In the preface to The Ozarks: An American Survival of Primitive Society, the first nonfiction book on the people of the Ozark region, Vance Randolph confessed that he sought to entertain general readers with stories of a place divorced from the march of time, its inhabitants a people whose isolation and hidebound dedication to the ways of their ancestors rendered them exotic relics in an age of electricity, radios, and automobiles. Randolph knew he was presenting to his audience an incomplete picture of his adopted region, a place more complex and heterogeneous than even he could appreciate. Yet, his decision to essentialize Ozark people and their culture set a precedent that other chroniclers of the Ozarks would dutifully and willingly follow. Whether infused with a romantic fascination for ancient ballads, fox hunters, and weaving grannies or informed by a modernist critique of the intellect-stultifying poverty and backwardness of the benighted hill country, these chronicles all agreed that “the average urban American” who visited the region would feel “himself among an alien people.” The tens of thousands of readers of these books were almost certain to convert generalizations—and generations—into regional stereotypes.
The Ozark books of the Depression era played a crucial role in establishing the simplistic and reductionist stereotypes, both positive and negative, of Ozarkers and the Ozarks. It is for that reason that the University of Arkansas Press has launched the Chronicles of the Ozarks, a reprint series that will make available some of the era’s Ozark books with introductions and editorial notes that place each book and its author against the backdrop of the era and its popular assumptions and myths of life in the Ozarks. While it is important to understand the books’ flaws and misconceptions in the interest of a fuller understanding of the development and persistence of regional stereotypes, it is also important to remember that these books were written to entertain an audience of general readers and that none of them was meant to be a scholarly, scientific study. It is our hope that you will find them as entertaining as did readers in the 1930s and 1940s. It is also our hope that you will read them with an appreciation for the image-shapers that they once were and for the cultural artifacts that they have become.
About the Editor
Brooks Blevins is widely recognized as the foremost scholar of Ozarks history. The Noel Boyd Professor of Ozarks Studies at Missouri State University, Blevins teaches a variety of Ozark-themed courses, from Ozarks history to literature of the Ozarks. He is the author of a number of books and articles on the history of the region, including Hill Folks: A History of Arkansas Ozarkers and Their Image (Chapel Hill, 2002) and Ghost of the Ozarks: Murder and Memory in the Upland South (Urbana, 2012.) He is also the author of the award-winning Arkansas/Arkansaw: How Bear Hunters, Hillbillies, and Good Ol’ Boys Defined a State (2009) and coeditor with Gene Hyde of John Quincy Wolf’s Life in the Leatherwoods (2000), both published by the University of Arkansas Press.