I walk into Brent’s office on my first day in Hindman, and he hands me a copy of The Quare Women, a fictionalized version of Hindman Settlement School’s founding, recently re-released with the UKY press. My assignment: read it and find a passage to share with a gathering of DAR women in two weeks.
For the last few years, I’ve been circling around what it means to be a woman, and since moving to Kentucky last year, I’ve been asking what it does it mean to be a woman in this place.
Like getting a song stuck in my head, questions become earworms for me. I read and read to get at some kind of answer, but as these projects usually go, I just uncover more questions. I start my exploration with The Quare Women. (I hope that it doesn’t spoil it to say that women from many backgrounds and value systems made Hindman what it is today.) I continue with The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow and Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison.
I supplement my reading with drive down Rte 15 while listening to a podcast on Dolly Parton’s life and legacy. The podcast is a deep dive into the life of a woman who embodies so much of the complexity of Appalachia, and just as I start to think I know who she is, I hear Dolly Parton eschew any connection to the larger feminist movement, rather, deciding to characterize her life as a practice of feminism.
Women of Appalachia are complex; they don’t fit neatly into stereotypes that have come to be emblematic of mountain women. They are storytellers for their communities in body and life, embodying the river bends, wooded hollers and layers of limestone.
Two weeks later, I read a passage from The Quare Women to the DAR gathering, a passage describing a kerfuffle created by a cow and, in particular, whose job it is to milk it. The women from the Bluegrass refuse, owing to it being a man’s job, and the men of Appalachia decline the job as well, considering it women’s territory. The discussion, though light, is rich and timely considering that we have much to learn from one another as women, as well as learning from each other across regions. In our isolation from one another, shame and antipathy have taken up the space between.
What does it mean to be an Appalachian woman? The women in Hindman’s history have given us beautiful examples in their spirit of community, tenacity and generosity. On November 16, I will be facilitating a panel rooted in The Quare Women and the idea of the “New Appalachian Woman” with Savannah Sipple, Crystal Wilkinson, Jayne Waldrop and Jessica Wilkerson at the Kentucky Book Festival in Lexington. Their combined works of fiction, poetry and non-fiction unwrap the nuances of the feminine in Appalachia. I hope to see you there and look forward to the continuing conversation.
To learn more about the Kentucky Book Festival, visit https://www.kyhumanities.org/programs/kentucky-book-festival/2019-kentucky-book-festival-schedule-of-events/2019-kentucky-book-fair. To purchase your own copy of The Quare Women, please visit our website at https://www.hindmansettlement.org/product/the-quare-women/!
–Post by Hannah D. Markley