The winners of this year’s Weatherford Awards for the best books about Appalachia are Appalachian Reckoning (non-fiction), edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll, Forage by Rose McLarney (poetry), and Any Other Place (fiction) by Michael Croley.
The 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.
Any Other Place (Blair) is Michael Croley’s debut collection of short stories whose characters live in rural Eastern Kentucky, Ohio and South Korea.
“The book captures people at the interstices of identity as they debate whether to leave home or stay,” one Weatherford judge shared.
Throughout his stories, Croley places his characters in complex moral, romantic and politic situations. His prose is sharp, his characters are nuanced and he manages to tackle age-old themes with fresh perspectives. Croley is called a resounding voice for 21st-century Appalachia.
He received an NEA Fellowship in Literature in 2016. His stories and essays have appeared in VQR, The Paris Review Daily, Kenyon Review Online,LitHub, Narrative and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing at Denison University.
Fiction Runners-Up: Sugar Run by Mesha Maren and The Ash Family by Molly Dektar
Rose McLarney’s Forage (Penguin Poets) delves into the intimate and threatened interconnection of the land and its waters, people, animals and terrain.
“Forage is a haunting and intricate collection that beautifully represents the complexity of our region in remarkably crafted poems,” wrote one Weatherford judge.
The collection’s final poem, “Fresh Tracks,” relates the tale of a new dog-coyote-wolf hybrid that comes “from cold forest cut and no more, from trees, / from all we’ve made fall like trees.” They roam “Into the unheralded havens of highway sides, into the unclaimed / kingdoms of park corners.” For no matter how civilization sprawls, “life persists / despite the end of one form.”
McLarney is the author of three poetry collections and has won the National Poetry Series, the Chaffin Award for Achievement in Appalachian Writing and the Fellowship of Southern Writers’ New Writing Award for Poetry, among other prizes. She earned her MFA from Warren Wilson College. Currently, she is associate professor of creative writing at Auburn University.
Poetry Runners-Up: Railsplitter by Maurice Manning and Bootleg by Annie Woodford.
Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy (West Virginia University Press) rises to confront the moment. The collection, edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll, is grounded in accessible essays that critique the continued national manipulation of escape stories like J.D. Vance’s that are associated with the region.
Appalachian Reckoning’s wide variety of writing styles and authors (nonacademic, activists, artists, creative writers) show a region that fosters diverse lived experiences, which cannot be represented by a single voice or narrative. Going beyond binary choices and judgments, the collection displays the region’s rich spectrum of ethnicity and race, economic activity and creativity.
Harkins is a professor of history at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, and a scholar of U.S. popular culture history, particularly of Appalachia and rural America. He is also the author of Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon. At WKU, he teaches courses in 20th-century U.S. history, American popular culture, and American studies.
Meredith McCarroll is director of writing at Bowdoin College (Maine), where she teaches courses in writing, Southern and American literature, and film. McCarroll earned degrees from Appalachian State University, Simmons College and the University of Tennessee. Her work has appeared in Bitter Southerner, Avidly, Southern Cultures, The Guardian, CNN, Appalachian Journal, Pluck!, and elsewhere. She grew up in western North Carolina, and lives now in Portland, Maine, with her partner and their two sons.
Non-fiction Runners-Up: Black Huntington by Cicero M. Fain III and The Food We Eat, the Stories We Tell edited by Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt with Lora E. Smith.