As a twenty-year non-native resident of Appalachia who is about to go on hiatus outside the region, I’m happy to find a robust riposte to J.D. Vance’s unctuous Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis which unfairly takes to task some of the kindest, most welcoming people I have ever known. Mr. Vance wants you to know he followed the approved neo-lib wealth-acquiring path to its venture capitalist reward, and that the hillbilly people he grew up with can count filth, sloth and lack of couth as reasons they’ll never fill his wing-tips. It’s unkind and makes for a mean book. And personal. May I say, I didn’t much like it. Unfortunately, when it came out I’m afraid it ratified the coastal media’s self-esteem and they ate it up on the left, right and center.
The reply comes in the form of Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to ‘Hillbilly Elegy,’ edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll. I’ve yet to read the book. I just became aware of it today, here. But I’m happy the West Virginia University Press has put it together, if for this quote alone, from Dwight B. Billings, a professor emeritus of sociology and Appalachian studies at the University of Kentucky: “It is one thing to write a personal memoir extolling the wisdom of one’s personal choices but quite something else — something extraordinarily audacious — to presume to write the ‘memoir’ of a culture.”
I’d like to think that in the three years since Hillbilly Elegy appeared we’ve begun to collectively reexamine some of the naked striving for unaccountable wealth that has marked the last thirty years.
Appalachia has its challenges. We’ll talk about that later. We’re about to take to the road again for a while and I’ll have valedictory remarks, but I’ll say for now that our home for the last twenty years is a beautiful place, full of wealth of the natural kind, and if my wife, dogs, cat, horses and I ran into a problem here on the farm, I promise I’d trust my neighbors the retired builder, the loggers or the guy who hustles a living with his Bobcat and gravel truck for their help way before a disdainful venture capitalist.
Here’s a little of our Appalachia for you: