The original idea for White Whiskey Bargain came to me a few years ago. The book that I started back then was pretty different from what it eventually became. One thing that stayed the same throughout, though, was the fact that the main characters were people of color — Black and Latinx people specifically. White Whiskey Bargain takes place throughout multiple small towns in Appalachian Kentucky. The MCs are an African-American woman and a Mexican-American man respectively, both from families who have lived in the areas mentioned for decades.
When I first started talking about this book a few months ago, I was met with a ton of interest and excitement from both readers and fellow writers. I was also met with questions about why I chose these characters for this setting. Admittedly, my replies have been a little long-winded — and maybe not always as cohesive as they could have been — but the ultimate answer is actually a combination of a couple of things. The first being my desire to shine a light on demographics of people that are largely excluded in conversations about Appalachia as a whole. The second being my desire to portray an interracial romance between two people of color.
As a native Kentuckian, I grew up mere hours from multiple Appalachian communities. Still, for the majority of my childhood, these communities weren’t anywhere near the forefront of my mind. When they were, they were normally the subject of pretty bleak news. Things like the shedding of coal mining jobs that left much of Appalachia economically devastated. As well as many of these communities struggling to stay together under the weight of the opioid epidemic. I didn’t always think of Appalachia as a place bursting with culture and customs and life. Nor did I think of it as a place where people of color existed, having carved out spaces for themselves and their communities for a very long time.
Appalachia as a region is incredibly large, it encompasses the entire state of West Virginia as well as portions of twelve other states. Even as it spans over 200,000 miles and has a population of 25 million, much of the country views it as being almost completely White. These views have been wrong historically, and they’re still wrong today.
Historical evidence tells us that Indigenous people lived in Appalachian areas like West Virginia long before the US government attempted to force them out with the Indian Removal Act. The country’s very first census showed that the Black Appalachian population was already at 6 percent in 1790. In the past 30 years, the Latinx population in Appalachia has increased by over 240 percent. As of the 2010 census, people of color make up about 16 percent of the region.
As many have always known, Appalachia is not homogenous. But it wasn’t until a close relative moved to Harlan, Kentucky when I was in my mid-teens that I realized that. Spending time with Black Appalachians was incredibly eye opening. As a Black woman who grew up in Kentucky’s largest city, I loved seeing how much culture and history we shared as Black people generally and how much was specific to them being Appalachian as well. As my education grew, I realized that this must be true for other Appalachians of color too.
When I was conceptualizing White Whiskey Bargain, I knew immediately that I wanted Black and Brown Appalachians to be at the forefront. I wanted to show two different groups whose families had faced similar, though often different, struggles as non-white people in a majority White region. I wanted to show these families not only existing, but thriving. Because I also love writing characters who live in somewhat morally grey areas, I figured that putting them in the moonshine making business was the best and most interesting way for me to do that. Luckily, I think it worked out pretty well. At the very least, I’m proud that I found a way to tell this story.
I had an incredible time writing Javier and Hannah’s love story. I loved being a part of the truly unstoppable group of Black and/or Latinx writers portraying our people loving and being loved. Showing them vulnerable and flawed. Showing their communities as ever important support systems. And showing that they deserve stories that portray them in the countless ways they exist.
Thank you Jodie for stopping by and sharing a tiny bit of the rich history of Black and Brown Appalachians. I truly enjoyed this piece and White Whiskey Bargain. In Jodie’s last paragraph she links to just a few of the amazingly talented Black and/or Latinx writers that are part of this community, Adriana Herrera, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Katrina Jackson, and Zoey Castile, you can use the links to follow them on Twitter and find out more about their books.