For a long time, the voices that have dominated the narratives of what it’s like to live in Appalachia have been conservative and white. While many Appalachian towns in Pennsylvania and West Virginia are not always racially diverse, there are people of color who live in these towns and their experiences are unique and important.
Neema Avashia, author of Another Appalachia: Queer and Indian coming to a mountain locationtells the story of what it was like to be a child of immigrants living in West Virginia. Another Appalachia is full of stories of triumph, disappointment and family, and how a place can shape these three concepts.
Avashia’s narration in this book is concise and clear, and her stories sound familiar to you if you also grew up in Appalachia or spent a long period of time in one of its towns. One story that particularly resonated with me is that of a family friend, often thought of as a grandparent, who, after the death of his wife, became a radicalized right-wing conservative. Avashia recounts how hurtful it was to see someone so dear to her sink into hatred, and how she avoided broaching the subject and instead relied on the fond memories of the man that she once knew.
Avashia is not just Asian American, but queer, and I found the parts of the book that deal with homosexuality and her relationship with her longtime partner, Laura, to be my favorite sections. The story of how they met – two teachers who met because they were passionate about helping their students – really struck a chord. Avashia writes that she grew up never having met a gay man as a child, or at least not someone who dated. She talks about playing a childhood game, Smear the Queer, not really knowing what the phrase meant.
When we are introduced to Laura, we also feel like we are discovering another side of Avashia. At the start of the book, we see a strong-willed, confident woman who isn’t afraid to take on a school district that she feels is neglecting students. When Avashia is in charge of introducing Laura to her family, we witness an unprecedented nervousness and sweetness.
Throughout the book we encounter figures from Indian spiritual life and folklore, and parallels are drawn between Avashia’s life and those of these Hindu spiritual figures. These sections of the book can be seen as a way to educate readers unfamiliar with these stories, but they also add a richness to the prose that gives the side stories more depth and texture.
Another Appalachia is a story that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.
May Selection #CPBookClub
Stop Me If You Ever Heard This One by Brandon Getz
Brandon Getz celebrates all things weird. In his collection of short stories, Stop Me If You Ever Heard This One (Six Gallery Press), the Pittsburgh writer spotlights creatures, spirits, ghosts, robots, superheroes and, according to his website, “the devil himself.”
Getz says the 12 stories introduce “strange and speculative elements into the mundane” in a collection that Sam Ligon, author of Among the Dead and Dreams, calls “a beautiful book of magic and loss.”
Be sure to take a copy of Stop Me If You Ever Heard This One at #CPBookClub sponsor, Riverstone Books, at shop.riverstonebookstore.com or in person at 5825 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill and 8850 Covenant Ave., McCandless, and join the conversation in May Pittsburgh City Paper Reading Club.