Select Page

Students from EKU’s Upward Bound program had the opportunity to virtually meet and chat with three authors as part of their 2021 Summer Chautauqua experience. As part of their English and Composition course, students read “Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions about Small-Town America.” The anthology challenges the stereotypes that typically depict rural areas and their people as inferior and disdainful. Their stories take a deeper look into the lives of teenagers in rural communities while different racial and ethnic backgrounds and class issues add to the rich stories told in a wide variety of styles and prose.

The book was used to identify positive stories about living in a rural setting to lead students to write a memoir about their experience based on those identified themes, including folktales, ghost stories, first crush, first kiss, challenges of feeling like someone doesn’t fit in, LGBTQ+, etc.

The panelists, all first-generation college graduates, included David Macinnis Gill, an award-winning author whose books include “Uncanny,” and the “Black Hole Sun” series. Gill discussed his thought process behind “Praise the Lord and Pass the Little Debbies.”

“I knew I wanted to go to college and what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to be on that ladder working in 90-degree heat for the rest of my life,” Gill said. In addition, Monica Roe, a traveling physical therapist who promotes equal rights for people with disabilities living in underserved rural regions and author of “Air and Thaw,” and Veeda Bybee, who is currently working with the Smithsonian Institute as part of a new historical fiction series called “Li on Angel Island,” gave sage advice to budding writers.

“When I started college, I felt like I had been dropped onto another planet. People looked at me differently because I was considered rural and poor. The stereotypes I experienced helped me write my story. I came to understand that I can be a highly educated professional with deep rural roots and that I can love both,” Roe said.

Bybee gave an excellent example of meaningful intersections in her story, “Fish and Fences,” of growing up as one of the few Asian-Americans in rural Idaho.

“The book showed the good things about living in a small town. People from the outside think that all of us are on drugs and will not be successful in the future,” said Madison Reffitt, a senior from Powell County. Gabby Hatfield, an Upward Bound participant from Casey County, added “My favorite part of the book were the stories of people feeling like they didn’t fit in. It hit home and gave me an understanding of how others may feel.”

EKU Upward Bound is an academic, college-preparatory program serving 125 students in Casey, Estill, Lee, Lincoln, Powell, and Wolfe counties. EKU Upward Bound is funded by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the federal TRIO programs.

Anyone interested in learning more about the authors or using the book as a resource can contact Tamara Stewart at