Current Winners of the Weatherford Award for Best Books about Appalachia

The winners of the 2019 Weatherford Awards are Michael Clay Carey’s The News Untold: Community Journalism and the Failure to Confront Poverty in Appalachia (non-fiction), Silas House’s Southernmost (fiction), and Sarah McCartt-Jackson’s Stonelight (poetry).

The Weatherford Awards honor books that “best illuminate the challenges, personalities, and unique qualities of the Appalachian South.” Granted by Berea College and the Appalachian Studies Association for forty-seven 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., who was Berea College’s sixth President (1967-84).

These winning authors will be recognized at the 2019 Appalachian Studies Conference in Asheville, North Carolina on Friday, March 15th.

Fiction Award

The Weatherford Award for best Appalachian fiction goes to Silas House’s newest novel, Southernmost (Algonquin Books). This novel takes on the story of a disastrous flood, which many Appalachian communities have dealt with over the years. This novel finds new ways to tell of human transformation in the midst of tragedy.

One Weatherford judge explains, “This book about something and is fueled by a deep humanity. The beautiful concept of the ‘Everything,’ voiced by a child, breaks down sectarianism, provincialism, othering–all the ugly separations. High time such a concept came to Appalachia, a place that historically has suffered from being othered and, upon occasion, from othering. Yet there is nothing of the polemic or propaganda piece about Southernmost. These characters are working out their own salvation according to their consciences and capacities.”

Silas House is the New York Times bestselling author of six novels, one book of creative nonfiction, and four plays.  House’s writing frequently appears in The New York Times and Salon and has been published in TimeGarden and GunOxford AmericanNewsday, and many other places.

House serves as the NEH Chair at Berea College and on the fiction faculty in the MFA in Creative Writing program at Spalding University.  He is a native of Southeastern Kentucky.

He has been honored with the E.B. White Award, the Nautilus Prize, the Hobson Medal for Literature, the Intellectual Freedom Prize from the National Council of Teachers of English, and many others.  House’s most recent novel, Southernmost, was recently long-listed for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, is a recommendation of the New York Public Library, and has appeared on year-end best-of lists in magazines such as The AdvocatePasteBooklistSouthern Living, and many others.

Fiction Runners-Up: Robert Gipe’s Weedeater, Michael Henson’s Maggie Boylan, and Tim Poland’s Yellow Stonefly

Poetry Award

Sarah McCartt-Jackson’s Stonelight (Airlie Press) uses vibrant language, memorable imagery, and profound themes, to give a powerful new look at labor in the Appalachian region. Stonelight is a beautifully wrought testament to the strength of the Appalachian people living in the grip of monoeconomy.

Rebecca Gayle Howell, writer in residence at the Hindman Settlement School, calls Stonelight “a triumph”: “For a century and more, it has been our women, hillbilly women, who—despite corporate warfare and starvation, disease, poverty, abuse—have led the nation to believe in and take up the right we have to own our labor, to believe in and fight for the dignity of work. I actually pray, every day I pray, that today’s generation of women will rise to tell our story, write our story, bearing its mythos and universal power for those who will need it next. Then Sarah McCartt-Jackson’s debut landed in my lap. A true poetry that bends into this history with such precise vision and moral, human clarity—not to mention beauty—that I am astonished it is her first book.”

Sarah McCartt-Jackson is also author of three chapbooks: “Calf Canyon,” “Vein of Stone,” and “Children Born on the Wrong Side of the River,” which won the 2015 Mary Ballard Poetry Prize. She received an Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council and has served as artist-in-residence for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shotpouch Cabin through Oregon State University. She works on a farm in Louisville, where she also teaches poetry and makes up half of the art duo Project Diode.

Poetry Runners-Up: Susan O’Dell Underwood’s The Book of Awe and William Wright and Jesse Graves’s Spectre Mountain

Nonfiction Award

In The News Untold (University of West Virginia Press), Michael Clay Carey shows how the local media within Appalachia tends to favor stories boosting community business interests and tends to ignore poorer residents, seemingly seen as part of a natural process. This local media thereby reinforces the idea of an overarching “culture of poverty” and displays a lack of awareness of inequality within Appalachia and between Appalachia and the rest of the country. By looking at these stories, or lack of stories, and by putting them in a larger theoretical frame, Carey suggests how the factors behind poverty, as well as possible solutions, might be described.

Dr. Michael Clay Carey is an assistant professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at Samford University.   His academic research focuses on cultural studies of media, specifically the impacts of stereotypes and the roles media play in the formation and maintenance of individual and group identity.

Prior to his academic career, Dr. Carey spent 10 years working as a reporter and editor at several newspapers in Tennessee, covering everything from prison escapes and state government to stock-car racing and agriculture. He wrote for The Tennessean in Nashville and covered the state as a news correspondent for USA Today

Non-Fiction Runners-Up: John M. Coggeshall’s Liberia, South Carolina: An African American Appalachian Community, Karida L. Brown’s Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia, Tom Hansell’s After Coal: Stories of Survival in Appalachia and Wales

Nonfiction Winner 2018

The news untold cover

Fiction Winner 2018

Southernmost novel cover

Poetry Winner 2018

Stonelight Cover