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This book demonstrates the value of using fan mail and online customer reviews to determine what meanings readers made of popular fictions set in Appalachia. Employing the methodological innovation of “reception geographies,” the book examines readers' testimonials alongside maps of their migrations in order to assess the ways in which their geographic movements and affiliations influenced their imagined geographies of Appalachia as a haven from modernity and postmodernity. The book argues that regional fiction served three functions for U.S. readers in multiple eras: it produced regions as authentic places, enabled readers' construction of identity and belonging; and facilitated the circulation of power across geographic scales. The book illustrates the crucial role played by mobile readers—regional elites, out-migrants and in-migrants, tourists, and missionaries—in constructing an Authentic Appalachia. For all fans, but for mobile readers in particular, Appalachia represented what they believed to be the nation's roots in “pioneer” white agrarian society and held out the tantalizing promise of a harmonious and rooted way of life. Appalachian-set best sellers stimulated the formation of a regional identity that critiqued the emotional costs of upward mobility, soothed white readers' concerns about lack of identity and belonging, and fostered readers' attachments to place in a highly mobile society that belittled rural locales. The book cautions that popular fiction's pastoral versions of Appalachia may have romanticized whiteness, glorified white American nationalism, and reinforced readers' imagination of primitive peoples the world over as in need of guidance from well-to-do Americans.

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY




978-0-8131-3011-8 (pdf version)


978-0-8131-4011-7 (epub)



Imagined geographies, Reception geographies, Fan mail, Popular fiction, White American nationalism, Best sellers, Whiteness, Identity


American Popular Culture | Appalachian Studies | Cultural History | Literature in English, North America | United States History

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