Harriette Simpson Arnow's Out-Migration: From Burnside, Kentucky to Ann Arbor, Michigan

Although Harriette Simpson Arnow remains best known today for her so called “Kentucky trilogy, the novels Mountain Path (1936), Hunter’s Horn (1949), and her classic—and tragic—story of Appalachian out-migration The Dollmaker (1954), she spent much of her life outside her native region of southeastern Kentucky, living at various times in upper-Michigan, Louisville, Cincinnati, Detroit, and beginning in 1950, on a small, forty-acre farm near Ann Arbor. This “Kentucky author,” then, spent the last three and a half decades of her life as a Michigan resident.

Drawing largely from autobiographical writing found in the University of Kentucky archives, as well as interviews with Arnow and others about this “Michigan” period of her life—during which she produced relatively little fiction compared to her earlier career—this paper proposes to explore her complex feelings about her native state, her despair at the creeping of “exurbia” into the once rural area around the Ann Arbor farm, her struggles with health as well as her determination to continue writing—all to offer a more complete view of this complicated woman and her own experience of migration. Arnow continued to identify as a Kentuckian while in Michigan, and participated in the organization Kentuckians of Michigan—the non-profit group, not the bluegrass music venue—yet she did not write any contemporary Kentucky fiction during the last decades of her life. This presentation will also explore how her own “un-stitching of the seams” by relocating from Kentucky to Michigan might have contributed to this change in the subject matter of her fiction.