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Edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll

Now available!
PB 978-1-946684-79-0
CL 978-1-946684-78-3
eBook 978-1-946684-80-6


2020 American Book Award winner, Walter & Lillian Lowenfels Criticism Award
Weatherford Award winner, nonfiction

With hundreds of thousands of copies sold, a Ron Howard movie 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 to allow 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.



Part I. Considering Hillbilly Elegy


Hillbilly Elitism
T. R. C. Hutton;

Social Capital
Jeff Mannp

Once Upon a Time in “Trumpalachia”: Hillbilly Elegy, Personal Choice, and the Blame Game
Dwight B. Billings

Stereotypes on the Syllabus: Exploring Hillbilly Elegy’s Use as an Instructional Text at Colleges and Universities
Elizabeth Catte

Benham, Kentucky, Coalminer / Wise County, Virginia, Landscape
Theresa Burriss

Panning for Gold: A Reflection of Life from Appalachia
Ricardo Nazario y Colón

Will the Real Hillbilly Please Stand Up? Urban Appalachian Migration and Culture Seen through the Lens of Hillbilly Elegy
Roger Guy

What Hillbilly Elegy Reveals about Race in Twenty-First-Century America
Lisa R. Pruitt

Prisons Are Not Innovation
Lou Murrey

Down and Out in Middletown and Jackson: Drugs, Dependency, and Decline in J. D. Vance’s Capitalist Realism
Travis Linnemann and Corina Medley


Keep Your “Elegy”: The Appalachia I Know Is Very Much Alive
Ivy Brashear

HE Said/SHE Said
Crystal Good

The Hillbilly Miracle and the Fall
Michael E. Maloney

Dana Wildsmith

In Defense of J. D. Vance
Kelli Hansel Haywood

It’s Crazy Around Here, I Don’t Know What to Do about It, and I’m Just a Kid
Allen Johnson

“Falling in Love,” Balsam Bald, the Blue Ridge Parkway, 1982
Danielle Dulken

Black Hillbillies Have No Time for Elegies
William H. Turner

Part II. Beyond Hillbilly Elegy

Nothing Familiar
Jesse Graves

Jesse Graves

Tether and Plow
Jesse Graves

On and On: Appalachian Accent and Academic Power
Meredith McCarroll

Olivia’s Ninth Birthday Party
Rebecca Kiger

Kentucky, Coming and Going
Kirstin L. Squint

Resistance, or Our Most Worthy Habits
Richard Hague

Notes on a Mountain Man
Jeremy B. Jones

These Stories Sustain Me: The Wyrd-ness of My Appalachia
Edward Karshner

Watch Children
Luke Travis

The Mower—1933
Robert Morgan

Consolidate and Salvage
Chelsea Jack

How Appalachian I Am
Robert Gipe

Aunt Rita along the King Coal Highway, Mingo County, West Virginia
Roger May

Keith S. Wilson

Loving to Fool with Things
Rachel Wise

Antebellum Cookbook
Kelly Norman Ellis

How to Make Cornbread, or Thoughts on Being an Appalachian from Pennsylvania Who Calls Virginia Home but Now Lives in Georgia
Jim Minick

Tonglen for My Mother
Linda Parsons

Olivia at the Intersection
Meg Wilson

Appalachian Apophenia, or The Psychogeography of Home
Jodie Childers

Canary Dirge
Dale Marie Prenatt

Poet, Priest, and “Poor White Trash”
Elizabeth Hadaway

List of Contributors
Sources and Permissions


Anthony Harkins is a professor of history at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he teaches courses in popular culture and twentieth-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.


“The most sustained pushback to Vance’s book . . . thus far. It’s a volley of intellectual buckshot from high up alongside the hollow.”
New York Times

“In this illuminating and wide-ranging collection, the authors do more than just debunk the simplistic portrayal of white poverty found in Hillbilly Elegy. They profoundly engage with the class, racial, and political reasons behind a Silicon Valley millionaire’s sudden triumph as the most popular spokesman for what one contributor cleverly calls ‘Trumpalachia.’ This book is a powerful corrective to the imperfect stories told of the white working class, rural life, mountain folk, and the elusive American Dream.”
Nancy Isenberg, author of White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America

“So often the song of this place has been reduced to a single off-key voice out of tune and out of touch.Appalachian Reckoningis the sound of the choir, pitch perfect in its capturing of these mountains and theirpeople. This book is not only beautiful, but needed.”
David Joy, author of The Line That Held Us

“A welcome and valuable resource for anyone studying or writing about this much-maligned region.”
Kirkus (starred review)

“Stunning in its intellectual and creative riches.”
Foreword Reviews (starred review)

"While Vance offers one bleak 'window' into the extensive multistate region, this valuable collection shows resilience, hope, and belonging are in Appalachia, too.”
Publishers Weekly

"A book of over 40 essays and poems that bring the real Appalachia to life."
The Bitter Southerner

“A vibrant collection of essays . . . many by women, people of colour and queer people, largely written out of Hillbilly Elegy.”
Times Literary Supplement

“This edited volume continues the rich Appalachian studies tradition of pushing back against one-sided caricatures of Appalachian people. The essays, poems, and photo-essays in this book demonstrate the diversity of Appalachian perspectives on the serious problems facing our nation as well as the role that myths about Appalachia continue to play in US policy debates. This is a must-read for everyone who read (or refused to read) J. D. Vance’s deeply flawed, best-selling memoir, Hillbilly Elegy.
Shaunna Scott, University of Kentucky


Read Robert Gipe's "How Appalachian I Am"on Humanities Tennessee's Chapter 16.

© Theresa Burriss

© Luke Travis

© Rebecca Kiger

© Chelsea Jack

© Meg Wilson