With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Historian Makes Case For "What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia" In New Book

Many journalists and pundits refer to J.D. Vance's memoir Hillbilly Elegy for a better understanding of the people who live in the Appalachia region. That doesn't sit well with historian Elizabeth Catte, so she wrote her rebuttal in What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST: Appalachia is this long, diagonal region that stretches from New York state down to Alabama - 400 counties, 25 million people. And the story of Appalachia has been told many times over the decades often by writers and photographers who travel there to show poverty and struggle. More recently during the campaign of Donald Trump, who got a lot of support in Appalachia, the story of the region was told by a writer named J.D. Vance in his book "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir Of A Family And Culture In Crisis."

Vance wrote about his family history of drug addiction and violence. And since then, he's become a kind of spokesperson for the region. None of this sits well with Elizabeth Catte. She's an historian based in Virginia who has written a slim-but-pointed rebuttal to J.D. Vance. It's called "What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia."

ELIZABETH CATTE: There's a projection of his realities onto the lives of everybody in the region, and it's not in my mind accidental. It's right there in the subtitle of the book. It's a memoir of a family, but is also a memoir of a culture in crisis. The universalizing that is done in the book is something that's become a trademark of J.D. Vance's engagement as a pundit and a political up-and-comer. And so my book is certainly a criticism of "Hillbilly Elegy," but I'd also like it to be read as an interruption to a claim of ownership about my life and the people around me. ...

Read entire article at NPR