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Literary journal honors contemporary literature from the Cherokee community

Readers will be in for a surprise when thumbing through the pages of the all-Cherokee issue of Appalachian Heritage literary journal, which will be celebrated at Western Carolina University next week.

The issue turns on its head every generalization about Cherokee literature that’s been made before. Though it pays due homage to traditional Cherokee myths — in Cherokee syllabary as well as English — the journal also unveils the diversity of literary genres that underlies contemporary Cherokee works.

Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, a contributing author and English teacher at Swain County High School, said the compilation of Cherokee articles, fiction, poetry and memoirs is all too rare.

“It’s a collection that I really haven’t seen, at least in recent years, in terms of diversity,” said Clapsaddle, who has also been involved in efforts to revive Cherokee children’s literature. “I think that Cherokee literature is more diverse than most people realize. Most people around here are familiar with traditional origin myths, but there’s a vibrant Cherokee writing community here and elsewhere that includes a lot of different genres of literature.”

The story she contributed to the Berea, Ky.,-based journal is a short fictional piece called “It All Comes Out in the Wash.” The story is based on a true tale Clapsaddle heard firsthand from a woman who experienced the horrors of life in a Cherokee boarding school.

“Students had been taught that all clean things are white,” said Clapsaddle. “Her skin was dark, so she thought her skin wasn’t clean. She got her skin bleached.”

Though Clapsaddle sometimes tackles grave topics, she doesn’t believe they comprise the heart of Cherokee literature.

“There’s a lot of humor in our community,” said Clapsaddle. “I like to include that in my writing.”

Clapsaddle became surprised herself when she opened the pages of the literary journal after it was released last fall. Contributing authors not only included distinguished writers like Robert J. Conley and D.L. Birchfield, but also a freshman at Cherokee High School, a chef at Harrah’s Cherokee casino and a former Principal Chief of the Eastern Band, among others.

“It’s fun to discover the talent that the people you live around have that maybe you didn’t know about,” said Clapsaddle. “Some I didn’t even know wrote.”

To get a copy of the magazine, attend Western Carolina University’s event on April 8 (see “Meet the Authors”) or visit community.berea.edu/appalachianheritage.

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