|Lonormi Manuel (Facebook photo)|
Lonormi Manuel of Anderson County, Kentucky, a native of East Tennessee who grew up in Southwest Virginia, won first place for "An Exaltation of Appalachia," which House described as creative and complex. Here's an excerpt:
“The Appalachia of my childhood had all the problems ascribed to today’s Appalachia, problems which—I repeat—are found in every single community in this country. (Anyone who says otherwise is lying to you. They have probably lied to you about other things, too.) The Appalachia of my childhood also had a rich tradition of music and literature, a natural beauty second to none, a culture of helping to build our neighbors up instead of tearing our neighbors down.”This week Manuel discussed the essay on WEKU-FM's "Eastern Standard." She said she titled her essay an "exaltation," one of the few uplifting synonyms for "elegy," as a deliberate riposte to J.D. Vance's book Hillbilly Elegy, which she said depicts Appalachia as a hopeless, dying place in need of outside help.
"What I want is for Appalachia to stop waiting for somebody from the outside to bring us a solution to our problems," Manuel told host Tom Martin. "We can't help the fact that a lot of our problems have originated outside of our homes and our communities, but we have the power within us, if we will stand up and look in the mirror and say, 'Yes, I can do this, we can do this,' and believe it . . . I want to prove the stereotypes wrong, I want us to reclaim our identity for ourselves, and I want us to stand up and say, 'We have the right of self-determination, and we don't need your elegy to tell us who we are.'"
“I’m in my thirties and I still struggle with my Appalachian identity. How do I reconcile my frustrations with my gratitude and values? How do I represent my hometown to the greater world in a way that is honest yet protective of the people I love so dearly? How do I advance in my profession without sacrificing the needs of my community?”