There are, to my knowledge, only two memoirs of growing up in my hometown of Kingsport, and both were written by the same person. Lisa (pronounced “Liza”) Alther published the autobiographical novel Kinflicks in 1999. It made the New York Times’s bestseller list, and was a very funny book.
Now, eight years and four more novels later, she is back with a non-fiction book called Kinfolks: Falling Off the Family Tree – The Search for My Melungeon Ancestors . Melungeons is the name given to a curious group of people in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia who have dark skin and whose origin is unclear. Said to be of Portugese or Turkish descent, they were discriminated against for decades, but of late have come into their own, a sort of down home “say it loud, I’m Melungeon and I’m proud.”
Alther has long suspected she has Melungeon blood, and this book is the story of her quest to find her ancestors. It also gives her a good excuse to drive all over the Southeastern United States and to make observations about Yankees and Southerners. My favorite one is this: “The main difference between the North and South is that southerners enjoy being rediculous, whereas Yankees like to feign dignity.”
This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.