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July 06 , 2009

Dear Appalachia

Readers, Identity, and Popular Fiction since 1878


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.

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