|Thai Food Truck at the Capitol.|
We arrived downtown, surveyed the vendor booths, and headed in to an auditorium a few minutes early for the Grit Lit panel. As we sat down, we realized that we'dcrashed another session. Turns out, we were sitting in on a Q and A session with Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, who talked about how she chooses settings for her work. It was neat and unexpected.
The panel I was really there to see was comprised of the editors and featured authors of the anthology Grit Lit: a Rough Southern Reader. It was a funny, gritty, and real presentation. I was transfixed by the stories told by Rowan County native Chris Offutt. He's from nowhere, Kentucky, just like me. He's written for some of the smartest shows on TV. He was also as funny and offbeat and fascinating as I expected. I reached for my phone to tweet about the awesomeness, and found that Southern Living staffers were in the Grit Lit audience as well. Around the same time, the panel members started talking about the articles they've written for Oxford American. People who write for the very publications I read most closely -- the ones for which I dream of writing -- were are all around me, participating in the same conversation. It was a great feeling.
After the panel discussion, my beau and I walked around the booths of some of the University Presses exhibiting at the Festival. We talked with booksellers and lit review editors. We discussed interesting books. We got some ice cream. (Jeni's, to be precise. Salted caramel, which is okay, and whiskey-pecan, which tastes like some sort of fantastic milky Christmas punch made with Early Times.)
After we took in more booths, musicians, and authors, we headed back to the hotel for a nap and some college football. It is a Saturday in the South, after all. Between the nap and the evening's big games, we headed out for some low-key dinner. There, in a suburban chain restaurant, I found my confidence bolstered by the day's events. I'd spent the day among writers who, as is often said, started out with an idea. I began to tell my beau the story of the novel I want to write. I'd never really discussed it with anyone before, but now it's out there. It's real. It was a terrifying and liberating moment.
Back in the hotel, I fell immediately asleep. Les Miles had to coach without me. I had big dreams of first drafts and the fantastic cup of coffee I'd be drinking in the morning.
A few days ago, I curled up on the front porch to read the October issue of Southern Living.
I had a Tervis Tumbler of Diet Coke in my hand and my black labs playing at my feet, a scene that was surely being recreated on porches all over the South that crisp autumn weekend. As I leafed through the recipes, renovations and travelogues that comprise every Southern mother's favorite magazine, I ran across a sentence that caught me off guard:
"Appalachia is having a moment right now."
I was taken aback. I mean, I've seen plenty of claims that Southern culture is trendy this year. Still, no matter how often I hear that hipster New York restaurants are serving up fried chicken and pork rinds or that bourbon is this year's spirit of choice, I always make a subtle distinction. Those things are part of the larger Southern culture, and it's a lot easier to imagine "city-Southern" having a broader appeal. It's a whole lot easier to talk to non-Kentuckians about Derby than about dulcimers, that's for sure. Moonshine and old-timey fiddle music and soup beans and handmade furniture -- the things celebrated in the Southern Living article? Well, those things are set aside for us mountain folk.
I was raised to revere my Appalachian heritage. It was an act of almost defiant pride to celebrate the artisans and educators and writers and dreamers and fiddlers and builders
of my extended family. Some of my earliest memories are of Appalachia Day, theAlice Lloyd College
Homecoming festival which proudly features many of those very artists. I've always been extremely proud of this rich heritage, but I guess I've always figured that it wasn't something that outsiders would find too interesting. There's always been something about the mountains that lend themselves to seclusion; feeling "set apart" seems our geographic birthright.
I guess that, much like the late, brilliant Christopher Hitchens, I've always kept two sets of books. I'm a Southern girl with my city friends and a Mountain girl with my family. It's a pretty common practice; I think a lot of us assume that nobody else is interested. Douglas Roberts, author of the Southern Living piece, put an interesting spin on it:
"Appalachia is that rare part of the United States dedicated to the study and celebration of itself. And it's easy to believe on a drive through the area that this is the true heartland -- a still-intact petri dish of the independence, ingenuity and authenticity of the American spirit."
Maybe my heritage doesn't have to be revered
quite so much. Maybe I should focus instead on enjoying it a little more. Maybe Appalachia
having a moment, and maybe that's a celebration of the fun aspects of our culture. You can't get any more hip or fun than the Avett Brothers, who basically play the same brand of mountain music my granddaddy did. Every Appalachian family has a big jar of moonshine hidden in the kitchen. Maybe it's time to bring it out and sip it. Maybe it's time to add soup beans to my Cajun-low country-Southern fusion kitchen repertoire; that
sounds interesting. Hell, maybe it's even time to take back the idiom, as they say, and acknowledge that I'm a Hillbilly Girl at heart. At the very least, I'm going to enjoy Appalachia's moment. Y'all have a lot to learn from us.
Two weeks. Go 'Cats!