The 5 Titles series highlights books, music, and films in the library’s collection, featuring topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion and/or highlighting authors’ work from diverse backgrounds. Each post is intended to briefly sample titles rather than provide a comprehensive topic overview. Ira King, First-Year Experience and Disability Studies Librarian selected this month’s titles, and he writes, “According to the 2020 Census, around 80% of the United States population lives in urban areas, a large increase from 64% in 1950. The United Nations estimates this number will rise to 89% by 2050. As America becomes an increasingly urbanized nation, how do we visualize our rural areas and those living there? Media depictions of rural America tend to homogenize and stereotype the people who live there regardless of whether the intended depiction is positive or negative. Although rural areas are often considered a contemporary political signifier for an idealized “way things used to be” that never truly existed, rural America is becoming more diverse. As a rural Missourian who has since moved to an urban area, I’ve heard people ask many variations of “Why would anyone want to live there” or “Why don’t people just move to cities.” This line of thinking disregards the material circumstances of many rural Americans and ignores the strong ties and history people have with their communities, families, land, and natural spaces. Although you could likely spend the rest of your life exclusively researching the rural United States, these books and films provide a starting range of voices and viewpoints that highlight the complexity of the rural United States.”
Sweetwater: Black Women and Narratives of Resilience by Robin M. Boylorn. In Sweetwater, Boylorn, a professor of Communication Studies at the University of Alabama and member of the Crunk Feminist Collective, writes of her childhood growing up in a small rural community in North Carolina. Described by the author as black girl autoethnography, Boylorn shares her own lived experiences and narratives from black women in her community, including multiple generations of women in her family. Boylorn writes, “In the face of adversity, tragedy, violence, discrimination, and oppression, I examine our lives, over generations, to determine how black women use narratives to cope and communicate about their experiences and as acts of social resistance.” The author emphasizes the resilience at the core of the stories of rural black womanhood contained in her book. Narrative chapters are interspersed with poems by Mary E. Weems. Sweetwater highlights the importance of centering lived experiences and black feminism, especially from underrepresented communities.
Just Queer Folks: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America by Colin R. Johnson. Although many works of gay and lesbian history focus on urban areas, Colin R. Johnson’s book argues that rural and small-town America was much more queer in the early twentieth century than previously assumed. A gay man who grew up in a small town in Illinois who is now a professor of gender studies at Indiana University-Bloomington, Johnson explores this argument from several angles. One chapter looks at the same-sex intimacy that occurred in various non-metropolitan parts of the United States, including male farm laborers in the Heartland and timber workers in the Pacific Northwest. Another delves into the archetype of the eccentric small-town lifelong bachelor or bachelorette. The final chapter examines rural women and female masculinity by analyzing photographs taken during the 1930s. If you’re looking for a read on contemporary LGBTQ Americans in this vein, you may also want to check out Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from the Red States by Samantha Allen. In this book, Allen, an award-winning journalist and transgender woman, goes on a road trip exploring queer life across America.
The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham. In this memoir, Lanham, a poet, ornithologist, and Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Clemson University, writes of his experience as a Black man growing up in rural South Carolina on a small family farm. In the book’s opening paragraph, Lanham writes, “I am a man in love with nature. I am an eco-addict, consuming everything the outdoors offers in its all-you-can-sense seasonal buffet. I am a wilding, born of forests and field and more comfortable on unpaved back roads and winding woodland paths than in any place where concrete, asphalt, and crowds prevail.” Lanham lyrically explores his passion for nature and conservation while examining the legacy of slavery and segregation in the American South and its effect on African-Americans’ relationship to land and nature. In the chapter “Birding While Black,” the author describes what it’s like to be Black in spaces where non-white people are “a rare sighting.” Lanham argues for the inclusion of more Black people in natural spaces, both as hobbyists and as professional biologists and conservationists.
Minari dir. Isaac Lee Chung. A semi-autobiographical film from writer-director Issac Lee Chung, Minari follows a family of South Korean immigrants who move to rural Arkansas in the 1980s. The film begins with the father, Jacob (played by Steven Yeun), showing his family the newly purchased plot of Ozark farmland where they’ll be living and starting a Korean produce farm. The mother, Monica (played by Han Ye-ri in her Hollywood debut), is skeptical about their move to Arkansas and worried about her young son, David (played by an excellent Alan Kim), who has a heart condition. The film explores the tension between the father’s hopes and dreams and the material challenges and familial and social worries that occur in their new home. Primarily shot near Tulsa, Oklahoma, on a ranch (technically not in the Ozarks, but close enough for this former resident), the film features beautiful scenery and captures the joy and frustrations of living off the land.
Hale County This Morning, This Evening dir. RaMell Ross. This experimental documentary features people and images from Hale County, a rural area in Alabama’s Black Belt. The film loosely follows two young men, Quincy and Daniel, who the director met while teaching photography and coaching basketball in the area. Director RaMell Ross challenges the common stereotyping and framing of young Black men that occurs across popular media. Regarding his decision to start filming in this area, Ross speaks in an interview of his “sadness about the generalized inability to see communities like this one from the inside.” He asks, “Where do these communities see themselves represented and celebrated in the world?” Filmed over a period of 5 years and edited from 1300 hours of footage to a 76-minute documentary, Ross captures both mundane and dynamic moments in the lives of residents of Hale County.