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Appalachia has long been stereotyped as a region of feuds, moonshine stills, mine wars, environmental destruction, joblessness, and hopelessness. Robert Schenkkan's 1992 Pulitzer-Prize winning play The Kentucky Cycle once again adopted these stereotypes, recasting the American myth as a story of repeated failure and poverty—the failure of the American spirit and the poverty of the American soul. Dismayed by national critics' lack of attention to the negative depictions of mountain people in the play, a group of Appalachian scholars rallied against the stereotypical representations of the region's people. In Back Talk from Appalachia, these writers talk back to the American mainstream, confronting head-on those who view their home region one-dimensionally. The essays, written by historians, literary scholars, sociologists, creative writers, and activists, provide a variety of responses. Some examine the sources of Appalachian mythology in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literature. Others reveal personal experiences and examples of grassroots activism that confound and contradict accepted images of "hillbillies." The volume ends with a series of critiques aimed directly at The Kentucky Cycle and similar contemporary works that highlight the sociological, political, and cultural assumptions about Appalachia fueling today's false stereotypes.

An exciting and provocative new collection. -- Appalachian Journal

An important book. -- Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Thought-provoking, admirably accessible to nonspecialist readers, and offers an excellent introduction to Appalachian regional studies. Essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary and historic Appalachia, it is also a model regional study that provides an excellent comparative perspective for scholars and students of other American regions. -- Choice

A challenge to 'monolithic pejorative, and unquestioned' images of Appalachia. -- Chronicle of Higher Education

Social theory, history, literature, personal experience, and activism are successfully bound, and issues of race and gender are not neglected. . . . For scholars of the southern Appalachian region the volume is indispensable. -- Contemporary Sociology

An interesting and diverse collection. -- Filson Club History Quarterly

Presents a broad view of a region diverse in population, social issues, and history. -- Florida Historical Quarterly

Addresses the origins and perpetuation of these disparaging stereotypes, and offers writers' personal experiences growing up or living in Appalachia. -- Goldenseal

Provides provocative and insightful essays about this much-maligned region of the United States. -- Kentucky Monthly

One does come away with a better idea of why Appalachians are seen as they are. -- Lexington Herald-Leader

Every subject is covered from AIDS to rednecks to labor activism to the coalfields to race and gender. -- Library Booknotes

Addresses the origins of stereotypes of literature from the region, looks at labor and advocacy movements in Appalachia during this century, offers writers' personal glimpses of growing up or living in the region, and ends by highlighting the stereotypes and broad generalizations that characterize 'The Kentucky Cycle.' -- McCormick (SC) Messenger

A book that attempts to do a lot, and succeeds on the whole. -- Mountain Eagle

Now we have this thought-provoking collection of essays of the country we northerners knew so little about. -- Oakland (MI) Press

The essays, which share the goal of refuting the ongoing stereotyping of the region, are written from a variety of perspectives—anthropologists, sociologists, fiction writers, historians, health care activists, political scientists, to name a few. -- Ohioana Quarterly

Poring through the book's pages, readers, Appalachian readers especially, will experience a wide range of reactions—anger, humor and pride foremost among them. -- Paintsville Herald

Containing essays written by some of the region’s leading scholars, activists, and artists—the list of contributors itself testifies to the creativity of the people in the region and to the contributions Appalachians have made to the nation. -- Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

These important, provocative essays are an outstanding contribution to Appalachian studies scholarship, but they are also quite accessible to non-specialists. -- Tennessee Librarian

Gurney Norman was selected as Poet Laureate for the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Appalachians, Appalachian region


Appalachian Studies


Edited by Dwight B. Billings, Gurney Norman, and Katherine Ledford

Back Talk from Appalachia: Confronting Stereotypes
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