The Native American literature was entirely oral unless you count the paintings and drawings found in caves. The Native Americans had not then developed a written language but their oral histories and the first written works of the early settlers which told about the struggles of the colonists actually form the beginning of the American literary culture, as told by James Fennimore Cooper in his famous work, The Last of The Mohicans.
We see, then, what an oddly assorted group that established the foundations of American literature; the Native American with their oral traditions, the puritans who came to America seeking religious freedom were preoccupied with sin and salvation, the African American with their haunting lilting songs and oral histories, and then the southern planters who were concerned with their busy but glamorous social lives.
The culture of this region known as the Appalachian region seems to be a coming together of the Native American chanting rhythm found in most oral histories, the saint and sinner, rewards and punishments ideology of the puritans, and many of the social attitudes and practices brought over from England, France, Scotland, Ireland, Africa, and the Slavic nations. Each group seems to have had some stigma attached. Think of the many pieces of literature which paint the Scotch/Irish as a bunch of rednecks (to use a colloquial term).
As to which came first, it is likened unto “the chicken or the egg” eternal conundrum. Did our writing and our stories began our culture or was our culture the origin of our writing? Thus the question whether literature originates from culture or culture is enhanced by our literature arises. I adhere to the belief that our culture has developed from the customs and habits of the people and is debased, glorified, or enhanced by our literature.
At one time, the literary world paid little attention to Appalachian literature. Then gradually people such as John Fox, Thomas Wolfe, Eudora Welty, Harriet Arnow, and James Still wrote with such ability and pathos that their voices became recognized and appreciated.
They were the trailblazers who opened doors for more modern writers from our own area who are carrying on in the same manner such as; Lee Smith, Andriana Trigianni, Silas House, Homer Hickam, David Baldacci, and Robert Morgan to name a few. These people are preserving and enhancing our culture and making us proud to say we are from Appalachia.
Many writing groups have sprung up in various areas in the Appalachian region with their main purposes being to inform and educate our people as to their own historical presence in the building of America as a diverse and free country. Without the written word, this endeavor would be impossible and these writing groups realized early on that there was a great need for the preservation, enhancement, and fostering of writing and publications from our own area as well as from other regions.
One such writing group was started in 2009; The Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium. Its goal is to enhance and preserve our rich heritage and bring it out as a bright and shining example of the many talented people in our region, but is not limited to Appalachia.
We in Appalachia have the unique opportunity to not only “show the house to the house” meaning a way to let us see ourselves as we are and be proud. As is often the case, while one is helping oneself he/she will end up helping others. In this endeavor writing groups will also show the rest of America that our culture is built on honor, integrity, dedication, and patriotism.
Writing or any artistic endeavor starts as a dream, which evolves into an idea, and that dream or idea expands into a benefit to others. This is true whether it’s a new invention, a new medical treatment, or a piece of writing that will change the thinking of their readers. An idea, however, is worthless unless one is bold enough to risk rejection, criticism, and monetary loss.
Some people never dare to dream, to change, or do anything different. But in so doing one defeats the whole purpose of being born with a fertile and functioning imagination. Imagination is one of the greatest gifts bestowed on mankind. It is the cornerstone of the evolution of humanity. I’m not speaking of Darwinian evolution, but the evolving of the capability of the human mind and talent.
I beg of everyone who reads this to please stop hiding your lights (gifts) under a bushel. I believe that no gift is given except to be used for the benefit of humanity. If that be the case, do we have the right to selfishly hide that gift (talent) away? When we hide a gift that has been given then we are guilty of slowing the progress of humanity in its struggle to move beyond the mundane and reach for, that much sought after recognition, of who we are as a people and a culture.
Our struggles in Appalachia as writers, has been to safeguard our unique heritage while also broadening our realm of influence in literature. We want to be taken seriously.
As previously stated the great Appalachian writers and artists that have preceded us were the pathfinders and the trailblazers. We have a duty to carry their torch forward and enhance their determinedly burning flame.
The torch has been thrown to us and if we survive as a culture and in our own time, move our ‘river of earth’ another step along the continuum then we will have honored those who walked so proudly and bravely before us.
We want humanity to look at Appalachian literature and recognize that Appalachia is a region where ideas are born, developed, and put before the world as a renaissance of the earliest and purist forms of self-expression.
Our art and our culture needs no apology and we offer none, but we have begun to flout and display our literature and other artistic endeavors as the masterful works of fertile, talented, and dedicated minds working together for the betterment of humanity through the written word.
About the Author
Adda Leah Davis is a McDowell County, West Virginia native who has now lived in Russell County, Virginia for over twenty years and dearly loves the entire area. She is a retired elementary school teacher and counselor.
After retirement from the school system she wrote for two newspapers in McDowell County, started an oral history theater group, and was Director of Economic Development in McDowell County for six years.
Mrs. Davis has presented workshops on oral history, community development, leadership, and writing. She is energetic and enthusiastic about any project she starts and about life in general. Davis is the author of fifteen books; Fantasy Stories of the Life Cycles in Nature (Making Science Enjoyable), Here I Am Again Lord, Landon Colley, An Old Time Primitive Baptist Universalist Preacher, Caleb’s Song, Golden Harvest Workbooks for Grades 1, 2, and 3, The Whisperer, a y/a book similar to the Nancy Drew Mysteries, Abigail’s Redemption, Lucinda Harmon Saga which includes; Lucinda’s Mountain, Jason’s Journey, The Beckoning Hills, and Farther Along and the mystery series which includes A Fatal Love of Place, A Fatal Web of Deceit, and Fatal Choices and Second Chances.
The first series of books tell the story of the Scotch/Irish settlers in the Appalachian Coalfields in the 1950’ from the perspective of a person who grew up and lived her entire life in that culture. The second series is a mystery series dealing with corruption in businesses.
Davis’ dedication to her heritage and her sense of place is interwoven into the very fabric of all her work. However, as the present displays, she writes about other areas or settings, but still the character of the Appalachian Mountains and its ingrained values of patriotism, honesty, and faith is readily displayed.
As of now she is working on the second Y/A mystery, a three book series beginning in Ireland but migrating to Pittsburgh and then Southwest Virginia and over into West Virginia before returning to Ireland to visit one’s roots. Davis also has three books for children with Christian Faith Publishing as well as the first book A Heaven Sent Wife of The Priory Heritage Series which is being published first by Christian Faith Publishing.
Davis has a great love for and also a heartfelt need to write and therefore she writes every day. “If I don’t use the God-given gift of writing, then it will be taken and given to another and I would be bereft,” is one of Davis’ greatest fears.
Davis’ love for McDowell County as it was in the 1950’s rings loud and clear throughout her series of books and in fact all of her writings. She has often said, “I live away now, but part of my heart is still in McDowell County.
Today, Davis will tell you that hearts, like love, can expand as hers has because she now loves Russell County, Virginia and the entire area. The many friends and fellow writers that she has been blessed to meet and learn to love, attest to this knowledge.
Connect with Adda… goldenharvestcreations.com