Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945

Dear Appalachia undertakes an important and needed project: to explore the cultural work that fiction set in Appalachia is doing for its varied readers. Satterwhite’s scrupulous analysis of those readers’ reactions offers provocative insights into the identity dynamics of white Americans. -- Chris Green, author of The Social Life of Poetry: Appalachia, Race, and Radical Modernism

Dear Appalachia goes beyond an explanation of how people view the region to tackle the question of why people think they way they do [and] traces the changing representations of the region across the decades. -- Morgan Messenger

Winner of the Weatherford Award for 2011

Satterwhite takes a look at how this area has been so variously portrayed in literature over the years, going far beyond just what readers and writers have decided, but why they have come to these conclusions and stereotypical viewpoints. -- Knoxville News Sentinel

The 'dear' in the title captures a duality--the critical spirit and the epistolary methodology of Satterwhite's study of the roles of popular literature in and of Appalachia and its effects on readers. -- Choice

In an innovative approach to research, Satterwhite analyzed authors' fan mail and readers' Internet reviews of popular fiction to learn about attitudes toward Appalachia. -- Nuevo

Satterwhite's analysis offers a persuasive study on the identity politics and geographical dynamics of white American readers who have responded to works of popular Appalachian fiction. -- Marianne Worthington -- The History

It is as innovative and creative a treatment of Appalachia as a social construct as any I know, and a prime example of the rich rewards inherent in the cross-disciplinary approach that continues to characterize so much of the best scholarship in Appalachian studies. -- John C. Inscoe -- Journal of Southern History

This is one of the most important books on Appalachian and American identity the Appalachian studies field has produced. -- Rodger Cunningham -- Journal of Appalachian Studies

Dear Appalchia advances our understanding of how Appalachia continues to be a created and malleable concept that serves the political and identity needs of the American public. -- Mark A. Roberts -- West Virginia History

Winner of the Phi Beta Kappa Sturm Award