Ann Pancake writes of Appalachia. Originally from Romney, West Virginia, Pancake’s characters often find their place in a similar climate. She is an accomplished writer in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, her work spanning countless journals, most recently Georgia Review, Harvard Review, and here, as part of the Melanie Brown Lecture tribute issue, in The Fourth River.
As part of the Melanie Brown Series, Pancake’s essay “Our Own Kind” delves into an upbringing in West Virginia. She illustrates a childhood in which her and her brother fought tirelessly against gender stereotypes. Their personal struggle to break free of gender roles led them to physical fights with each other, until finally, they were able to find out how to be “[their own kind of boy, [their] own kind of girl.” An upbringing in rural West Virginia exasperated the internal struggle for Pancake. But she doesn’t come to blame Appalachia for her hardships. She instead celebrates the hardships and West Virginia in her stunning description of the place she comes from.
Pancake is an avid admirer of her roots. She reiterates in “Our Own Kind,” that her childhood among the rough outdoors made her into the person she is today. In an interview with Appalachian Journal, she says, “Appalachians have qualities that other Americans need. If dominant America would adapt certain Appalachian characteristics, the culture at large would have more life-sustaining qualities.” She denotes this idea in her creative work by portraying her characters as self-sufficient, passionate folks with their own, unique ways of living.
In my interview with Pancake, I asked: “What is your favorite thing about ‘Our Own Kind?’” She responded: “I think my favorite thing about the essay is how much it meant to my brother Sam, one of the main characters, and the kinds of conversations he and I had after he read it.”
After doing research on Pancake’s history as a writer, I asked her questions about her writing life, as well. After earning a B.A. in English from West Virginia University, Pancake traveled the world, spending time in Japan, Thailand, and American-Somoa. She then came back to the United States and began work on her M.A. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She would eventually go on to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Washington at Seattle. She’s published a novella, a collection of short stories, a novel, several personal essays, several academic articles, and even poetry.
When asked what surprises her most about her writing life, she said, “That I’ve actually published several books and that I had the stamina to finish a novel. I still can’t believe I did that.”
Pancake’s surprise at her success is admirable, but unexpected. As an astounding writer of nature, place, and human connection, she has earned the right to brag about her achievements. Her work spans all genres and she is proficient at telling both nonfiction and fictional tales. The writing world is lucky to have Ann Pancake as a contributor. And we at The Fourth River are lucky to have had the pleasure of publishing her work.