Berea College’s Loyal Jones Appalachian Center has announced the winners of the “Appalachian Narratives for Our Time” award for essays about how Appalachians thrive in the places they call home.
The submitted essays focus on the authors’ compelling life stories and illustrate the challenges of coming of age, working and living in the realities of family and community.
“Appalachia has a rich and, at the same time, challenging history,” said Chris Green, director of the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center. “All too often, however, national media portrays difficulties in the region as the fault of people who live here. We wanted to give the majority of Appalachians who grow up and make good lives a new opportunity to tell their stories.”
Some narratives featured personal success in the face of adversity and explained how community and educational institutions helped. Others linked their personal stories to social issues and solutions in the region and nation.
Three top prizes were selected by national best-selling author Silas House, who judged the finalists. House, who is from Laurel County, Kentucky, is the National Endowment for the Humanities chair at Berea College.
First place: “An Exultation of Appalachia” by Lonormi Manuel
House described this essay as creative and complex. Manuel was born in northeast Tennessee, grew up in southwest Virginia and has made Kentucky her home for most of her adult life.
Here is an excerpt: “The Appalachia of my childhood had all the problems ascribed to today’s Appalachia, problems which—I repeat—are found in every single community in this country. (Anyone who says otherwise is lying to you. They have probably lied to you about other things, too.) The Appalachia of my childhood also had a rich tradition of music and literature, a natural beauty second to none, a culture of helping to build our neighbors up instead of tearing our neighbors down.”
Manuel divides her time between working on her first novel and working toward a master of fine arts degree in creative writing. She and her husband live in Anderson County, Kentucky.
Second place: “From Moonshiner to Lawyer” by Richard Hopkins
Hopkins has lived most of his life in Rabun County in north Georgia, where he spends as much time working as a laborer as he does a lawyer.
Hopkin’s essay starts when he is being sworn in as a new lawyer in Rabun Superior Court on plea and arraignment day. His cousins were also in the room. Hopkins’s essay describes their smiles, but also noted that they were in “orange and white striped jumpsuits,” and “their handcuffs and shackles jingled as they waved to me.” The presiding judge took it all as a matter of course.
Hopkins explores his own tough upbringing in a hard-scrabble family of limited means. He shares how he learned manual labor with his father and how the school’s FFA advisor who taught “agriculture and horticulture classes” became his “benchmark for how to act and go through life.”
Third place: “An Appalachian Upbringing” by Jamie Ward
Ward was born and raised in Gray Hawk, Kentucky. House praised her essay for its ability to render Appalachia’s historical and cultural contexts.
Here is an excerpt: “I’m in my thirties and I still struggle with my Appalachian identity. How do I reconcile my frustrations with my gratitude and values? How do I represent my hometown to the greater world in a way that is honest yet protective of the people I love so dearly? How do I advance in my profession without sacrificing the needs of my community?”
After Ward earned a bachelor of arts in Spanish with honors from Berea College, she went on to receive a master’s degree in public health from the University of Kentucky. She currently lives in Lexington. She works at UK in the Department of Surgery and was recently named a finalist for an Outstanding Staff Award.
The following essays were finalists:
• “My Rag Rug Life: An Appalachian Panegyric” by Lisa O. Carey (Tennessee, Ohio, Alabama)
• “Growing Up and Staying in the Mountains” by Carol A. Ison (Letcher County, Kentucky)
• “Growing Up Appalachian—A Place to Call Home” by Marta Pate (Lincoln County, West Virginia)
• “Endemic Species” by Anna Sunshine Ison (Rowan County, Kentucky and Lima, Peru)