New Book Collection Broadens Discussion On Appalachia

New Book Collection Broadens Discussion On Appalachia

7:42am May 16, 2019
Image courtesy West Virginia University Press

The second annual Greensboro Bound Literary Festival opens Thursday, and features over 65 free events through the weekend.

This year’s festival includes a series of discussions on issues relating directly to the Appalachian region.

One such panel will focus on a new book collection, Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds To Hillbilly Elegy. The book is framed as a counterpoint to the best-selling book Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, which has defined Appalachia for much of the nation.

Appalachian Reckoning is co-edited by Bowdoin College professor Meredith McCarroll, who will be part of a panel discussing the book this Saturday.

WFDD’s Neal Charnoff recently spoke with McCarroll about the collection. 

Interview highlights: 

On the need for a collective response to Hillbilly Elegy:

I think that a lot of people within the region read the book and thought, "Okay, I know some people who have had those experiences, and you have the right to tell that story, but that has nothing to do with my story. " There was a real resistance to the way that [Vance] is claiming to speak on behalf of Appalachia, which is a 13-state region that has enormous diversity.

So part of what we wanted to do was to give a more complex view and set of perspectives of Appalachia to counter and complicate the simplistic perspective that Vance provides.

On approaching the topic of race in Appalachian Reckoning:

One way that the book approaches the topic of race is to acknowledge the ways that race is not dealt with in Hillbilly Elegy. So one article that is included in our book that does an excellent job of this is a piece by Lisa Pruitt called "What Hillbilly Elegy Reveals about Race In Twenty-First-Century America." And part of what she's talking about in her piece is what is said in Hillbilly Elegy about race, but also what is unsaid. 

For most people, unless you're being critical and really thinking hard about it, the term "Appalachia" evokes images of white people, and that is inaccurate historically, and so we simply just wanted to make sure that we were providing a more accurate representation of the diverse place that Appalachia is.

 On current controversies in the South over Confederate statues and terms such as "Dixie": 

I don't know that it acknowledges those specific controversies directly, but I think that this book is a part of the same conversation, and that it acknowledges the dangers of overreliance on a stereotype like "hillbilly."

It acknowledges the dangers of looking in a one-sided way about who is represented by a term like "hillbilly" or by a term like "Dixie" or by Confederate statues. So I think the idea of keeping conversations alive and allowing places to continue to evolve, that's at the heart of Appalachian Reckoning, and probably is at the heart of some of the debates...that are happening in places like Winston-Salem, and throughout North Carolina and the South more broadly.

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