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 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.
"Where do Appalachian stereotypes come from? It’s a question that gives rise to seemingly easy, immediate answers—movies, television shows and news media. But what if they also come from our own imaginations?…Are we looking for ourselves in those pages, or more likely, the selves we’d rather be, selves with history and heritage, rooted in place and time, with a sense of community and belonging? These are more complex, nuanced questions scholar Emily Satterwhite approached in her book Dear Appalachia: Readers, Identity, and Popular Fiction since 1878 recently published by The University Press of Kentucky."
—Niki King, TheHillville.com
"An important new contribution to our understanding of the creation and survival of the idea of Appalachia in the popular mind. Based primarily on a careful reading of fan mail and an impressive grasp of the scholarly literature, Dear Appalachia provides critical and fresh perspective on the politics of American identity."
—Ronald D Eller, author of Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945
"Dear Appalachia undertakes an important and needed project: to explore the cultural work that fiction set in Appalachia is doing for its varied readers. Satterwhite's scrupulous analysis of those readers' reactions offers provocative insights into the identity dynamics of white Americans."
—Chris Green, author of The Social Life of Poetry: Appalachia, Race, and Radical Modernism
Emily Satterwhite teaches Appalachian studies, American Studies, and Pop Culture, and coordinates the American Studies and Pop Culture minors. Satterwhite’s research fields include critical regionalism, reception studies, and the politics of culture. Her book, Dear Appalachia: Readers, Identity, and Popular Fiction since 1878 (UP of Kentucky, 2011), examines fan mail and reviews to ascertain readers’ investments in the idea of Appalachia. Satterwhite is an affiliate of the ASPECT program (Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought) at Virginia Tech and an editorial reviewer for the web journal Southern Spaces.
The Visible Scholarship Initiative is a collaboration between the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the University Libraries that seeks to make visible the stages of research and creative scholarship in the liberal arts and human sciences. Illustrating how faculty address key questions, employ varied methods, and produce significant results makes it possible to acknowledge and encourage research and creative activities that engage challenging questions and demonstrate sophisticated understanding.