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Short Stories

The first short stories told in and about our Southern Mountain Region were told and passed down by native people for generations. The earliest written collection - still considered definitive - of these was re-told by a Cherokee elder, Swimmer, to James Mooney and first published by the U. S. Bureau of American Ethnology in 1900 as Myths of the Cherokee.  The first collection of creative short stories based on the tales of mountain folk of European lineage was George Washington Harris’s Sut Lovingood’s Yarns (1867). Ironically, Harris was a steamboat captain from Knoxville, Tennessee, who carried displaced Cherokees on their way to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears. In the 1880s the Local Color literary movement put Appalachia on the map particularly with the stories of Mary Murfree of Tennessee. She used the pen-name Charles Egbert Craddock and – like others of her generation and beyond -  published both stories and novels. John Fox, Jr. of Kentucky wrote our region’s first best-selling novels as well as stories. Like Murfree he identified as an outsider. The first short story writer who grew up in a hill country family was Elizabeth Madox Roberts of Washington County, Kentucky – just west of ARC’s line, but hill and holler country nevertheless. She was followed by a trio of novelists who also wrote stories who were born in the first decade of the 20th Century. Thomas Wolfe of Asheville and James Agee of Knoxville are both best known as autobiographical novelists. Like Agee, James Still of Knott County, Kentucky, was also an accomplished poet.  Mildred Haun (1911-1966) of Hamblen County, Tennessee, published only one book, the story collection, The Hawks Done Gone, but it is a classic. That brings us up to contemporary short story specialists, most of whom are still alive. But the most celebrated is Breece Pancake of Milton, West Virginia, who committed suicide at the age of twenty-six. His posthumous collection, The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, is very highly regarded. 

-- George Brosi