Prodigious Writers

Amazing Appalachian Authors

The authors below represent a mix of both regionally and nationally renowned authors, but all grew up in Appalachia and were inspired to take from what they learned and saw. Stories about the people, places and lifestyles of Appalachia were shared with the world through the words of the women listed below.

Lee Smith

By Kaley Bellanti

Lee Smith grew up in the Appalachian mountains of southwestern, V.A.; she started writing stories at nine years old. Smith’s most ambitious work is Oral History.

This novel tells the story of a mountain family who inhabit the hills of Hoot Owl Holler. Smith uses multiple points of view to tell the story of the Cantrell family and it is told over the period of a century.

Her novels typically center around the people and culture of Appalachia, and include Black Mountain Breakdown and Cakewalk, her first collection of short stories.

Ann Pancake

By Kaley Bellanti

Ann Pancake is a fiction writer and essayist whose work concentrates on the people and atmosphere of Appalachia. Most of her short stories take place in rural West Virginia; she writes about characters that live differently than the mainstream American society.

Her novel, Strange as the Weather has Been takes place in a small coal town in West Virginia that is in the midst of a coal boom and suffering from the effects of mountaintop removal.

Other most noted short stories are Dirt, Jolo, Ghostless and Tall Grass.

Sandy Ballard: Giving a Voice to the Appalachian Region

By Anna Oakes

Founded in 1972, the Appalachian Journal is an interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed quarterly featuring topics related to the Appalachian mountains.

Sandy Ballard, a graduate of Appalachian State University, worked as an intern at the journal before becoming editor in 2000.

“I felt lucky to be hired to be the full-time editor of a publication that I admired so much,” Ballard said. “[I grew] to understand and appreciate how important it was to have it as an authoritative resource on the Appalachian region.” Ballard said she is pleased when her students at Appalachian State University, where the journal is based, can relate to articles in the journal.

“They can see the region in a different way once they realize scholars are studying it and writing about it,” she said.

“[Ballard is] alert to what is happening in regional studies and stays up with it,” said J.W. Williamson, founding editor of the journal. “She always had a good sense of humor…which you absolutely have to have if you’re doing editorial work.”

“The region had to find its voice,” he said. “For literally 150 years, Appalachia was voiceless, except for what outside writers wanted to say about it.”

Ballard earned her doctorate at the University of Tennessee and taught at Carson-Newman College before becoming editor.

For more info on Appalachian Journal, visit

Barbara Kingsolver

By Kaley Bellanti

Barbara Kingsolver grew up in rural Kentucky, this taught her the importance of the effects of mining and poverty that has stricken places like her hometown.

Her most notable works are The Poisonwood Bible, a story of a missionary family in the Congo, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a non-fiction account of her family and their attempt to eat local produce.

Kingsolver has received many honors and awards, including the National Humanities Medal and the National Book Price of South Africa. Many of her books have been translated into dozens of languages.

She currently lives in southwest Virginia.

Linda Hager Pack

By Jillian Randel

“Write about what you know and what you love,” quotes Linda Hager Pack, author of the alphabet book of Appalachian heritage, A is for Appalachia!

Pack explains that she wanted to write a book, “that would encourage Appalachia’s children to be proud of their people, their place, and their heritage.” In A is for Appalachia! readers journey through the mountain history and culture that has shaped their region.

A native of Hamlin, W.Va., Pack grew up playing in the hills of Appalachia, a life that instilled in her a love of mountain culture.

Pack has both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Education and taught in Kentucky and West Virginia for 22 years.

Dr Shirley Stewart-Burns: Bard of Our Appalachian Enlightenment

By Jeff Deal

“…this love of the people and places of home led me to want to study the area and write about it.”

Dr. Shirley Stewart-Burns has been an Appalachian all her life and thanks to her words in song and writing, we’re able to share the experience.

West Virginian born Dr. Stewart-Burns has written two books concerning mountaintop removal coal mining, vividly depicting the experience of those living in the region impacted by the mining by weaving the view points of Americans living with, and witnessing the destruction caused by the practices, with those profiting from it.

Shirley’s talents don’t stop at the pen’s tip. She possesses a strong poignant voice, and through it, genuinely articulates the story of her land and those folk sharing it.

Learn more about Shirley’s work at

George Ella Lyon

By Jillian Randel

George Ella Lyon grew up in the mountains of Kentucky with a love of nature and writing. She studied English and Music in school and has become a strong voice in the Appalachian writing scene.

“When we write or dance, sing or draw or practice any of the arts, we’re listening to our hearts and expressing what we hear,” writes Lyon.

Lyon is the author of numerous children and adult books and works of poetry and is a songwriter and activist using her written word and voice to inspire the movement against coal.

She has contributed to projects like Songs for the Mountains, a cd to raise awareness about the destruction of our mountains, and has written political essays for Coal Country and other works.

Denise Giardina

By Kaley Bellanti

Denise Giardina is from the small mining town of Black Wolf, W.Va. Her influential novel Storming Heaven, which took its inspiration from the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, won the Discovery Book-of-the-Month award.

In Storming Heaven, Giardina tells a fictional version of the coal miners’ fight to unionize and the mining companies who tried to stop them.

“It’s important to know that people fought back. When I found out that people fought back, I thought maybe I should too,” said Giardina.

She is an activist for environmental justice, once making a bid for governor in West Virginia as a third-party candidate to raise awareness about the effects of mountaintop removal.

Currently, Giardina is a deacon in the Episcopal Church and teaches at West Virginia State University.

Wilma Dykeman

By Jillian Randel

Wilma Dykeman (1920-2006), often referred to as the “First Lady of Appalachian literature,” wrote 18 books in her lifetime. A native of Asheville, N.C., she focused her attention on the culture, environment and people of her region.

Dykeman’s work includes The Tall Woman, a story about an Appalachian woman who works to reestablish her community post-Civil War; a biography of Edna Rankin McKinnon, an early pioneer for birth control; and The French Broad, a book about saving the integrity of the environment.

Dykeman was a journalist, professor and phenomenal public speaker, but perhaps her biggest accomplishment was bringing Appalachian literature to the national scene.

Helen Lewis

By Jillian Randel

Helen Lewis is a leading pioneer in the efforts to document the history of coal mining in Appalachia. A native of rural Georgia, Lewis worked extensively to bring together the mining communities of South Wales with those in Appalachia.

This relationship allowed Appalachia to learn from the economic and social changes undergone by Welsh communities and their labor movements— which occurred earlier than those in Appalachia.

Lewis was the director of the Highlander Research and Education Center and for Berea College’s Appalachian Center. She also directed an Appalshop film series called the “History of Appalachia.”

She is currently working on a book about the early civil rights activity by the southern YWCA movements in women’s colleges during the 20s, 30s and 40s.

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  1. Sheila Wilcox on May 6, 2023 at 7:05 pm

    I read a novel years ago whereas a young lady was supposed to leave the mountains with the yound man she loved, but her female relative told him his lover was not going with him. Years later he drove throw the same area and saw an older woman who resembled his old love, but decided it was not her. In the end, it was reveiled that it was his old loveer who had aged with the hard mountain life. I can not remember the title of the novel.

  2. Beth Daugherty on March 24, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    Fair and Tender Ladies? By Lee Smith? It’s in the form of letters, rather than journal entries, but it sounds like the book you describe.

  3. Paula Geisler on July 27, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    In vain, I have tried for years to locate a book my Mom, A librarian, loved . It was the story of a young coal-country woman, who had a rapturous romance with a bee-keeper, among many other things ,lots of sad things also, but the novel is in the form of her journal which she was writing until she died…the story ends in mid-sentence….I keep thinking the title was The Quince Grove, The…???? …something about an orchard or grove of plums, quince, ???I am old now and would love to locate this novel before I shuffle off this mortal coil. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Earnestly,Paula Geisler

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