The Lightness of Water & Other Stories

Winner of the 2019 Press 53 Award for Short Fiction and a 2020 Finalist for The Eric Hoffer Book Award, the characters in these emotionally charged stories deal with loneliness, loss, greed, and guilt. They, like all of us, wrestle with the people, places, and memories they cling to, belong to, and run from, learning (sometimes too late), that these experiences remain with them forever. The nine stories in The Lightness of Water and Other Stories are bound by a strong sense of place—Appalachia and the South—and prove that no matter where we go, there’s no place far enough to leave home behind.


The finely drawn pieces in this moving and remarkable debut collection provide an authoritative view of the sources of heartbreak, as well as the abiding strengths to be found within our Appalachian heartland. These stories focus on the rapacious disregard of mining companies for the natural landscape and the men and women who labor there, upon the devastating effects of the opioid and methamphetamine crisis, and also upon the enduring power of love in its many forms: romantic, familial, and that of inhabitants for their native land. To read it is to be informed and inspired. 
--Les Standiford, The New York Times best-selling author of Last Train to Paradise and Palm Beach, Mar-a-Largo, and the Rise of America’s Xanadu.

Rhonda Browning White's debut story collection, The Lightness of Water & Other Stories, is a deep dive into the dark currents of the Appalachian coal region, a place in America where mountains are destroyed, and people’s lives are poisoned. These are hard hitting stories by a young writer with a ruthless eye for the truth. 
–Edward Falco, author of Sabbath Night in the Church of the Piranha: New and Selected Stories

“The reason life is so strange,” wrote William Maxwell “is that so often people have no choice.” Rhonda Browning White’s weary coal miners, Vietnam vets, and small-town addicts know this in their bones. It’s not just hard luck they’re up against but the way of the world, and when they try to break free, even the few choices they do make feel wrong. The Lightness of Water & Other Stories is like the best country music—-a rough front covering a broken heart.
 –Stewart O’Nan, author of Last Night at the Lobster and Emily, Alone.

In her stunning debut, Rhonda Browning White tells stories on behalf of those who cannot, desperate men and women whose shattered and broken lives play out in the mountains between the Ohio and Shenandoah Rivers. Make room for her. These are dangerous stories. Urgent, needful, and aching, they will not be denied.
—Robert Olmstead, author of The Coldest Night and Savage Country




  • In North Carolina Literary Review. “Short Story Sequencing”
    a review by Sharon E. Colley
    Leah Hampton, F*ckface and Other Stories
    Rhonda Browning White, The Lightness of Water & Other Stories

  • In Southern Lit Review.
  • In South85 Journal.
    a review by Debby Hames DeRosa
    “The Lightness of Water & Other Stories, by Rhonda Browning White”

  • In New Southern Fugitives
    a review by Fred Leebron
    “The Lightness of Water & Other Stories – Book Review”

MORE PRAISE FOR The Lightness of Water & Other Stories

How can we love a place that’s killing us? Why plant roots in a rootless world? Ranging from those left behind on the forgotten mountains of West Virginia to DAR mean girls and wannabes, Rhonda Browning White’s resilient people give voice to the hard questions and, ultimately, show us the way home. 
--Leslie Pietrzyk, author of Silver Girl and This Angel on My Chest
Rhonda Browning White’s voice ranges from the Great Smokies of the early twentieth century to the contemporary language of OxyContin and mountaintop removal. Her memorable characters are a welcome addition to the Appalachian literary landscape. 
--Denise Giardina, author of Fallam’s Secret: A Novel and The Unquiet Earth
One might describe the lives of the characters in this collection as hardscrabble, but that word “hardscrabble” would paint these characters and their stories with too broad and dismissive a brush, would suggest their lives are too far removed from ours. Rhonda Browning White’s artistry and insight takes us so much deeper into the nuances of her character’s lives that we get to know them up close, recognize parts of ourselves within them, and see how much of their lives are our own—-so much so we are moved, sometimes to tears, in the way great stories always move us. 
--Marlin Barton, author of Pasture Art and Children of Dust
The Lightness of Water & Other Stories masterfully renders the lives of West Virginia characters displaced from the fragile land and culture of their deeply rooted ancestors. Fraught by the aftermath of coal mining and lumber companies, Rhonda Browning White’s characters grapple with poisoned land, cancer, joblessness, and infertility. Despite the explosive circumstances, these stories are nuanced and finely crafted, infused with humor and humanity. This is a thrilling and highly satisfying debut collection by a craftswoman already at the height of her powers. 
--Susan Tekulve, author of In the Garden of Stone and Second Shift
The stories in Rhonda Browning White’s excellent first collection are laid out in a perfectly balanced tension between the necessities and responsibilities of love—-and ecological and personal catastrophe. 
--Meredith Sue Willis, author of Their Houses and In the Mountains of America
Rhonda Browning White has given us memorable stories featuring extraordinary characters. The prose is assured and frequently lovely. She writes with a compassion and emotional precision that few short story authors can match. 
--Eliot Parker, author of A Knife’s Edge




“Worth Fighting For” featured as Publisher’s Selection in Prime Number Magazine.  Nominated for a Pushcart Prize!

“Bondservant” in Qu Literary Journal. Read here or Purchase here. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize!

“Things Long Dead” in Hospital Drive

“All Grown Up” in HeartWood Literary Magazine. 

“A Big Empty” in Bellevue Literary Review.  Read here or Purchase here. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize!

“Good Friends” in Steel Toe Review. 


“Confessions of a Grand Prize Winner” in Entropy Magazine. 

“Using Humor in Literary Fiction? Are You Serious?” in South85 Journal.

“The After-Conference Afterglow: Seven Ways to Keep the Creative Fires Burning” at the Inspiration4Writers blog.

“Tax Deductions for Writers” in Inspiration For Writers, Inc. Tips & Techniques Workbook. 

“Writing Lessons” at The Ploughshares  Blog. 

Fiction-focused, story-specific, craft-of-writing essays at Why the Writing Works  blog.

Craft and writing-life essays at the Inspiration4Writers blog.


Marlin Barton’s Children of Dust in Books for Readers.

Julia Franks’s Over the Plain Houses in South85 Journal. 

Mark Brazaitis’s Truth Poker in New Pages.

Jen Beagin’s Pretend I’m Dead in New Pages. 

Kristin KirkPatrick’s My Pulse is an Earthquake  iNew Pages.

Shelley Ettinger’s Vera’s Will  in New Pages. 

Rose Metal Press, Inc.’s My Very End of the Universe: Five Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form in New Pages.

William Black’s Inheritances  in New Pages.

Michelle Brafman’s Washing the Dead  in New Pages.

Ann Pancake’s Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley  in New Pages.

Jon Sealy’s The Whiskey Baron in South85 Journal.


“Delicacies” in Ignatian Literary Magazine, Fall 2022

“Comeuppance” in Appalachia (Un)Broken: Volume 22 – Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel.

“Ice Cream Secrets” in Ice Cream Poems: Reflections on Life with Ice Cream. 

“How You Spot True Love, in Deux” in The Skinny Poetry Journal

“Reclamation” in Appalachia’s Last Stand

“West Virginia, Forward and Back” in Appalachia’s Last Stand


“Chapters” with Carter Taylor Seaton on 

“Rhonda Browning White on Her First Book” on the Converse College Low-Residency MFA Blog.

“TBR: The Lightness of Water & Other Stories” on Work In Progress, the blog of author Leslie Pietrzyk.

“Fierce Friday: Rhonda Browning White” on the blog of poet and artist Gabrielle Brant Freeman


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