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Voices Worth the Listening: Three Women of Appalachia by Thomas Burton

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Thomas Burton, Professor Emeritus of English at East Tennessee State University, has enjoyed a distinguished career as a chronicler of traditional Appalachian ways. He has published three books on serpent-handling believers and more than three on traditional ballad-singers. As Appalachia has evolved more and more into the mainstream, Burton’s focus has evolved as well and produced this book. Like his previous books, this one presents mountain people who experience poverty and are too-often looked-down-upon. The difference this time is that they are not anchored to a folk culture, but part of the American mainstream. The three women who are here presented were born between 1961 and 1971. They have experienced homelessness, incarceration, abusive relationships, addiction, love, optimism, friendship, joy and other by-products of poverty. Two are white and the other is African-American. The title, Voices Worth the Listening, is particularly appropriate because Burton has presented the women in their own voices but not by directly transcribing their interviews. Instead he says he has attempted “to craft amalgamations of [their words] into meaningful, intelligible, monologues while retaining as much as possible through all alterations the integrity of each person’s speech and meaning.” It works. It is enjoyable to read, not painful like some word-for-word transcriptions.

Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2020. 113 pages. 5” X 7.25” trade paperback