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MSU hosts Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle in writer’s residency

Mallory Cash
University Press of Kentucky

For author Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, writing is an opportunity to give voice to the diverse narratives of Appalachia.

Clapsaddle – a teacher who belongs to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a tribe numbering now about 14,000 – is the author of the 2020 novel “Even As We Breathe.”

Set in North Carolina during World War II, the book follows a young Cherokee man named Cowney Sequoya who gets a job over the summer at an upscale resort in Asheville, North Carolina, that briefly served as an internment camp for diplomats and other foreign nationals from Axis countries. While trying to navigate his personal relationships and unravel a family mystery, he becomes entangled in an investigation involving a diplomat’s missing daughter.

The North Carolina native writer is the recipient of this year’s Clinton and Mary Opal Moore Appalachian Writer’s Residency at Murray State University.

Appalachia is home to a plethora of cultures, including indigenous people, African-Americans, Hispanic and Latino Americans and Asian-Americans. Clapsaddle’s writing reflects that reality – despite the common misconception that the region lacks diversity.

“There is this belief that Appalachia is largely white [and] also largely male, which is weird,” Clapsaddle said. “But there have been a lot of great writers who have been addressing that lately, who've been kind of pushing back against these stereotypes of poverty, as well as lack of education, which just aren't true within Appalachia.”

A central theme in “Even As We Breathe” is the protagonist’s struggle figuring out where he, as a Native American, fits into American society. As an enrolled citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Clapsaddle said penning this novel helped her address her own questions about this sense of belonging.

“I was born and raised in Cherokee and returned there after graduate school. I have spent some time outside of the area and thought about where my place is,” she said. “I think what is important in Cowney’s decision, and in his story, is that the land itself, the Qualla boundary, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Appalachian Mountains, this sense of place is critical to identity, especially for Cherokee people, as it is for people who can trace their their ancestry generations back on the land. It's more than just a zip code. It's how the land has become part of who we are.”

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