Bobi Conn

A mother and daughter in Appalachia unpack the traumas of the past in a powerful and reflective novel about family, healing, and moving on by the author of A Woman in Time.

Jenny Caudill grows up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in a home that feels more like a trap. Shy, ignored by boys, and wearing her sisters’ hand-me-downs, Jenny spends her time lost in the promises of romantic pop songs and daydreaming in the back seat of her daddy’s junked Bel Air. There’s got to be more to life.

A woman challenges the constraints of life in Prohibition-era Appalachia in this sweeping and richly rewarding novel about endurance, survival, and redemption.

The McKenzie women, empowered with a formidable history rooted in the foothills of Appalachia, have passed down their folk-healing wisdom through generations. Rosalee, the last living headstrong daughter in Granny McKenzie’s line, soaked up everything she could about the secrets of the forest before a series of tragedies left her alone, without the protection of the women who came before her.

The close-knit ties of Rosalee’s childhood are long gone. Now, at her eastern Kentucky farm, she bears a marriage with a volatile bootlegger. She struggles with the demands of motherhood. And her independence is relegated to its “proper place”: under the thumb of men. Her optimism dimming, Rosalee finds solace in the Kentucky woods, a space that holds secret powers of protection from a life Rosalee can no longer control. To the graves of her female ancestors, beside the waters of an enchanting spring, Rosalee returns time and again to consider her future―and discovers a mysterious connection to her past.

As Rosalee wrestles with her isolation, with being a wife in an increasingly dangerous marriage, and with being a woman of her time, she must draw on her strength and resilience to survive―and to protect―on her own terms.

A Woman in Time Reviews

Praise from Silas House, author of Southernmost

“A Woman in Time is an epic debut novel, told in intimate moments that transport the reader to a place so vivid that we feel we are walking through the lush woods, gathering flowers with these memorable characters. Especially Rosalee, a character I came to love and will not soon forget. Bobi Conn delivers on the promise showcased in her moving memoir and has become a wonderful novelist, as well. This is a book that is sure to find an admiring audience, and one that reveals the complexities of rural life and the extraordinary nature of ordinary people.”

Praise from Robert Gipe, author of Pop: An Illustrated Novel

“The grace and lyricism of Conn’s prose stuns and sustains the reader through this lush tale of women’s strength, creativity, and will to love in Depression-era Eastern Kentucky. Conn’s poise and confidence as a storyteller holds the reader in loving embrace through many a well-wrought and gut-wrenching episode, and brings us out the other side more awake to the preciousness of life and what it means to be accountable to one another across a span of generations. Bobi Conn’s A Woman In Time is an inspiration.”

Praise from Stephanie Storey, bestselling author of Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo

“A Woman in Time by Bobi Conn is a rich novel that transports readers into the mountains of Prohibition-era Appalachia and into the lives of an incredible family of female healers. An unflinching look at the struggles and suffering that came with being a woman in early twentieth-century Kentucky, A Woman in Time is a truly unique journey into a time and place that are too often overlooked in American history. Bobi Conn proves herself to be a powerful voice for Appalachia.”

A clear-eyed and compassionate memoir of the Appalachian experience by a woman who embraced its astonishing beauty, narrowly escaped its violence, and struggles to call it home.

Bobi Conn was raised in a remote Kentucky holler in 1980s Appalachia. She remembers her tin-roofed house tucked away in a vast forest paradise; the sparkling creeks, with their frogs and crawdads; the sweet blackberries growing along the road to her granny’s; and her abusive father, an underemployed alcoholic whose untethered rage and violence against Bobi and her mother were frighteningly typical of a community marginalized, desperate, and ignored. Bobi’s rule of survival: always be vigilant but endure it silently.

Slipping away from home, Bobi went to college and got a white-collar job. Mistrusted by her family for her progress and condescended to by peers for her accent and her history, she was followed by the markers of her class. Though she carried her childhood self everywhere, Bobi also finally found her voice.

An elegiac account of survival despite being born poor, female, and cloistered, Bobi’s testament is one of hope for all vulnerable populations, particularly women and girls caught in the cycle of poverty and abuse. On a continual path to worth, autonomy, and reinvention, Conn proves here that “the storyteller is the one with power.”

In the Shadow of the Valley Reviews

“In sobering detail and with open palms, Bobi Conn mines the depths of her desperation to earn love from a sadistically cruel father and an abused mother, from the boys and men who darken her path, from friends who betray her, and from a God who seems to have turned away from her. Conn’s honesty is heroic and heartbreaking as she shares her story of enduring the stigma of poverty and abuse, claiming her self-worth, and discovering the limits of forgiveness. A necessary and timely read.”

—Susan Bernhard, author of Winter Loon

“This important and necessary debut memoir explores the rich beauty and disturbing tragedy of Appalachia, how the people, like the land, have been exploited by corporate greed. Bobi Conn is a masterful storyteller weaving a tale of extreme poverty; an abusive, drug-addicted father; and a devoted grandmother’s love into the wider tapestry of an entire at-risk population’s lives. In the Shadow of the Valley is like the hollers that pockmark the land; the beautiful and haunting words will echo in your heart and mind long after the final page.”

—William Dameron, author of The Lie: A Memoir of Two Marriages, Catfishing & Coming Out

“From the first sentence, I smiled in recognition of a natural storyteller, one ‘born and bound to this land,’ who is a keen observer and a loving inhabitant of the land of which she writes. This book is a wonder—a dark, tragic Appalachian ballad come to full, lush life.”

—Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne, author of Holding On To Nothing

Book Playlist

A playful and emotional playlist to accompany my memoir – from Waylon Jennings’s lo-fi version of “White Lightnin'” to the Grateful Dead and Tom Waits, the music that moves me covers a lot of ground. You can read my description of how each song relates to my story at the Largehearted Boy’s Book Notes feature.

About the Author

Bobi Conn was born in Morehead, Kentucky, and raised in a nearby holler, where she developed a deep connection with the land and her Appalachian roots. She obtained her bachelor’s degree at Berea College, the first school in the American South to integrate racially and to teach men and women in the same classrooms. After struggling as a single mother, she worked multiple part-time jobs at once to support her son and to attend graduate school, where she earned a master’s degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing. In addition to writing, Bobi loves playing pool, cooking, being in the woods, attempting to grow a garden, and spending time with her incredible children.

See what others are saying about Bobi’s debut memoir, In the Shadow of the Valley.