What do the memoirs of Appalachians tell us about our region, our people, our culture? What do memoirs illuminate about place, lifestyles, diversity, invisible borders, gender roles, family economics, struggles, and successes? To address these questions, I’ve compiled what may be the beginnings of a master list of Appalachia memoirs, which spans 250 years. One of the first was Lt. Timberlake, who explored the eastern parts of what is now Appalachia in 1756. Extant memoirs include diverse personal stories ranging from Booker T. Washington to Henry Louis Gates, as well as individuals from other ethnic groups recruited in the region for the extraction industries and mills. Women memoirists such as Vera Mae Sloan and Mary Lee Settle help us understand the not-too-surprising roles of strong, intelligent women of Appalachia—testimony we need as models in today’s world fraught with female suppression.
Many of these works are unknown to readers and scholars who are non-Appalachians and such a collection of individual memoirs considered together may generate attention and a different focus—not as artifacts of history but rather as universal stories that place us in the larger world, all while exploring the many facets of Appalachia.