Appalachian Literature in the High School Classroom

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“A GOOD STORY TAKES AWHILE”: APPALACHIAN LITERATURE IN THE HIGH SCHOOL CLASSROOM In West Virginia a good story takes awhile, and if it has people in it, you have to swear that it is true. . . —From Maggie Anderson’s “Long Story,” in Windfall and New Selected Poems, 2000 BY ALDEN WAITT Today’s teachers bemoan the fact that their students, immersed in a media culture, appear to be uninterested in reading works typically assigned in traditional language arts classrooms. However, the incorporation of young adult novels has served to engage even reluctant learners with their young adult protagonists dealing with familiar themes and settings. Yet what about marginalized students, those from rural areas in Appalachia? This paper explores the rationale for using Appalachian authors and/or novels (young adult, “classic,” and popular) with Appalachian characters and themes, alongside language arts classics, to expose Appalachian youth, particularly those students from rural areas, to literature which reflects their culture and concerns. The works I suggest using are listed in three groupings: conformity and rebellion, class conflict, and multiculturalism and include Sharyn McCrumb, Barbara Kingsolver, Chris Holbrook, and Fred Chappell. The paper includes an appendix with other suggestions for Appalachian work to be used in units typically presented in high school language arts courses. In a poignant chapter entitled “Medal of Honor,” from Fred Chappell’s 1989 Brighten the Corner Where You Are, teacher Joe Robert is summoned to the principal’s office where a poor farming couple, Pruitt and Ginny, await him. Describing the couple, who fed and clothed their four children on their “flinty acres,” Joe Robert sees them as a vanishing breed, disappearing, as even “the mountains were beginning to change.” Joe Robert, his son tells us, muses on the expression “salt of the earth”:

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