Voices Worth the Listening

Three Women of Appalachia

  • Author(s): Burton, Thomas
  • Series:
  • Imprint: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2020-07-20
  • Status: Active
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“The lives of the women represented here have not been easy: full of false starts, errors, ugliness, tragedy both inevitable and accidental. Their moments of self-awareness seem at best intermittent. Their circumstances are the stuff of a sociologist’s dream, hedged with social, financial, educational, and psychological limits, and burdened with a kind of regional fatalism. These life stories [are presented] in such a way that the women emerge through their own words fully dimensional, moving, and oddly triumphant.”—from the foreword by Erika Brady


While Appalachian stereotypes and often misplaced debates about essentialism in Appalachian character still cloud our understanding of the people of the region—especially in the wake of J. D. Vance’s bestselling Hillbilly Elegy—the words of people who live in the region tell a far more complex story of diversity, hard times, perseverance, and unique experiences. Based on recorded interviews with three different women in different areas of Appalachia, Voices Worth the Listening is a carefully crafted oral history work that faithfully represents these women’s lives using their own words.

A powerful counter-narrative to the current conversation, Voices Worth the Listening presents three real stories of Appalachian people that are unvarnished and more than simply anecdotal. Race, class, drug culture, education, and socioeconomic mobility are all addressed in some way by these narratives. While the themes that emerge in these stories are by no means unique to Appalachia—indeed, they resonate in some ways with the experiences of disadvantaged and marginalized people in other regions of the country—these three women have lived much of their lives outside of the mainstream and their narrated experiences become a meaningful signpost for the people of Appalachia.


THOMAS G. BURTON is professor emeritus of English at East Tennessee State University. He has produced three documentaries on serpent handling and is author of Serpent-Handling Believers, The Serpent and the Spirit: Glenn Summerford’s Story, and Beech Mountain Man: The Memoirs of Ronda Lee Hicks.