I am a farm girl and the legacy of proud working-class people from rural Indiana and East Tennessee.
Growing up, we never had cable TV – only what we affectionately called the “Farmer Five.” One of those channels was PBS and we existed on a steady diet of Wishbone and Austin City Limits (ACL). Together, they fostered in me a deep love and respect for stories of all kinds and country folk intellectuals, which describes pert near all my family.
However, in school, I came to understand Standard Academic English as the only kind that would allow me to be successful. So I got good at it. I believed I needed it to be successful, to go to college, and to get out of that one-stoplight town. Because, as far as I knew, that was the only way to be somebody.
And I did leave. I ended up attending an ag-based institution in Indiana, getting my teacher’s license. Then, I taught high school English in a rural Indiana school, and eventually left to earn my master’s degree. Finally, I moved out of state to attend The University of Texas at Austin to pursue my Ph.D.
I chose Austin because of my love for ACL and the singer-songwriters that sang about it and because I thought it would feel like some kind of home. But when I got down here, I discovered that the Austin I knew from their songs didn’t exist anymore and it definitely didn’t feel like home.
Feeling completely out of place in my urban-focused Ph.D. program in language and literacy, I was routinely misunderstood because of the rural-connected cultural practices I used to engage with my colleagues, faculty members, and ideas we discussed in conversation.
And I realized that I was different in a way I hadn’t expected from the other city-folks in my program.
These experiences formed the basis of my research on how rural identity influences the professional identities and teaching practices of rural out-migrant teachers. While conducting my study, I realized that in all my time as a rural student and teacher, I never read a book (maybe besides Charlotte’s Web) that made me feel seen as a rural young person and that locating and choosing to include rural young adult literature (YAL) in their instruction was challenging for the teachers I was working with. The main obstacles were difficulty in finding and accessing YAL, lack of appreciation for rural stories and what they can teach us, even by folks with rural backgrounds, and the metro-centric character of theories of learning and teaching that young teachers learn in their own training.
Rather than report on this and leave it at that, I set out to create and launch a website that would help rural teachers, teacher educators, and parents locate and learn about texts that present authentic and nuanced depictions of rural living.
Thus Literacy in Place was born. It is founded on three main beliefs:
- Rural stories are worth reading and worthy of study.
- Rural stories are worth telling.
- Rural cultures (imperfect as they may be) are worth sustaining.
In this work, I’m essentially combining those two favorite shows from my childhood. Bringing people access to stories that are deeply connected to rural people, places, and cultures.
The site provides a running list of books featuring rural people, places, and experiences, access to my Reading Rural YAL YouTube channel where I give book talks of rural YAL, and to my Reading Rural Goodreads account where I review books.
For teacher educators, the site provides a suggested reading list of texts to include in teacher preparation programs to invite preservice teachers to think about how a place has and will continue to shape who they are becoming as teachers as well as sample activities and lessons ideas.
Lastly, the (Non)Rural Voices blog seeks to provide a space for students of all levels, teachers, and teacher educators of varying rural and out-migrant identities to write their stories so that we can continue to disrupt and dismantle the dominant deficit understandings of rural people as ignorant, backward, and no-count hicks/hillbillies/rednecks clinging to their guns and Bibles.
Everybody deserves to see themselves represented – in all of their complexity – with dignity in literature. And I hope Literacy In Place will help young people have those opportunities.
If you have questions, suggestions for additions to the book list, or ideas for collaboration, please contact me here. You can also follow me @readingrural on Twitter for updates on blog posts, videos, and happenings in rural English Language Arts teaching.
Chea Parton is a farm girl and former rural student and English teacher. She is currently an assistant professor of instruction at The University of Texas at Austin and founder of literacyinplace.com. She is passionate about rural stories and helping students and teachers find texts that make them feel seen as rural people. You can follow her @readingrural on Twitter.