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Dr. Sarah Beth Childers

English professor’s new book explores Appalachian childhood and loss of brother

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Media Contact: Elizabeth Gosney | CAS Marketing and Communications Manager | 405-744-7497 |

Dr. Sarah Beth Childers, an assistant professor in the Oklahoma State University Department of English, has released a new book, “Prodigals, A Sister’s Memoir of Appalachia and Loss.” 

“Prodigals” is a collection of memoirs from Childers’ upbringing in Appalachia, detailing her life with her brother before and after his suicide at age 22. A personal and riveting collection of memories, Childers used her craft to turn grief into art.  

“I wrote the book because I tend to process the important events in my life by writing about them — something that resulted in my first creative nonfiction book, ‘Shake Terribly the Earth: Stories from an Appalachian Family,’ — so writing about my brother’s death felt like an inevitable and important part of my grieving process,” Childers said. “I also felt an urgency to preserve memories of my brother and my own childhood and youth before I lost them.” 

With overarching themes of family, grief and eventual change, Childers used her memories of her brother to explore her evolution from being a sister to becoming a mother. She combined this with her unique upbringing in Appalachia, interlacing biblical elements.  

“A major part of writing the book was telling the story of the prodigal son,” Childers said. “I loved picturing him as a real young man and imagining his journey. For source material, I used the Bible and the Bible storybook my siblings and I read as children, and it was so much fun to revisit that book and its artwork as an adult reader.”  

Childers said she hopes the reader will connect with the descriptions of her home, her humor, the family trauma, the prodigal son story, and with her brother.  

“I’m thankful I wrote the book when I did, because I’m a mom now and see life differently as a result,” Childers said. “This book felt like it needed to be about Joshua and our own childhoods in West Virginia rather than about my kids in Oklahoma.” 

Childers added that she wants readers to see how family relationships are never just two-dimensional; they are multifaceted relationships bonded not just by relation, but from love and pain. Childers said that although tragic events such as suicide can illicit such pain, healing is possible. 

“Suicides happen within such a complex web of cultural influences, life circumstances and random events, that self-blame or blame of anyone is unproductive,” Childers said. 

Check out Childers’ new book through the University of Georgia Press and online booksellers.  

Story By: Jade Dudley, CAS Graduate Assistant |

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