With hundreds of thousands of copies sold, a Ron Howard movie financed by Netflix in the works and the rise of its author as a media personality, J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” has defined Appalachia for much of the nation.
What about “Hillbilly Elegy” accounts for this explosion of interest during this period of political turmoil? Why have its ideas raised so much controversy? And how can debates about the book catalyze new, more inclusive political agendas for the region’s future?
“Appalachian Reckoning” is a retort — at turns rigorous, critical, angry and hopeful — to the long shadow “Hillbilly Elegy” has cast over the region and its imagining. But it also moves beyond “Hillbilly Elegy,” allowing Appalachians from varied backgrounds to tell their own diverse and complex stories through an imaginative blend of scholarship, prose, poetry and photography.
The essays and creative work collected in “Appalachian Reckoning” provide a deeply personal portrait of a place that is at once culturally rich and economically distressed, unique and typically American. Complicating simplistic visions that associate the region almost exclusively with death and decay, “Appalachian Reckoning” makes clear Appalachia’s intellectual vitality, spiritual richness and progressive possibilities.
With over 40 contributors — including West Virginians Crystal Good, Roger May and Rebecca Kiger — “Appalachian Reckoning” has received advance praise from esteemed writers and literary magazines. Nancy Isenberg, author of “White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America,” calls it “a powerful corrective to the imperfect stories told of the white working class, rural life, mountain folk, and the elusive American Dream.”
David Joy, author of “The Line That Held Us,” said, “It is the sound of the choir, pitch perfect in its capturing of these mountains and their people. This book is not only beautiful, but needed.”
A starred Kirkus review considers it “a welcome and valuable resource for anyone studying or writing about this much maligned region.” A starred review by Foreword Reviews describes it as “stunning in its intellectual and creative riches.”
Publishers Weekly said, “This valuable collection shows resilience, hope, and belonging are in Appalachia, too.”
About the editors
Anthony Harkins is a professor of history at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he teaches courses in popular culture and 20th-century United States history and American studies. He is the author of “Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon.”
Meredith McCarroll is the director of writing and rhetoric at Bowdoin College, where she teaches courses in writing, American literature and film. She is the author of “Unwhite: Appalachia, Race, and Film.”
- Feb. 25: West Virginia University, College of Law, 7 p.m., Morgantown
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