How Bear Hunters, Hillbillies, and Good Ol’ Boys Defined a State
Brooks Blevins
978-1-55728-952-0 (paper)
September 2009


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What do Scott Joplin, John Grisham, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Maya Angelou, Brooks Robinson, Helen Gurley Brown, Johnny Cash, Alan Ladd, and Sonny Boy Williamson have in common? They’re all Arkansans. What do hillbillies, rednecks, slow trains, bare feet, moonshine, and double-wides have in common? For many in America these represent Arkansas more than any Arkansas success stories do. In 1931 H. L. Mencken described AR (not AK, folks) as the “apex of moronia.” While, in 1942 a Time magazine article said Arkansas had “developed a mass inferiority complex unique in American history.”

Arkansas/Arkansaw is the first book to explain how Arkansas’s image began and how the popular culture stereotypes have been perpetuated and altered through succeeding generations. Brooks Blevins argues that the image has not always been a bad one. He discusses travel accounts, literature, radio programs, movies, and television shows that give a very positive image of the Natural State. From territorial accounts of the Creole inhabitants of the Mississippi River Valley to national derision of the state’s triple-wide governor’s mansion to Li’l Abner, the Beverly Hillbillies, and Slingblade, Blevins leads readers on an entertaining and insightful tour through more than two centuries of the idea of Arkansas. One discovers along the way how one state becomes simultaneously a punch line and a source of admiration for progressives and social critics alike.

Brooks Blevins is the Noel Boyd Associate Professor of Ozarks Studies at Missouri State University. He is the author of Cattle in the Cotton Fields, Hill Folks, and Lyon College, 1872–2002 and editor of Life in the Leatherwoods.

“While some readers may find the light, chatty tone of the book off-putting and not serious enough for an academic work, I personally found it refreshing. Indeed, I am not sure when I have thought more or laughed harder while reading a book. … Arkansas/Arkansaw is a book about the image of one southern state but tells us much about the complex nature of stereotyping wherever it occurs. The book deserves a wide readership among scholars of southern history and anyone interested in southern culture or the topic of stereotyping generally.”
—Daniel S. Pierce, The Journal of Southern History, February 2011

“Richly illustrated and thoroughly explained, this work belongs in every academic library that collects southern history and every public library that serves southern constituents. Summing Up: Essential.”
Choice, September 2010

“This is an exhaustive investigation into two centuries’ worth of images of Arkansas, from stereotypes of backwardness to romantic ideas of wildness. For a newcomer like myself, this book is a revelation that equips me for living in this complex region, while for natives it should be a welcome review of their state’s representations in the eyes of others. At a time when Americans are re-evaluating once more their priorities and rethinking ideas of progress, urban sprawl, and the environment, this book offers a thoughtful and timely analysis, useful well beyond the scope of its subject. Arkansas will be reimagined many times yet, and this book will be a lasting reference.”
—Andrei Codrescu, NPR commentator, LSU Emeritus Professor of English, and author of Jealous Witness: New Poems

Winner, 2011 Ragsdale Award