In April of this year the University of Arkansas press released the book Yonder Mountain: An Ozarks Anthology. A collection of writings by Ozark authors both past and present, this compilation features a mixture of both fiction and non fiction pieces and pays homage to the 1981 publication, Ozark, Ozark: A Hillside Reader.
Compiled by the poet Miller Williams, the original, now thirty-year old collections is revered for showcasing a diversity of writing styles that capture both the history and changing landscape of the region. Writing in the introduction to the new publication, Anthony Priest speaks to the strength of the original, which, he explains, “renders not just the physical but also the metaphorical landscape that binds us together in the flow of human experience—even beyond bioregionalism.”
This new collection picks up where the former left off and features a diversity of writers born between 1929 and 1989. In some cases the original authors receive a repeat inclusion, while others are younger and just beginning their careers. Some were born in the Ozarks while others are transplants. In all cases their writing touches on the complexity of the region and the myriad of human experiences within it.
Historian and folklorist Brooks Blevins writes about the history of the infamous Dogptach—including the marketing of the Arkansas hillbilly image and the park’s short-lived connection to Orville Faubus—in the essay “Jethro and Abner: An Arkansaw Counterculture.” Much loved Ozark novelist Donald Harington draws on his infamous Ingeldew characters in the short piece “Telling Time,” a bittersweet and humorous look at two old-time storytellers from his mythical Ozark town of Stay More. Sara Burge, originally of West Plains, Missouri, writes of her grandmother killing chickens—“Swung them around and whipped them/like a wet towel, white feathers bursting/into the springtime twilight like champagne”—in the poem, “Sacraments.”
Marideth Sisco a storyteller, singer and consultant for the Oscar-nominated film Winter’s Bone, discusses her memories of growing up in the small town Ozarks, admitting that she likes to tell it “not how it is but as I remember it.” And Michael Burns, a founder of the Creative Writing Program at Missouri State University, writes of his father in the poem “Sweet Potatoes.” Recalling a boyhood accident in which he cut finger on glass buried deep in the garden soil, he touches the scar on his hand and digs up the potatoes in his current garden while his mind wanders to the man who taught him how to plant: “I must be about as old now as he was then.”
Other well-known names in the collection include Roy Reed, James Whitehead, and Miller Williams. One of the most striking pieces comes from historian Bonnie Stepenhoff, a woman with a long background in CCC research. While on sabbatical in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways researching an old state park created by the CCC, she kept a journal, which later became published under the title, Big Spring Autumn. Spending time near Big Spring in Carter County, Missouri, Stepenhoff writes about the cool water springs and humanity’s endless attempts to control nature. Writing in response to the park’s attempt to control the flow of the springs, she offers up this passage: “This painterly view of nature may have been better than the purely utilitarian idea that nature exists for man’s economic benefit. But is there another possible view? Does nature have to be pretty if it is not useful? Can it just be? Can people find a way to see nature as something truly separate from themselves? As something deeply nonconforming and fundamentally wild? And then, can they see themselves as part of that?”
The book is available for purchase through the University of Arkansas Press. Thanks so much for reading!
The Seed and the Story is a partnership with theCourier and Post Dispatch newspapers in Pope and Yell County, Arkansas. This weekly column explores folklife, oral history, and community in central Arkansas, particularly the Yell County area where the column originates. Columns are often written in partnership with the McElroy House: Organization for Folklife, Oral History, and Community Action and humbly attempt to bridge intergenerational themes in the region.