Appalachian Literature and Culture


In Appalachia, we find ambivalent people and ways that can be ambivalently grotesque. How else could we consider the region of the United States which houses the greatest amount of natural resources and the highest poverty rates simultaneously. The literature and culture both maligns and relishes this plight as human nature constantly battles politics and depravity in order to survive.


Page created by Brandon Barker

WWW. Links to General Sights:
Archives of Appalachia
Virtual Appalachia
Digital Library

Encyclopedia of Appalachia

James Still: (Kentucky) Poet [1906-2001]


"Leap Minnows, Leap"

The minnows leap in drying pools,
In islands of water along the creekbed sands
They spring on dying tails, white bellies to the sun,
Gills spread, gills fevered and gasping.

The creek is sun and sand, and fish throats rasping.
One pool has a peck of minnows. One living pool
Is knuckle deep with dying, a shrinking yard
Of glittering bellies. A thousand eyes look, look,
A thousand gills strain, strain the water air.
There is plenty of water above the dam, locked
and deep,
Plenty, plenty and held. It is not here.
It is not where the minnows spring with lidless
They die as men die. 
Leap minnows, leap.

Deliverance (1972) Feature Film

coverDirected by John Boorman, Deliverance was an irreparable depiction of Appalachian culture. No other film has been more influential in the creation of grotesque stereotypes concerning the region.               

Famous Quotes:
Mountain Man: "I'm gonna make you squeal like a pig boy."
Mountain Man: What we, uh, "re-quire" is that you get your god-damn asses up in them woods.
Mountain Man: What do you want to do now?
Toothless Man: [Grinning] He's got a real pretty mouth on him, don't he?

Denis Giardina: (West Virginia) Novelist







Denise Giardina's Appalachian themes permeate the ambiguous grotesque and beatiful nature of the region. Her novels follow religious, political, cultural, and sexual peculiarities of the mountains. The Unquiet Earth (1992) fictionalizes the Buffalo Creek Disaster of 1972 where most of a mining town was demolished by a dam break. The novel follows the romantic relationship of Dillon and Rachel, who are first cousins. By the novel's conclusion, the grotesque nature of that relationship is forgotten as the even more grotesque plight of the mining community is exposed.  

Other Works:
Good King Harry (1984)
Storming Heaven (1994)

Sharyn McCrumb: (Tennessee) Novelist

Author Sharyn McCrumb“My books are like Appalachian quilts. I take brightly colored scraps of legends, ballads, fragments of rural life, and local tragedy, and I piece them together into a complex whole that tells not only a story, but also a deeper truth about the culture of the mountain South.”



  The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter revolves around the mystery of a heinous crime in eastern Tennessee. McCrumb traces the liminal state of life and death. Characters, animals, and places are in such limbo throughout the novel.A mother burns alive in her trailer; a teenage brother and sister remove the bones of their murdered parents from the grave; a pet groundhog hibernates; and a creek flows but kills with its toxic waste. The liminality of Appalachia creates grotesque and beauty for McCrumb.

Other Works:
If I Ever Return Pretty Peggy-O (1990)
She Walks These Hills (1994)
The Rosewood Casket (1996)
The Ballad of Frankie Silver (1998)

Snake Handlers: Christian Sect

Snake handling began in Appalachia in the early 1900's. Since then, these radical Christians have worshipped by handling poisonous rattlesnakes and cottonmouths along with drinks of strychnine and arsenic. Some have died in the ceremonies but several live on as the queer services continue still.

Dennis Covington's Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake-Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia tells of Covington's coverage of Glenn Summerford's trial. Summerford was a snake handler accused of trying to kill his wife wife the serpents used during church services. Covington exposes the intrigue and draw of a seemingly grotesque practice as the book culminates with Covington handling a three foot rattler.