It’s Never Too Late to Mend: Genre Analysis of Appalachian Living Blogs—Kiersten Spires (2021)

Questions to Consider

  1. As Spires presents them, Appalachian life blogs have a dual purpose. On one hand, they are meant to dispel stereotypes and misconceptions about those living in Appalachia. On the other hand, they are meant to inspire hope in the young people who live there. What does this suggest about the nature of writing for the public? How does a writer’s intentions matter? To what extent does the audience determine the message and purpose of a text?
  2. Why do you think these Appalachian writers chose to document their lives via blogs? What benefits do blogs offer? Are there other genres or mediums that could do similar work?
  3. The blogs on Only in Appalachia make key arguments to undermine harmful ideas and negative perceptions of the region. Although argumentation is often associated with “academic writing” or formal essays, Spires observes powerful social interventions in these blogs. Why is “personal” writing so moving (as opposed to academic writing)? What can we learn about positive self-representation from Spires’ essay

Note from the Editors

Spires offers an excellent and detailed example of a genre analysis. This essay focuses on the cultural impacts of the Appalachian life blog genre and makes an implicit argument for thoughtful and meaningful public writing and the kind of impact that it can have. Spires attends to the different elements of the genre and considers them rhetorically, allowing readers to understand the larger implications for this type of public writing. Spires does an excellent job balancing the nuanced nature of analyzing a genre that is specific to a particular discourse community.

Writer’s Reflection

Summary of One Technological Artifact: The online blog site, titled Only in Appalachia, features a large number of posts, written/shared by a selected group of various authors, regarding their experiences and opinions about different aspects of Appalachia. This site, like other blog sites with similar content, has six primary, recurring characteristics that appear amongst them all. The repetitive occurrence of the characteristics makes them stand out as formal features of the genre. These characteristics include first-hand experience, positive positions, similar purposes behind the writings, emphasis on education, associated stigmas, and/or greater socioeconomic issues. The webpage features several pictures of authors and their families smiling and having fun, displaying the normalcy of their life and true happiness; emphasis is also placed on being happy since society tends to assume that living in Appalachian areas means that all people lead sad, pitiful lives. Additionally, the photos display beauty and simplicity shared from across the Appalachian region, by “everyday Appalachian people” including images of proud, hard-working men and women on their farms, serene sunsets, and small-town famous businesses.

Analysis: The analysis will discuss the unique features found in the genre, what role technology plays in the genre, why this method is used to catch the attention of readers to spread knowledge, and how this genre relates to socioeconomic status. 

The first distinctive feature is the positions and emotional connections to Appalachia shared by writers. Although these blogs are not representative of the entire Appalachian population, they are representative of those who desire society to rethink the stigma of living in such areas. Individuals from Appalachian areas are viewed as inferior in several aspects by the rest of the world; they are assumed to be less intelligent, less happy, unwilling to work, and less civil. Emphasizing the positive aspects is done in hopes of sharing that Appalachia is not all bad, that no one should feel ashamed of being Appalachian. However, it does not go unmentioned that living in Appalachia can make one feel stuck and hopeless, but higher education is a way out of that. While these same points can be made in newspaper articles and documentaries, the format of short blogs allows readers to learn about many experiences quickly and easily through the internet, which is highly valued in today’s society. 

A second formal feature of online blogs that discuss Appalachian living is the purpose the articles are written. Like all writings, there is a specific reason why the piece was written. In the case of these blogs, it is to inspire and spread educational information. There are also target audiences for literary work as well. For instance, this blog page desires to address younger generations of Appalachians and individuals who only have exposure to mainstream stereotypes and assumptions. The authors hope to inspire younger generations, to let them know that growing up in Appalachian regions makes them no less capable of achieving greatness. Additionally, these authors are addressing audiences with little exposure or knowledge of the Appalachian culture and community. While this same purpose is sought in other media types, on the same topic, online blogs better address the younger generations as a society today places greater emphasis on social media and quick access to information on the internet. 

Appalachia is associated closest with socioeconomic disadvantages, depicted as socially inferior. The Appalachian region is primarily a working-class area, which has similar stereotypes and assumptions associated with it as well. Socioeconomic status has a great impact on the way individuals view others within society. In cases where individuals are looked down upon by their social “superiors,” it can become self-deprecating to one’s self-image. Therefore, life in Appalachia could also be closely tied to identity; the way one views themself is one aspect of identity and the way one is viewed by others is another aspect of identity. Through these online blogs about Appalachian living, there is a desire to shed a positive light on the way people are able to see themselves as natives and the way people outside Appalachia view the region.

Best of ENG 225 Essay

It’s Never Too Late to Mend: Genre Analysis of Appalachian Living Blogs

Hillbilly. Redneck. Hick. These three words are used synonymously to refer to individuals who live in Appalachian regions. Appalachia as a whole gets associated with negative stereotypes and assumptions that humiliate the population and encourage society outside of Appalachia to look down upon the culture. To combat this issue, many natives have begun writing blogs discussing positive attributes and experiences, shedding light on their culture, inspiring upcoming generations of Appalachians, and educating the general public. One specific example is the online blog site Only in Appalachia, which features a large number of posts, written/shared by a selected group of various authors, regarding their experiences and opinions about different aspects of Appalachia. This genre, like all others, is “defined by similarities in strategies or forms of the discourses, by similarities in audiences, by similarities in modes of thinking, and by similarities in rhetorical situations” (Miller 151). In the case of the Appalachian Living blog genre, these characteristics include first-hand experience, positive positions, similar purposes behind the writings, emphasis on education, associated stigmas, and/or greater socioeconomic issues. Only in Appalachia highlights first-hand experiences, specific purposes, and struggles to showcase features of the blog genre. 

To begin, the first main feature of this artifact is the sharing of firsthand experiences. The experiences of the authors tend to drive a positive emotional charge in the writing; they express their feelings, then share with readers how those feelings were developed, and why they remain so strong. Writers tend to include a sense of pride in their upbringing, intermixed with their personal anecdotes. In one post titled “My Appalachian Identity,” Kelli E. Lemaster says:

I realized just how lucky I was to be from my small, little town of Louisa[, Kentucky]. There were a lot of things I couldn’t do in Lexington that I was able to do in Louisa, and I definitely missed the peace and quiet of the country… I hope to… continue to be a voice for Appalachia. 

In the case of Kelli E. Lemaster, she is writing about the process she went through to gain an appreciation for, and a better understanding of, Appalachia as an insider. The above quote demonstrates the respect she has for the culture she was raised in, which is a positive perspective. For most people who write blogs about living in Appalachia, the emotional response is that even through their struggle, it is still an important part of who they are, and for that, they love and appreciate it. These obvious and strong emotional reactions/feelings are not likely to occur without first-hand experience of being immersed in the culture; thus, Appalachian lifewriting is an arcane genre, appearing mysterious to those who are not able to produce it themselves. Therefore, growing up in, or even living in an Appalachian area for an extended period of time, allows people to see beyond the associated stereotypes, assumptions, and negative aspects.

Moreover, a second main feature of this blog genre is the purpose for which the blog was written. Similar to all genres, there is an overarching message that is desired to reach a specific target audience; in the case of Appalachian Living blogs, the purpose is to both inspire upcoming generations of Appalachians and to educate society that falls outside of the region., when read by both groups of people, the messages of the blogs are different, based on the life experiences of the reader. Shared on the Only in Appalachia website, is the story of Shannon Folkert, a woman who grew up in Appalachia, was able to leave Southeastern Ohio, attend college, earn a degree in education, and willingly return to her hometown to live her life with her family. When read by a young girl who is currently growing up the way Shannon did, she is likely to feel inspired and hopeful for her own future. Whereas when Shannon’s story is read by an adult who knows no life outside of a wealthy, urban city, they are likely to be learning about life in Appalachian areas that contradicts the stereotypical information they usually associate with it. According to linguist Caroline Miller, “genres can serve both as an index to cultural patterns and as tools for exploring the achievements of particular speakers and writers” (165). Mainstream society has placed great emphasis on the negative stereotypes and assumptions placed on individuals that live in Appalachia. As a result, individuals that do live in such areas cannot fathom themselves existing outside of those stereotypes. The authors of these blogs hope to let the younger generations know that growing up in Appalachia makes them no less capable of achieving greatness or living out their dreams. Sharing their successes and passing on their hope to tomorrow’s generation also spreads accurate information to individuals with little personal exposure to the Appalachian community and their culture. These authors have been in the position of the upcoming generation, feeling the negative pressure from society that instills the notion that you cannot, and never will be able to make it out of the impoverished life you are living. While educating society is important, and a primary goal of the blogs, the ultimate goal is to reach the young Appalachian community. 

Furthermore, a third feature of the Appalachian Living blog genre is addressing commonly faced struggles while living in these regions that influence the socioeconomic status of the community. Socioeconomic status has a great impact on the way individuals view others within the general public. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, “21 of the top 25 white working-class counties (with over 88% of the population white working-class) in the U.S. are in Appalachia” (Emmons et al.). While this statistic is in favor of the stereotype that Appalachia is notoriously poor, it does not, in any way, translate to Appalachians being less than their social “superiors.” Societal stereotypes have translated living in a working-class home to being a dirt-poor, unintelligent, inbred, incompetent, drug addict, with no work ethic (“Just the Facts”). Consequently, these stereotypes are degrading and have the potential of causing serious self-deprecation. The authors of Appalachian Living blogs tend to address the stereotypes, but usually one aspect at a time, and deny it of any credibility. Megan Phillips, who is from Southeastern Ohio, says in her blog, ‘Dreams Built Upon Dreams”: 

You see, you’re not defined by where you were raised, by who you were raised by, or by what you did (or didn’t) have. Instead, you’re defined by what you’ve done about it — what did you make of yourself, where did you choose to win, and what do you believe you can accomplish for the future. You control what is YET to come for your life! The destiny for your life lies in the mindset you adopt!

Authors like Megan Phillips are trying to outshine the stereotypical image of Appalachians, with their own stories that depict them as successful, happy, and functioning members of society. The purpose of the blog may be focused on reaching individuals, but it is also contributing to the construction of a new image for the Appalachian people and reducing the stigmas felt by so many in the community. While this same purpose is sought in other media types, such as local newspapers, online blogs better address the younger generations, as today’s society places greater emphasis on social media and quick access to information on the internet.

In conclusion, the Only in Appalachia online site uses first-hand experience, similar purposes, and commonly faced struggles to contribute to the personal blog genre. Interacting with the blogs on this website allows readers from all backgrounds to gain knowledge of what it is like to live in a stigmatized, minority culture and still have a great appreciation for the lifestyle, directly from those living it. Seeing authors talk through their struggles and express gratitude for all their experiences, encourages the idea that just because others don’t like it, doesn’t mean all Appalachians have to as well. This specific website allows many writers to submit their stories for consideration. It also allows readers to read hundreds of stories and compare them to their own experiences, thoughts, and assumptions, making the process of exploring the website interactive. The Only in Appalachia blog provides an optimistic depiction of the Appalachian lifestyle which could reframe society’s perception of the culture.

Works Cited

Emmons, William R, et al. “The White Working Class: State-Level Declines and Geographic Concentration.” Saint Louis Fed Eagle, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, 12 Aug. 2021, ty-level-changes. 

Just the Facts: Poverty Myths & Stereotypes, Just Harvest, 2015, content/uploads/2015/07/Just-Harvest-Poverty-Myths-Stereotypes-fact-sheet.pdf. 

Miller, Carolyn. “Genre as Social Action (1984), Revisited 30 Years Later (2014).” Letras & Letras, 2015, pp. 151–167., 

Nelson, Madelyn, et al. “Our Blog.” Only in Appalachia, 5 Sept. 2020, https://www.onlyin