Current Winners of the Weatherford Award for Best Books about Appalachia

Over 40 books were nominated for this year’s Weatherford Award.  To select the winners and six runners-up, judges were inspired as they ranked, as one judge shared, “such disparate works, so many of them valuable and inspiring.”  Winners for the best books from 2021 on the Appalachian South are

Fiction: My Monticello (Henry Holt) by Jocelyn Johnson

Poetry: The Girl Singer (University Press of Kentucky) by Marianne Worthington

Non-Fiction: The Harlan Renaissance: Stories of Black Lives in Appalachian Coal Towns (West Virginia University Press) by William H. Turner

Weatherford Awards honor books deemed as best illuminating the challenges, personalities, and unique qualities of the Appalachian South. Granted by Berea College and the Appalachian Studies Association for 50 years, the awards commemorate the life and achievements of W.D. Weatherford Sr., a pioneer and leading figure in Appalachian development, youth work and race relations, and his son, Willis D. Weatherford Jr., Berea College’s sixth president.  The poetry award was established in 2010 to honor the life and work of Dr. Grace Toney Edwards, former Director of the Appalachian Regional Studies Center at Radford University.

Fiction Award

My Monticello‘s stories and eponymous novella explore the worlds of people of color like a young woman descended from Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, a university professor studying racism by conducting a secret social experiment on his own son, and a single mother desperate to buy her first home even as the world hurtles toward catastrophe—each fighting to survive in America.

What our Judges had to say

“I was swept along My Monticello like a ferocious and sure current. With these stories, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson has drilled into complicated truths about our region’s racial, political, and emotional inheritances. Then she has broken those truths open and remade them, with imagination and precision, into a generous collection that discovers brand new ways of showing us ourselves—and, perhaps, a way forward. Her combination of shrewdness and tenderness is rare, and exactly what we need right now.”

“The stories were engrossing . . . by the time I came to the last story I felt that all the themes about race and prejudice and poverty in the USA in general and Appalachia, in particular, had culminated into a clearer picture of what the author associated with Virginia and Monticello.”

Jocelyn Nicole Johnson is a fellow at TinHouse, Hedgebrook and VCCA, and her writing has appeared in Guernica, The Guardian, Kweli, Shenandoah, and elsewhere. Her short story “Control Negro” was anthologized in Best American Short Stories 2018, guest edited by Roxane Gay, who called it, “one hell of a story,” and was read live by LeVar Burton as part of PRI’s Selected Shorts series. A veteran public school art teacher, Johnson lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Order the book HERE

Fiction Runners-Up: Call it Horses by Jessie van Eerden, Pop by Robert Gipe

Poetry Award

Girl Singer threads together poems about Feminism, Appalachian culture, and country music. It is part family history, part music, and part nature walk. Worthington’s attentive eye and heart are reflected in the starkly striking and painful images she paints in the poems. Every poem, whether describing a connection with Appalachian wildlife, retelling the lyrics of a classic country tune, reflecting on the speaker’s bloodline, or giving voice to famous musical figures of the past, strikes a powerful chord.

What our Judges had to say:

“This is a beautiful portrayal of country music, Appalachia and a strong woman that sings from the page.”

“Told in complex and innovative poems, Girl Singer is a powerful and mesmerizing meditation on grief and the healing balms of music and nature.”

Marianne Worthington grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, and moved to southeastern Kentucky in 1990 where she works as a teacher, editor & writer. In 2009 she co-founded Still: The Journal, online literary magazine that publishes writers, artists, and musicians with ties to the Appalachian region. She has received the Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council and the Appalachian Book of the Year Award for her poetry chapbook, Larger Bodies Than Mine. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Oxford American, CALYX, Grist, Reckon Review,  and Appalachian Review, among other places. She teaches communication studies and media writing to college students. She often teaches poetry and nonfiction writing classes for workshops and conferences.

Order the book HERE

Poetry Runners-Up: Perfect Black by Crystal Wilkinson, Back to the Light by George Ella Lyon

Nonfiction Award

The Harlan Renaissance is an intimate remembrance of kinship and community in eastern Kentucky’s coal towns written by one of the luminaries of Appalachian studies, William Turner. Turner reconstructs Black life in the company towns in and around Harlan County during coal’s final postwar boom years, which built toward an enduring bust as the children of Black miners, like the author, left the region in search of better opportunities.

What the Judges had to say

“The Harlan Renaissance is an invaluable piece of Black Appalachian history and should be celebrated as such. William H. Turner weaves together years of historical research and a personal family history/narrative that is full of rich sociological analyses and detailed memories.”

“The Harlan Renaissance is a masterful tale that captures the souls of Black Appalachians coal camps’ social histories covering a century of coal boom and bust. The author’s passions behind each event, relationship, story, and connection to the land are evident.”

Order the book HERE

William H. Turner grew up in Lynch, Harlan County, Ky. He spent his professional career studying and working on behalf of marginalized communities, helping them create opportunities in the larger world while not abandoning their important cultural ties. He is best-known for his ground-breaking research on African-American communities in Appalachia, but his work is universal. As an academic and a consultant, he has studied economic systems and social structures in the urban South and burgeoning Latino communities in the Southwest. What he strives for on behalf of his clients and their communities is what we all want: prosperity, understanding and respect.

Non-fiction Runner Ups: Remaking Appalachia: Ecosocialism, Ecofeminism, and Law by Nicholas F. Stump, Living on the Edge: When Hard Times Become a Way of Life by Celine-Marie Pascale.