Current Winners of the Weatherford Award for Best Books about Appalachia

From the largest field of contenders ever nominated, the winners of this year’s Weatherford Awards for the best books about Appalachia are I’m Afraid of Water (non-fiction) edited by Luke Eric Lassiter, Brian Hoey, and Elizabeth Campbell, The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels (fiction), and All the Great Territories by Matthew Wimberly (poetry).

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.  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

The Prettiest Star tells the story of Brian, who returns to his small Appalachian-Ohio hometown after living in New York and contracting AIDS.  Brain’s family struggles to understand his diagnosis and his sexual orientation.  Told in a chorus of voices, the book is brutally honest yet sympathetic even to those who reject Brian.

What our Judges had to say

“If you read the book, make sure you have a boatload of Kleenexes at your side. It cuts deep, but it’s the kind of story we desperately need in a country that has been nearly torn asunder in recent years by social, political, and health crises; it’s a story that reminds us of the better angels of our nature, of hope and healing and reconciliation.”

“I haven’t read a book in a long time that touched me as deeply as this one. I felt transported back to a time in my childhood, back to an event on the margins of my memory. But to read about it from these characters’ points of view brings this story to life in a way that seems custom-made for the screen. I literally couldn’t put it down.”

Carter Sickels is the recipient of the 2013 Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award, and earned fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and MacDowell. He is an assistant professor of English at Eastern Kentucky University,  where he teaches in the Bluegrass Writers Studio Low-Residency MFA program.

Order the book HERE

Fiction Runners-UpThe Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw, F*ckface by Leah Hampton, and How Fire Runs by Charles Dodd White

Poetry Award

Aching and elegiac, All the Great Territories captures the complexities of grief and Appalachia. Masterful in its ability to closely study the region and the forces at work against, it serves as an elegy for a lost father as it “charts a course through the body to the inner channels and valves of the physical and metaphysical heart” (Amazon review by J. Scott Brownlee).

What our Judges had to say:

“This collection perfectly captures the complexities of grief and Appalachia, masterful in its ability to closely study the region and the forces at work against it while also serving as an elegy for a lost father.  An epic told in the intimate.”

“This aching and elegiac book held up to a second and third read, and I was taken by the care and intention of his images and the emotional risk of the poems.”

Matthew Wimberley is an assistant professor of English at Lees-Mcrae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina. This book is his debut.

Order the book HERE

Poetry Runners-Up: Talking to Shadows by Ron Houchin, Of This River by Noah Davis, and Redneck Bouquet by Jeff Mann

Nonfiction Award

I’m Afraid of That Water: A Collaborative Ethnography of a West Virginia Water Crisis melds a wide set of stories about the 2014 chemical spill in central West Virginia that contaminated the water of 300,000 citizens in a nine-county region, the problematic response to which led to the amplification of distrust already well-seeded in area. I’m Afraid of That Water was researched and written by a team of faculty, students, and community partners. Lassiter, Hoey, and Campbell led the project’s research and writing, but as a community-university partnered project, the book was jointly conceptualized, researched, and written by people across various positions in academe and local communities.

In honor of this book’s process and goal, the award monies for this prize will be donated to West Virginia Rivers, a non-profit that serves the statewide voice for water-based recreation and clean, drinkable rivers.

What the Judges had to say

“This book sets a meaningful example from which community-engaged Appalachian studies scholars will draw  much inspiration.”

“Documentation was exceptional in capturing how people felt about the water crisis. A rich collection of short venues of people’s experiences and how they were affected. The book merged academic perspectives with community-based voices in an Appalachian exchange between folks with similar experiences in a crisis and Appalachian shared living.”

Order the book HERE

Eric Luke Lassiter is a professor of humanities and anthropology and director of the graduate humanities program at Marshall University;  Brian A. Hoey is a professor of anthropology and associate dean of the honors college at Marshall University; and Elizabeth Campbell is chair of the department of curriculum and instruction at Appalachian State University.  

Non-fiction Runner Ups: RX Appalachia by Lesly-Marie Buer, Peace in the Mountains by Thomas Weyant, and Shelter From the Machine by Jason Strange