Memory in Threatened Places: Oral History and the Fiction of Lee Smith

UNCP Author/Contributor (non-UNCP co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Dr. Scott Hicks, Associate Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP )
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Abstract: This essay explores the capacity of memory and oral history to memorialise places threatened by environmental devastation and alteration. Juxtaposing US author Lee Smith’s oral history Sitting on the Courthouse Bench: An Oral History of Grundy, Virginia (2000) and novels Oral History (1983), Family Linen (1985) and Saving Grace (1995), the essay reveals the complexities of memory- and meaning-making in the face of the relocation and reconstruction of a town threatened by perennial and devastating flooding. Interrogating the role of place in stimulating and sustaining collective memory, the essay argues that oral history and fiction illuminate each other; the opportunity to memorialise place shapes the narratives they tell and problematises the future spaces they imagine. The essay demonstrates how Smith’s oral historiography and fiction remembers a threatened landscape and compels readers of both sorts of texts to rethink the relationship of memory and place. Oral history illustrates the communal and social value of the process of telling stories about places that were, while stories and novels permit the writer to shed further light on cultural, social and geographical spaces and help make sense of the places that will be and the human communities who inhabit them.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2021
Oral history, American literature, Appalachian literature, environmental studies, memory studies

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