C.D. Albin was born and reared in West Plains, Missouri, and he earned a Doctor of Arts in English from the University of Mississippi. He has taught for many years at Missouri State University-West Plains, where he founded Elder Mountain: A Journal of Ozarks Studies. His stories, poems, and reviews have appeared in a number of periodicals, including American Book Review, Arkansas Review, Cape Rock, Georgia Review, Harvard Review, and Natural Bridge.
The phrase “a sense of place” is an easy, ready cliché, but I find it personally useful despite its dull familiarity. The writers from whom I learn the most always seem conscious of grounding their work in a particular place, although I realize my list of favorites is itself a cliché: Faulkner and northern Mississippi, Eudora Welty and Jackson, Flannery O’Connor and Georgia, John Updike and Pennsylvania, then later New England. Even my favorite contemporary writers carry the banner of regionalism: Ernest J. Gaines and Tim Gautreaux for Louisiana, Ron Rash for southern Appalachia, Gary Fincke for western Pennsylvania, Daniel Woodrell for my native Ozarks. The list goes on.
When I think about these writers and their influence upon my creative imagination, I realize I’m not reading their work for lessons in cultural geography, but rather for the depth of their characterization. Characterization that is authentically rooted in place avoids the thoughtless shorthand of stereotype; instead, it honors the unique conflicts, losses, and gains that make individual people who they are. I admire writers who care enough about their characters to honor them in that way.
Like most people, I try to emulate what I admire, but artistic responsibility goes well beyond mimicry. In setting my poems and stories in the Ozarks, I am choosing to write about a region in which popular mythology is rarely wed to fidelity. My response is to seek a balancing of the scale, striving as best I can for accuracy of characterization. To my way of thinking, that means acknowledging the complexity of life lived anywhere—but especially in a hardscrabble place like the Ozarks.