Where Misfits Fit
Counterculture and Influence in the Ozarks
How the hardscrabble borderland frontier of the Ozarks nurtured zones of creativity, community, and cults
Winner of the 2021 Stanford M. Lyman Distinguished Book Award from Mid-South Sociological Association
All regions and places are unique in their own way, but the Ozarks have an enduring place in American culture. Studying the Ozarks offers the ability to explore American life through the lens of one of the last remaining cultural frontiers in American society. Perhaps because the Ozarks were relatively isolated from mainstream American society, or were at least relegated to the margins of it, their identity and culture are liminal and oftentimes counter to mainstream culture. Whatever the case, looking at the Ozarks offers insights into changing ideas about what it means to be an American and, more specifically, a special type of southerner.
In Where Misfits Fit: Counterculture and Influence in the Ozarks, Thomas Michael Kersen explores the people who made a home in the Ozarks and the ways they contributed to American popular culture. Drawing on a wide variety of sources, Kersen argues the area attracts and even nurtures people and groups on the margins of the mainstream. These include UFO enthusiasts, cults, musical troupes, and back-to-the-land groups. Kersen examines how the Ozarks became a haven for creative, innovative, even nutty people to express themselves—a place where community could be reimagined in a variety of ways. It is in these communities that communitas, or a deep social connection, emerges. Each of the nine chapters focuses on a facet of the Ozarks, and Kersen often compares two or more cases to generate new insights and questions. Chapters examine real and imagined identity and highlight how the area has contributed to popular culture through analysis of the Eureka Springs energy vortex, fictional characters like Li’l Abner, cultic activity, environmentally minded communes, and the development of rockabilly music and near-communal rock bands such as Black Oak Arkansas.
"Where Misfits Fit is vintage Tom Kersen. Who else could find a way to combine analyses of UFO enthusiasts, Hoss Cartwright, a backwoods African American cult, and Black Oak Arkansas in the same volume and make sense out of it all? This book is the next best thing to sitting down to dinner with the ultimate expert on people who shouldn't fit but somehow do. "- Brooks Blevins, author of the A History of the Ozarks trilogy
"Thomas Michael Kersen provides a lively and entertaining discussion of multiple facets of Ozark life and culture, focusing on how the idea of the ‘Ozarks’ has been a topic of much debate over the past century. "- Jared M. Phillips, author of Hipbillies: Deep Revolution in the Arkansas Ozarks
"His book is a treasure trove of late twentieth-century society."- Billy D. Higgins, The Journal of the Fort Smith Historical Society
"Kersen’s genuine passion for the Ozarks, as well as his youthful experiences in the back-to-the-land movement, animate what is clearly a very personal work, while his sociological training and inclinations guide a methodology embracing folklore, legends, oral histories, and cultural artifacts."- Joel Rhodes, Missiouri Historical Review