i’ve been thinking about holler fiction queen, Harriette Simpson Arnow. she’s most famous for The Dollmaker, a novel i checked out from the “adult reading” shelf of our teeny tiny high school library. in Sandy Hook, Kentucky, you had to have a signed permission slip from your parents before you could get dirty, mind-expanding literature into your simple, young, hillbilly hands. but we watched the movie version in a particularly lazy eighth grade history class. we also played wiffle ball in that class sometimes, when the weather was nice.
but the novel struck me. The Dollmaker was all about the Appalachian exodus, set during a time when leagues of hillbilly youth were eagerly setting out for the promise of the “big” city. some city, any city; Detroit, Indianapolis, Cleveland - somewhere that sounded industrial but not too intimidating. why, my own mother was born a buckeye in Mansfield, Ohio as a result of this flight en masse from the lush, little, green nest of Eastern Kentucky. the phenomenon, which i think is still going on in our region, really, has been dubbed The Hillbilly Highway. (here are some interesting thoughts on the subject at appalachianhistory.net) of course, our family flew right back again and i was born right here in Morehead. but plenty of those baby birds who spread their wings never looked. and plenty of them are still migrating, flapping furiously, hell bent on escape.
besides, Harriette Simpson Arnow strikes me as an interesting character, all in herself. i enjoyed reading an interview with her included in this Southern oral history project from UNC. sometimes i worry about hurting people with words. and the people i love can most definitely be sensitive about me airing out the family laundry. secrets as dirty as bloomers, hanging on the lines for the whole world to read. in the following excerpt, Arnow addresses her experience on the subject -
MIMI CONWAY: …But did your mother give you a hard time about writing?
HARRIETTE ARNOW: She didn’t object so much to The Dollmaker, but she and some of my sisters didn’t like the idea of Mountain Path at all. The story about a waitress was bad enough, but, she said, the town would think I’d fallen in love with a moonshiner and so on and so forth. They’d think everything in that book had happened to me. Well, that did worry me a bit at the time, but I’ve realized since, no matter what you write there are people who think it is autobiographical. Some are certain I was Millie in Hunter’s Horn and poor Harold was Nunley D. Ballew. But Harold never had a fox hound.
MIMI CONWAY: [laughter]
HARRIETTE ARNOW: Well, that’s beside the point. An editor came to see me shortly-a Macmillan man-before the publication of The Dollmaker. He said, “Oh, I’m surprised to see such a small woman.” I wanted to say, “Well, why in the hell shouldn’t I be small?”
(Source: lipstickhick, via )
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