What is Appalachia, Really?

If you want to understand rural America, critics say, look beyond Hillbilly Elegy.

1 minute read

December 16, 2017, 5:00 AM PST

By Elana Eden


Gatlinburg, Tennessee. | Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

Since its publication in June 2016, J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy has gained media acclaim for its portrayal of life in a region considered opaque by those outside of it. But the book has also been roundly criticized for feeding into the caricature and demonization of rural communities facing extreme poverty, substandard infrastructure, and economic upheaval.

Rather than indulge what he calls "a blame-the-victim and culture-of-poverty narrative," Eric Kerl of Chitucky has put together a collection of alternative resources for those seeking to understand Appalachian history, culture, and politics, highlighting the underlying issues of "poverty, racism, underdevelopment, and struggle" that have structured the region.

The syllabus includes some recent and forthcoming publications, including What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia (February 2018) by Elizabeth Catte—who criticized Elegy  on her blog and for Boston Review—and Steven Stoll's Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia (November 2017), reviewed here by Pro Publica.

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