My name is Paul Theobald and I am the “founder” of this web-based initiative called Rural Lit Rally. It got its start a little more than seven years ago when, out of curiosity, I did a google search for rural literature. Not much came up. The first thing that did was a reference to rural literature in China.
At the time I had a few resources I could use to pull a few scholars together to brainstorm what might be done about the fact that a great deal of American rural literature was slowly slipping into oblivion. This website was a big piece of what came out of that two-day meeting. The goal became to “preserve and promote rural literature,” and to that end, over the years, we have started a wide array of initiatives, including:
- on-line blog discussions of rural novels
- an extensive catalog of rural novels and novelists
- many book reviews of rural novels
- e-publishing a few novels long out of print
- interviews with contemporary rural writers
- youth reading groups
- exhibitions at libraries and museums across the country
- Wikipedia pages on unheralded rural novelists
For four or five years I had the services of a fantastic assistant and web manager, Cynthia Anthony, who became a catalyst to several partnerships. Cynthia has since moved on to direct a spin-off organization focusing on the work of Lois Phillips Hudson, a noted rural author. We contacted Ms. Hudson to see if we might interview her for our website, only to discover that she had passed away. On a hunch, we wrote to her daughter and asked if we might be the recipient of Ms. Hudson’s papers. With an affirmative response, http://www.loisphillipshudson.org was born. We discovered at least two unpublished manuscripts among the papers, and we published one as a paperback and as an e-book; Cynthia is currently working on publishing the second one.
At present Rural Lit Rally is a site administered by myself and my wife, Maureen, an equally avid consumer of rural literature, and just as dedicated to bringing out-of-print novels to the attention of contemporary readers as I am. But there is more to it than that. Rural Lit Rally is also about encouraging place-based curriculum and instruction in schools, arguing that it’s a kind of intellectual tragedy for rural children to grow up without engaging rural literature. By ignoring the world that surrounds rural students, we convert curriculum into inert information, forfeiting countless opportunities to help students develop a critical lens to observe, and therefore ultimately comprehend, how life unfolds around them–and why.
Equally tragic, we are slowly losing any sophisticated sense of what it means to be a part of a community, to lead lives dedicated to community well-being. There’s a huge cost connected to this loss, something communitarian scholars have documented well. In the words of Canada’s distinguished philosopher, Charles Taylor, “No community, no democracy.” Evidence of the erosion of democracy surrounds us. Astonishingly, many states have passed legislation intended to suppress the vote of the poor. And that’s merely one glaring example. To reclaim and defend democracy, we must re-build community in America–and that is an educational project. Rural literature could be an indispensable piece of that project. And so we push on, trying to “preserve and promote” it.
We are always looking for reviewers. If you would like to help with this effort, don’t hesitate to contact me! Thank you for having a look at Rural Lit Rally!