Nina Simone's childhood home, Tryon, North Carolina.

Empty and nondescript, Nina Simone’s childhood home stands—just barely—on a secluded corner in tiny Tryon, North Carolina. The house is a stalwart white cube, only three rooms, unplumbed and unwired. Its foundation is stacked bricks, and the tin roof rusts and peels in the sun. Clean windows and new locks suggest the place has recently received some care, and the front porch boasts a bright ceiling, freshly painted traditional “haint blue” to keep bad spirits from the door. The overgrown yard slopes downward toward a steep gulley, and in the distance rolls a line of hills, with more hills behind those, and beyond them still more.

Though most people associate Nina Simone with the jazz clubs of New York and Paris, she grew up here, in rural Appalachia. Her home is only a few miles from my mother’s house, in an area that is more genteel and diverse than the rest of the region. In western North Carolina, where Nina Simone was raised, and where I still live, we don’t mine coal. We grow apples. While Appalachia technically stretches across thirteen states, its core starts here in Tryon and ends somewhere in West Virginia. Coal country may get more attention, but Tryon is wholly Appalachian, too, and it was in these foothills south of Asheville where Simone learned classical piano from a local teacher, Muriel Mazzanovich. “Miss Mazzy” organized concerts to raise money for Simone’s tuition at a prestigious Black high school in Asheville. Eventually, her neighbors raised enough to send her to Juilliard for a summer. The rest of Simone’s life is much better known—her legendary musical career, her protracted battles with racism, mental illness, and a fickle public. But first, there was East Livingston Street in Tryon, and that rolling, crazy-magic landscape.

Nina Simone was a mountain girl, is what I’m saying. I am asking you to picture her that way, to set aside what you know of this iconic artist and think of her rural beginnings. Her entire experience, her whole world before jazz, before fame and legend and fight, was the Jim Crow South and the hills of the Blue Ridge. That little house in Tryon overlooks some of the oldest geological formations in North America. The railroad tracks she crossed every Saturday to attend her music lessons mark the boundary of the first Cherokee land seizures of 1767.

Her voice came from the sticks. What people now, reductively, call Trump country. Land of moonshine and Truck Nutz. A place many outsiders joke about, or pity, or deride—if they ever think about it, about us, at all.

It’s my home. My (white, working class) family has lived here since the early 1800s, and if you know this place like I do, female creativity will be at the center of your understanding of Appalachia. Women like Nina Simone epitomize our artistic traditions and folkways, our music, literature, and collective inner life. These mountains produce some talented, hellacious women: Loretta. Dolly. Great folk artists like Hazel Dickens, Jean Ritchie, June Carter Cash, blues guitarist Etta Baker, and countless country stars. I could name hundreds more, including contemporary artists of the Appalachian diaspora like Emmylou Harris, Roseanne Cash, and Rhiannon Giddens. This is just the singers, mind. Appalachian culture is also rich with dancers, painters, potters, and all kinds of creators. The majority of these artists are women, and most of them are completely unknown.

The hurt abounds for Appalachian women. That’s why we are always singing to it.

My Granny, for example, grew up in eastern Kentucky, the third of four children. Her youth was spent in deep hollers, dirt-floor cabins—fulfilling all the worst and most snobbish assumptions about the region. Granny was musical, broke, strange, and petulant from birth, someone my cousins still laugh about. Crazy Mabel. Mean Mabel. Mabel who cooked odd food, Mabel who made up songs. A woman both familiar and foreign, a life spent catching hell and singing about it. The nucleus and origin of my bittersweet mountain experience.

As a child, I would often receive cassette tapes in the mail from Crazy Mabel, of songs written for me and my brother. My grandmother could not read music, so she would work out a tune in her head and play it for us once, then send it off and make up more. This she did in place of letters. Mabel sent photos, too; my favorite is a Polaroid of her strumming her guitar, mouth wide, head back. She captioned it in scraggly black ink: trying to play the hurt away.

Presumably my grandfather Curtis was the one who snapped that Polaroid. Crazy Mabel’s husband worked as a coal miner, then a plumber. He was tall and lean and unremarkable, apart from his fanatical religious views. Curtis died when I was fourteen, and I remember almost nothing about him except that in pictures I often cannot pick him out; I confuse him with other men from Harlan, all of whom wear crisp shirts and clench their fists in the same cocksure fashion.

My grandfather was probably more interesting than I give him credit for. Of course Appalachia makes remarkable men, too. Plenty of them are musicians or important figures, captains of industry and pioneers of the arts. Our hollers have given the world timber and energy barons who lit the Eastern seaboard, founders of labor unions, and literary heroes. We have produced towering, unforgettable men: pioneers, patriarchs, Grammy winners, genocidal maniacs, gentle poets, and a parade of great American assholes. I might get around to mentioning some of their names later.

Then again, I might not. For two centuries now, we have been taught to foreground the men who settled and worked here, and that depiction has damaged us, both in our internal understanding of our identity, and in the way the rest of the world treats us. Writer and Asheville native John Ehle called the first of these men The Land Breakers, and his novel chronicles the first wave of masculine destruction of the Appalachian ecosystem in the early 1800s. Ever since, through phases of invasive history—Manifest Destiny, Cherokee Removal, industrialization, “progressive” reform, the opioid crisis, the manmade hell of strip mining—men have come first in our imagining. The collective understanding of Appalachia, all our positive and negative stereotypes, and of course the ways we have been taught to view ourselves, have been made in the male image, suited to fit the male gaze. Over the centuries, in order to justify the capitalist juggernaut that still actively destroys the Mountain South and its delicate ecology, we have together, you and I, insider and outsider, imagined and rendered this place according to white male norms.

* * *

Stop and picture the Southern mountains for a moment; close your eyes and think of whatever, wherever you think Appalachia is. Or, if you know nothing of us, think of any rural space. A country road, a distant farm with endless rows of grain.

Are there women in your mind, seated at pianos, playing jazz? Are there any women at all? Or do you picture lumberjacks in MAGA hats, hicks and fiddle players, axes and hammers? And the land itself—does the rural terrain roll and teem, do the animals and trees live in symbiosis, defying binary definitions? Or are all the cardinals boastful red males, all the fields plowed, dirt roads parched and straight? Do you think of guns, too? The teeth of predators?

Where is birth in your imagining of the land? Where is the rounded sky?

If your image is heavily gendered towards the testicular, you’re engaging in systemic thinking that goes back to our country’s beginnings. In the 19th century, for example, Davy Crockett, a Tennessee native, made his Almanack the most prominent of many publications that crystallized our concept of rural life. Crockett’s wildly popular almanacs featured stories by multiple authors of snake wrasslin’, fist fightin’, and navigation by the stars for rugged explorers in the early frontier. These inflated tales taught men who were from Appalachia to glorify their toxicity, and men from elsewhere learned to admire them for it.

The tradition continued, and it has never changed much. More recent depictions of the region like Deliverance, Johnny Knoxville’s poverty porn documentary The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, and J. D. Vance’s low-key eugenics manifesto Hillbilly Elegy have helped harden these stereotypes until they are so brittle, so embedded, that when I tell people where I’m from, they often hum a few creepy bars of “Dueling Banjos” at me. If they wish to be kind, they might instead tilt their heads and ask condescendingly, “And were you very poor?”

These assumptions and disturbing associations have been socially constructed, and they live deep in our national psyche. Americans have always used rural spaces to validate and perpetuate toxic masculinity, erase people of color, and justify destroying ecosystems. We are a nation of landbreakers, and we associate land and rurality with penetrative acts. Up there on the ridge, out yonder in the woods, we tell ourselves, all men are white and hyper-hetero. Depending on one’s personal politics, therein lies the tragedy, or the glory, of Appalachian identity.

When you talk about Appalachia, and indeed when most of us talk to you about ourselves, no one mentions granny-witches or the sacred feminine. Non-magical grandmothers do get mentioned, and the “Mawmaw” stereotype crops up often. When depicting rural women, we almost always make them post-menopausal or otherwise sexually unappealing, and we afford them little agency, living small lives that happen in the background of mens’ grander stories.

No one asks about our matriarchal woodland species, or visits the Black and Polish and Jewish sections of our coal camp graveyards, or recounts the crucial legacy of the Highlander Folk School in the Civil Rights Movement. Neither we nor our detractors seem to appreciate our rapidly expanding Latino population, or our thriving and statistically outsized trans community. Talk of Appalachia instead centers that old familiar Truck Nutz ethos. We are all, across geographies and political philosophies, obsessed with either appealing to or canceling out the gun-totin’ Bubbas of America’s exurbs. Indeed, to be American is in many ways to live in response to, or as an invocation of, backwoods swinging dicks.

Forgotten in all this is the Appalachia that gave us Nina Simone. Not even her own neighbors remember it. Back in Tryon, they are proud of their association with the singer, but it was not until after her death in 2003 that the town did anything to celebrate her. For decades, her house on East Livingston Street sat unoccupied and forgotten. Finally, in 2018, a group of artists bought the place and saved it from being demolished. The National Trust for Historic Preservation took on its restoration and declared Simone’s childhood home a national treasure. At long last, Simone’s early life is being reclaimed, and Tryon’s miniscule main street now boasts a statue of her. The bronze likeness sits primly under a manicured arbor of trees, still and silent.

Nina Simone was complicated, alien, and exquisite. She relished her countless lovers, espoused radical views on Black liberation, and made all kinds of noise throughout her life. She was totally womanly and wild—troubled, beautiful, bi-polar, delicate, and deeply political. She embodied everything I love about these mountains. Though she left the Blue Ridge at seventeen, and though her music sounds nothing like the country twang most people associate with us, for me her voice reflects the sound of this place perfectly. Her songs ache, waver, and shout. Notes falter, then triumph. A Nina Simone lyric is the creepy wail of a catamount high on a ridge, the racket of katydids hustling for summer sex.

So there ought to be more than plaques and statues, I think. There ought to be a museum; a big, noisy festival; grants for young Affrilachian musicians. So much more than what we gave her when she was here. Dedicated souls are working to expand Tryon’s preservation efforts and public exhibits, but it will never be enough. Tryon is still a town with shocking wealth disparity and de facto segregation, where rich white residents still live high on a hill and literally look down on Livingston Street.

Internally, as a community, Appalachia has allowed itself to erase or downplay women like Nina Simone in favor of more Trumpian self-expressions. This is partly due to the ingrained racism and misogyny of white locals, but mostly the result of prolonged oppression from those outside. Despite our region’s diversity and passionate socialist and pro-union roots, many have bought into the capitalist terms and definitions inflicted upon us. The religiosity of the place exacerbates this messaging, and the prevalence of evangelical Christianity in rural hollers means we often internalize toxic ideas about ourselves. Or perhaps we have simply tired of fighting to be seen. The pressure of religious and economic patriarchy, particularly in an exploited region like this one, means we live inside a perpetually loaded question. Nothing is more exhausting than trying to prove you exist. But the consequences of surrendering are stark: worsening wealth gaps, lost histories, continued erasures of diverse people and ecosystems. To live in Appalachia nowadays is to live with our failure to break down systemic racism, and with our complicity in the abuse of our bodies, labor, and land by unregulated corporations and himbo charlatans.

* * *

In her recent book To Live Here You Have to Fight, scholar Jessie Wilkerson details the grassroots War on Poverty in Appalachian coal country during the 1960s and 1970s—a movement that outlasted and outpaced President Lyndon Johnson’s campaign of the same name, and was, more importantly, very much a womanly effort. Wilkerson argues that women in the region have been far more responsible for grassroots sociopolitical change than men, and suggests that in the Mountain South, activism itself has long been misgendered. Similarly, in Women, Power, and Dissent in the Hills of Carolina, author Mary Anglin contends that working women contributed more to the micro economies of isolated mountain communities than men, and they had to learn to “boss themselves” without the benefit of unions or other formal means. Anglin says that “we need to rethink Appalachia through the lens of gender and class,” a point Wilkerson takes to heart in her oral history work. In the period Wilkerson writes about, journalists dismissively referred to women activists as “miners’ wives” (that is, if they mentioned them at all), though many of them had no connection to coal mining. Barbara Kopple’s essential documentary Harlan County, USA offers a glimpse of a few of these activists—whom Wilkerson calls “citizen caregivers”—as they march, pen union fight songs, and tote pistols against “company men” and scabs.

The citizen caregiver is not hazy hindsight or a false ideal. Nor is this type of woman a rarity here. Push past the redneck boys in any mountain town from Charleston, WV down to Asheville, NC, and you’ll find female heroes holding up the place—healthcare crusaders, eco warriors, outspoken scholars. Our women’s work has been significant and lasting.

I would extend Wilkerson and Anglin’s arguments about misgendered activism to all of Appalachia. Hell, I’d go so far as to extend it to all of this country’s rural spaces. There is nothing manly about the Blue Ridge. In Appalachia, all the roads have curves. Our critters live in matriarchal dens and burrows; our flora grow in patterns that defy categorization. Widen out to any rural farm in the heartland, go down the mountains to prairies, and the same is true. Wheat, soy, and barley are all self-pollinating plants—they have both female and male parts. Corn is monoecious; the ears we eat come from its female flowers. The demographics of America’s rural communities are often diverse, but non-white populations get overlooked, even by the Census. The inconvenient truth is that every aspect of American rurality leans heavily towards the feminine, the nonbinary, and the Other. It is far easier, far more profitable for Americans to reduce rural life to a narrow masculine stereotype, one that amplifies penetration and conquering the land over the more complicated reality. If we peeked around the curves of those country roads, we would see systemic racism, vicious classism, and environmental violence. And both ruralites and urbanites alike would be forced to admit their part in all of it.

Meanwhile, depictions of so-called traditional Appalachian manhood are also just plain wrong. Though rural places in America do indeed suffer from chronic white male toxicity, this state of mind is not, and has never been, how most people here actually live. Rural masculinity requires a tremendous amount of tenderness. The opioid crisis and coal mining lore have been particularly effective at overshadowing all the men here who coexist peacefully with the land. Coal miners and Appalachian dudebros are seen, and often see themselves, as more authentic, but theirs is only a narrow section of the rural masculine spectrum—at last count there were only about 20,000 coal miners left in the region. And often these men are the most victimized by the very systems they embrace. Energy and timber companies use advertising and lobbyists to paint rural life as the lowest, basest form of manliness—raw and ragged at the edges, in need of taming. In order to keep us down, in order to exploit our labor (especially from people of color), CEOs must render rural men literally toothless, make them simple animals who only know how to break the world open.

In reality, many cishet Appalachian men, the ones who thrive without surrendering their bodies to Duke Energy or Eastman Chemical, are the men who still call each other “honey”—an old mountain tradition between brothers and male friends. Nina Simone’s neck of the sticks is home to hundreds of organic farms and coops, and the Asheville area has long been a bohemian mecca. Guys like my brother-in-law Ed, who raised three daughters while tending twenty acres and meditating every morning, are thick on the ground in my hometown. These men read Wendell Berry poems to their livestock, work in micro economies, provide communal childcare. They learn crafts, foodways, and folk music, all of which helped form the historical, true rural American man.

If only these poetic, tender mountain gentlemen could shake off their Truck Nutz re- branding. If only we told you, and ourselves, the whole story. Instead, a thin majority of rural denizens grandstand about the plights of downtrodden rednecks. They ask us to pity the victims of “mancession” and invite outsiders into the region’s culture and landscapes through a narrow ’Murkin lens.

And of course outsiders are happy to help us construct that story. Since LBJ’s War on Poverty began in the 1960s, news outlets and parachute journalists have come here to bear witness to brawny dudes suffering from addiction and “economic anxiety.” Photographers since the New Deal have built their careers on using the craggy faces of Appalachia: coal-dusted boys in work boots, old timers ripping the earth with sharp tools. Women in these photos are only mothers, virgins, or whores, all living inside of men’s experience.

If there is a gun show left in eastern Kentucky that has not been visited by a sympathetic New York journalist seeking to whitesplain our systemic racism, I cannot find it. If there is a greasy spoon that has not been visited by a shirt-sleeved politician on a “listening tour,” honey, I will eat their special. Apologists abound, lauding the likes of Don Blankenship and coked-up outlaws for your entertainment, and bypassing the rich diversity and complexity of the region for political gain. Legislators rarely listen to the waitresses at those diners. Instead they amplify the voices of good ol’ boys who don’t even tip.

Case in point: Election coverage in 2016 convinced many Americans that the reason Trump won was because of West Virginia. A heavily gerrymandered state with chronic voter suppression problems, West Virginia gave the Trump nearly 500,000 votes; meanwhile, in even the bluest states he fared better than he should have. Trump garnered well over half a million votes on Long Island alone. Electoral College inequities aside, instead of deflecting it to sparsely populated states, we all need to be sharing that blame.

While blue states have been busy ignoring their own complicity in the rise of fascism, the constructed Appalachian Man has lately become a rallying cry for the right. The GOP uses him as justification for bootstraps ideology, and the southern mountains help advance the myth of “Scots-Irish tradition” and other white supremacist narratives. Conservatives fear the emasculation of the right-wing rural man, and they have based their entire platform around him.

The left is no better than the right when it comes to this masculinized fetishization of rural pain. Though lately there have been more efforts from the left to represent our diversity and heal our ecology, the region still plays host to a lot of bleeding hearts and bigots determined to “save” us. Virtually every mountain town has its share of interlopers. Americorps volunteers, tree huggers, and champagne socialists carry noxious noblesse oblige like a weapon in these hills. Since the early Progressive reformers of the 1800s, Karens have dogged us with accusations of being backward, used Appalachian women as eugenics guinea pigs, and tried to pity us into oblivion. If you’ve ever wondered why Appalachian people “vote against our own interests,” try to remember that no one from outside, right or left, understands what our interests are, and it has just as often been Democrats who enacted destructive policies here. By and large, to “look at Appalachia” as a leftist is still to regard primarily white, male bodies in crisis and despair.

This double whammy has been carefully engineered and put to good use in the 21st century. On the right, Appalachia is now a justification for putting babies in cages, and on the left, a means of assuaging white guilt. In the book Reproducing Empire, scholar Laura Briggs details the recent history of Puerto Rico, and how Americans learned a unique brand of colonialist thinking there. By misgendering and oversexualizing populations of color, she argues, by dehumanizing Blacks and Puerto Ricans into “welfare queens” and other stereotypes, both the left and the right in mainland 20th century America learned how to exclude and disenfranchise its modern Black and brown citizenry. The image of the “fallen” Puerto Rican woman, says Briggs, became a comfortable excuse for ignoring and abusing her.
This same brand of socially constructed dismissal works in Appalachia and other marginalized areas. If you believe us to be less than you—inbred, backward, uneducated, addicted—you will care not a whit for our destruction. And you will not notice the ecological annihilation that comes with it.

Thus, apologists across the political spectrum ask us to ignore our citizen caregivers and female-identifying neighbors, and instead sympathize with the worst among us. Both the right and left pity the stereotypical mountain man. I am here to tell you as a daughter of these hills, no good can come from seeking common ground with the misguided dudebros of Appalachia, or from the mythic, toxic rural men of anywhere. We have purposely misgendered rurality in this country, all and each of us, and we have elided rural women for profit and personal advancement far too long. Only by re-focusing and re-centering on our dominant feminine and non-binary folkways can this country begin to heal itself.

* * *

On the daily, I am asked to reckon with the white male experience of Appalachia, to confirm for outsiders how special and gritty life is here. I cannot leave my house without bumping into some frat boy with a kayak or weekend warrior astride a spotless Harley. Friends who visit from cities and overseas ask me to show them the “real” Appalachia; they ask for moonshine, kudzu jelly, banjo lessons. They visit truck stops and purchase stars ’n bars belt buckles—ironically, they assure me. They come here, in short, to feel like men.

And y’all, I have had it with that shit.

Yes, it’s true that Appalachia has no shortage of flag-waving dipshits. I do not deny that a lot of my neighbors vote and behave abominably. But by reducing us to clichés, by ignoring our best and brightest, we render all but the worst of this place irrelevant. And thus do we passively endorse our exploiters fracking and blasting the true Appalachia out of existence.
On a bright Sunday in August, I decided to visit the Simone house in Tryon. I live about an hour away, in a cabin high on a mountain, and I was stir crazy in pandemic isolation. Like all my fellow rural progressives, I found quarantine even more infuriating because of the 2020 election. North Carolina is a swing state, so Trump held several rallies here. The fuck is this, I would yell at cable news coverage of the MAGA hordes. Who even are these people?

I missed my neighbors, the ones nobody puts on television. I missed going to dive bars and music venues in Asheville, where I spent my teens and twenties in full 1990s slacker mode. Nina Simone’s childhood here was well known to me and my music geek friends. As a first-generation college grad, I proudly took my GRE test on the site of Simone’s old high school. I missed those days. I missed Nina, and Appalachian people like her.

Though I know Tryon well, I had never actually seen the Simone homesite, which is tucked behind overgrown trees on a tiny residential street. Augusts aren’t hot here like the rest of the South, so the weather was fine and clear. When I got out of the car and looked closely at that little white square of a house, I felt dazed. First by the gentle sunlight and my escape from isolation, and then by awe.

I peeked in the windows. Her piano, the one she learned on as a little girl, is still in there. And metal frame beds she must have slept in, chairs where she must have sat. The place is quiet and totally unchanged. Out of reverence, or perhaps out of fear that I didn’t deserve such a private viewing, I stepped back, only lingered a few minutes. Anyone, even someone who doesn’t know her music, would surely feel what I felt. The effect of the place is undeniable. There is a hush when you’re standing on that haint-blue porch. A subtle, enfolding power hides behind those unruly trees.

On my drive home, I listened to Nina Simone’s first album and thought about her struggles with mental illness, which often resulted in erratic, even violent outbursts not unlike those of my granny, Crazy Mabel. Neither woman seems all that crazy to me now.

What is crazy, after all, about a musical genius like Nina Simone, who longed to play Bach at Carnegie Hall, raging and keening against the systemic bigotry that denied her this dream? What is crazy about her demanding total silence from her audiences or loudly asserting her place among the greatest of all time? She was not wrong. There is not one single, crazy word in “Mississippi Goddamn” or any of her songs.

When I research my family’s history in eastern Kentucky, I find unjust treatment and career-ending injuries at the hands of US Steel. I find family land stripped bare and sold for pennies, and generations of education and opportunity denied. From a distance, an objective observer of my forbears might easily conclude that Crazy Mabel was perhaps the sanest among us. She knew, at least, to wail against what was happening, even though no one listened.

The insanity of Appalachia is its extractive industries, and the suppression, pollution, and genocide of our ecology and people. What is actually crazy is the idea that a handful of white supremacists and capitalists should dictate our perception of this curvy, wholly feminine landscape teeming with delicate life. What is bonkers is allowing the penetration and destruction of the most diverse ecosystem in the western hemisphere.

We can rehabilitate our minds. I know this from standing on the porch of that little white house in Tryon and looking at the world from there. I know it from living in these mountains so long and observing the land and meeting the activists who seek to protect it. I also know how little time we have left, how much has already been lost and erased.

It would be so easy to bring dimension and hope to our national relationship with rurality. Instead of the narrow, hyper-masculine view, instead of marginalizing the feminine, the Other, we can reclaim and more accurately reimagine rural America, especially Appalachia. I am asking you, me, all of us, to gender our understanding more tenderly, to tilt our heads toward reparation and preservation.

Picture us again.

This time, in your imagining of rural life, picture a whirling river, a ridge of arcing hills. Now picture those hills being torn open and polluted while migrant workers hide from ICE agents. Picture my kind, soft-spoken brother Ed gathering vegetables from the loam, as his brilliant daughters struggle to find reproductive health care, a job that pays them the same wage as a man. Let citizen caregivers and threatened forests fill your frame. Picture all of it, all of what we are, and what we have endured.

And above it all, picture Nina Simone, high on the ridgetop, playing the hurt away.

Leah Hampton

Leah Hampton is the author of F*CKFACE AND OTHER STORIES (Henry Holt, 2020). Her work has appeared in McSweeney's, Ecotone, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. A seventh-generation Appalachian, she lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her family.

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37 Comments on “Lost in a (Mis)Gendered Appalachia

    1. The essay is sufficient to deduce a qualified pathological diagnosis. The woman is a raging of ball hatred clearly about to go off on some innocent sap.

  1. First off, that was one of the most interesting and well-written essays I have read for a long, long while – thank you!

    I live in Newfoundland, Canada, which was colonized in the 1500s by Britain and France for fish, fur and ship-building timber; that process included the complete extermination of the Indigenous Beothuk people and the brutal exploitation of the poor white Europeans who settled here. This essay made me consider our extremely male-centred society in a new light. We also live with the dichotomy of an over-the-top, performatively masculine culture hard at work destroying the natural order, and at the same time, everywhere, men who are tender-hearted, nurturing and kind to their very bones. We have crazy-clean, dutiful and male-centred women whose daughters are rebels, activists, organizers and community leaders.

    Your essay also reminded me of a sad, beautiful song I leaned in the 70s and have never forgotten – The Coming of the Roads. It was popularized by Judy Collins, but I just learned that it was written by Billy Edd Wheeler, a West Virginian from Boone County. Now you have sent me off to listen to Nina Simone with new ears.

    Again, thank you.

    1. So what is Your problem? I have spent lots of time in Hazard, Kentucky. I was born and live from Kentucky. Maybe st of what was said was fair, at least.

  2. Thank you for a great piece. I grew up right up the mountain from Tryon, in Hendersonville. On my visits back home in recent years, I’ve been struck by how many women in my high school graduation class who remained in the area endured and flourished. The men, not so much. Also, I can testify the stereotyping of Appalachia remains unforgivably entrenched, particularly among the East Coast “woke” who claim to despise it in other cases.

  3. Wow. What a beautiful and haunting essay. Thank you for putting into words a feeling, a sense I’ve had for many years about these lovely and encompassing mountains and the complicated people who live there.

    (PS: Hi from a former student of yours at WCU!)

  4. Great article! I am a native of TN/KY. This article breathes life into the region. So many stereotypes of the region are dispelled in your article. Thank you!

  5. Well said indeed, angry, but rightly so. It held my otherwise too quick to dismiss the obvious truth that I am as guilty as those that angered the author to write or more? Thanks maybe—for the slap across the chops.

  6. Very interesting article but I can’t help but take major issue with much of it. No time to delve too deep, so I’ll focus on my main grievance. The “Appalachia” of NC is not the “Appalachia” of WV. “Appalachians” are not a term to lump all those regions/ppl/culture practices together. I am originally from WV Appalachia, deep center of the state (I’m in panhandle near DC now). Nearly everything described here is totally inaccurate of the WV Appalachia experience. Rugged yes, but out of neccessity. Woman of all types existed there and the diversity of admiration for them was as varied as the personalities of the women themselves. Just like any place else there were jerks and bigots and sexists, but women where I am speaking of were NEVER pushed into the background or subdued. We also had the masculine stereotype men, but we had gay men and women, transgender wasn’t really a term but we all knew of that as well. Ppl were so accepting there, they may jhoke but If you didn’t hurt anyone or commit crimes then you were “one of them” and you had free reign to do as you pleased and always had a helping hand if need be. It was far from perfect and it had some bad people like any place else does. I didn’t mean to write so much, but I have to clear misconceptions when I see them. And on that we can agree

    1. But as I read the essay it seems to absolutely agree with your description of the diversity found in your roots mountain regions. That seem to be part of the author’s very point, that the narrowed stereotypes rose to the surface drowning the beautiful reality, addition to it being profitable to perpetuate such stereotypes for decades.

  7. Wonderfully written and so evocative… I lived for 16 years about an hour south of Asheville just outside Bryson City and though I was working for a company where the employees were majority, young white and liberal, I got to know my neighbours well, who had lived and worked the land for generations. And yes, many of them were quiet, incredibly hardworking and generous to a fault. That corner of NC did feel like a MALE oriented society for sure but the men were rarely of the ‘toxic male’ variety. My husband and I knew we could count on our neighbours if anything ever went wrong, and they could count on us. WE all recognized our differences but never dwelled on them. I’ve lived many places (including Newfoundland;-) see above) and they and the Newfoundlanders were the best neighbours we’ve ever had.
    For me, your essay ties in remarkably well with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book “Between the World and Me” (which I just finished last night)in that you both speak so profoundly of knowing your world SOOOOO differently from the way in which the white patriarchal world defines it…. May we, as a people, a country, a civilization move beyond this angry, misrepresenting, blind, white male eye and all the actions that accompany it.

  8. My apologies. Just re-read the article & would like to say my previous comment was made in a irritated mindset that had nothing to do with your piece. I somewhat skimmed the article & got a wrong impression of what you were saying. I would like to apologize for this.

    1. Good for you! I don’t think I’ve ever read an apology/revised opinion in a letter to the editor/reader response forum. You have what my father taught me is intellectual honesty.

  9. Such an important message, as a recent transplant to the Asheville area, from San Francisco, I was stunned at the depth of the bubble I had been living in. Where I live is full of spirit and variety, genuine warmth and connection happens daily! Yes, the guns and the God thing are oppressive but part of a more complex whole.

  10. Speaking from across the Atlantic, I thought it was a beautiful article, and made me want to visit immediately !!

    One thing though, it seems to me that the emotions it evokes are replicated everywhere, all over the world !! It has taken all these thousands of years for women to be taken seriously, and , at last, all people of colour, different races and genders to gain equality. But it will happen, and that is the brilliant hopeful future.

  11. Lovely writing, eye opening, great homage to Nina Simone, but you do what you complain about when you invoke “Karens” stereotype, and some of those War on Poverty and later Anericorps volunteers were actually humble, sincere, listened, and put their bodies in service to sister and fellow humans

  12. I grew up in a large family in SW VA (coal country) and moved to Asheville as a teen. I’ve lived outside Asheville most of my life and I must say this was a delight to read as a woman from two very different regions of the Appalachian South. Just a great read. Thanks for shining a light.

  13. This is, by far, the finest, most telling essay about Appalachia and how national politics has cast it’s people in such a pathetic light. Please keep writing, Ms. Hampton, to enlighten the world about the beauty, intelligence and ingenuity of Appalachia and it’s people.

  14. where has Guernica been all my life? Who is Leah Hampton? Someone sent me a link cause I’m from those foothills and you wrote my heart. I’m a DJ who will do a set of Appalchian music from women. I’ll quote Ms. Hampton. Respect and Thanks, Auntmama

  15. Really? I’ve never heard of this magazine or this author and just by simple coincidence it was forwarded from a friend in Brisbane, Australia to me, here in the toxic and abandoned coal fields of eastern Kentucky. I should love to meet Ms. Hampton, share a bourbon or two and spend a long, long afternoon talking and maybe, listening to a tune or two from Nina and Hazel. Thank you.

  16. Sorry couldn’t get past the paragraph stating Appalachia ends in West Virginia. Geographically to the north it ends in Southern New York. I grew up in Appalachia Ohio. Just as dirt poor and full of wonderful people as the rest of it. Appalachia isn’t bounded by state borders. I’m just annoyed lately with the Hillbilly Elegy book/movie that seems to indicate that only Kentucky qualifies and forgets he grew up mere miles away from the foothills of the Appalachians.

    1. It states the core of Appalachia, not the whole of it is between NC and WV. A better question may be the core of which Appalachia. I don’t wholly agree with the author’s definition of our core either, but we can at least quote/get mad at what it actually says.

    2. Not true. The essay states that Appalachia “stretches across 13 states” and links to the official ARC classification of all Appalachian counties, including those in Ohio.
      CENTRAL Appalachia, a sub region which the author here calls its “core”, does indeed run from NC to WV.

  17. Thank you. Ever since the election of 2016 and got-damn JD Vance, I’ve spent too much of my time trying to explain my people to city folks. It’s exhausting, and I’m glad to share the link to this piece. Thank you also for introducing me to Hazel Dickens.

  18. Well reasoned and well said. Our mountains, “the mountains” to a lot of us, have a soul unique, fragile and everlasting, that has to be lived to be know. A lot of us come from strong, somewhat rusty wrought iron stock hardened by despair, loneliness, alienation, and disrespect. Sometimes that tinge of insanity was the strength those ladies, those wimmin and girls and sissies and mamas, needed to make it through yet another day. They are our forgotten royalty and we wouldn’t be here without them.

  19. My family is also from Eastern Kentucky. People miss out on this culture of strong independent people who were on the wrong side of history during the Revolutionary War. Both sides of my family were full of strong, powerful women who celebrated my voice and my successes. I felt so safe in that matriarchal nest. Thank you for the beautiful essay.

  20. Brilliant, beautiful essay that shows us how to reimagine a mythologized, stereotyped, and maligned region. I live in a rural community in the northern Rocky Mountains of Montana and I am sick to death of the ways that both liberals and conservatives misunderstand, misrepresent, and exploit this and other such places in the American West. Bravo to Leah Hampton for showing us how to see, evoke, and explain.

  21. Vance’s story , by accident, depicts the destruction of the culture of central Appalachia’s because of pill addiction. The main indicator of our culture is the family and extended family. Prior to the pill epidemic nothing, not even coal, changed the strength of the family. It even followed the people who had to go north to work. Now with drug addiction, the family has been destroyed. In my day, if an aunt, uncle or grandparent told you to do or not to do something, you minded them. Now grandparents can’t let grandchildren have the run of their house because if they do they will steal pills, money, guns, and anything they can sell and trade for a pill. We have many stories of grandchildren trying to kill their grandparents for their pills. That is what Hillbilly Elegy is about. How one boy figured out how to get away from a dysfunctional family for his own good. No more, no less. He and his slick agents used negative stereotypes to sell the book and the movie. Negative stereotypes are loaded words like the N word. It serves a purpose that is not good for the victims. Vance allowed the use of a negative stereotype to sell his book. I figure he is too young and too greedy to know the bad results of what he has done.

  22. As an 80 y/o man who lived in WV I lost interest in her article after reading her view on men. Typical Gloria Steinem feminist ideology that men are the enemy.

    Most of the positive comments are from women. Most women in this country have grown up drinking the cool aide of feminism and can’t recognize man hating when it screams out at them.

    Her article is another one
    of those mind numbing feminist writings which fall under the category called “You go Girl”.

    She should be on a couch, paying a $100 an hour for some one to listen to her childhood problems. She has a jar full of them.

    1. As a 33 y/o woman who lived in Literally Anywhere I lost interest in his comment after reading his views on women.

      Much of the negative comments are from men. Most men in this country have grown up drinking the cool aide of toxic masculinity and can’t recognize woman hating when it screams out at them.

      His comment is another one
      of those mind numbing old white guy rants which fall under the category of “MAGA bulls**t”.

      He should be on a couch, paying $100 for someone to listen to his concerns about his very tiny penis.
      He has a jar full of them.

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