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Reading Group: Hillbilly Elegy

Fall 2017

Fall 2017 Schedule

Book Discussion
Oct. 9 | 7–9 p.m.
University Library Room 309

Book Discussion
Oct. 16 | 7–9 p.m.
University Library Room 309

Book Discussion
Oct. 23 | 7–9 p.m.
University Library Room 309

Parking on TTU Campus

Speaker Bios

Oct. 9
Dr. Malinda Colwell

Malinda Colwell earned her Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies from Auburn University, with a specialization in child development. She is currently an Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director in Human Development & Family Studies at TTU. Her research includes interdisciplinary approaches to young children’s socio-emotional development and the effects of contextual factors on children’s development, such as physical environments, children’s media, and food insecurity. She has examined the effects of food insecurity and food insecurity interventions both locally and in Malawi, Africa. Her overall research goal is to address the needs of young children and their families.

Dr. George Comiskey
George Comiskey, Psy.D., LCDC, ICPS, is Associate Director of the Center for Collegiate Recovery Communities–External Relations and faculty in Community, Family, & Addiction Sciences. He began teaching in inner-city Kansas City, MO in 1983. He has worked in the prevention and addiction field since 1990. Dr. Comiskey is an Internationally Certified Prevention Specialist and a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor. He has the honor of having worked at the Center at Texas Tech University since 2002, where he works with students in recovery, develops programs and provides outreach to the community.

Oct. 16
Dr. Seth McKee

Dr. Randy McBee

Dr. Randy McBee is Professor of History and an Associate Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Missouri in 1996 where he wrote a thesis entitled Dance Hall Days (later published by NYU Press, 2000). His interests are in Labor and Social History of the recent U.S., but he focuses his research primarily on the history of working class people throughout the entire 20th century. His first book, Dance Hall Days, explored the relationship between commercialized leisure to the influx of working-class immigrants from Europe to America’s largest cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His new book, Born To Be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist (UNC Press, 2015) explores the history of motorcyclists since the end of WWII. Not surprisingly, Dr. McBee is currently researching the history of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company with a particular focus on technology and globalization and labor and politics. Dr. McBee teaches a wide range of courses in U.S. urban and social history and recent U.S. history.

Sponsor

This Reading Group is sponsored in part by the Humanities Center at Texas Tech, Dorothy Chansky, Director.

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Join our series of book discussions on Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy reading group

Appalachia

The Appalachian Region or Appalachia cannot be understood or studied without first understanding the mountains that make up this rugged and beautiful region of the eastern United States, for the rugged nature of the mountains have impacted the people who have lived there since before recorded history. Appalachia extends from southern New York to northern Alabama. Sometimes northern Georgia and Mississippi are included as well. Appalachia includes much of Pennsylvania, all of West Virginia, much of eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, western Virginia, North and South Carolina, northern Mississippi, and Georgia. Fifty-four of the 420 counties that make up the Appalachian Economic Zone are in eastern Kentucky. Jackson, in Breathitt County, where J.D. Vance spent a lot of his childhood, is in this area. Appalachia covers an area of roughly 737,000 sq. miles and the last census reported 25 million people lived there.

The Appalachian Mountains make up a region nearly 1,500 miles long and from 100 to 300 miles wide. The rugged terrain of alternating ridges and valleys was a formidable barrier to early settlers and slowed settlement into the area. The rugged terrain and slow settlement made a region that even today is thinly populated, where the people live in small isolated communities. The rugged terrain makes the people who live there self-reliant, distrustful of strangers, and loyal to their family, their region and their country. The love many mountaineers feel for their home region makes them reluctant to leave home to find better opportunities elsewhere.

As rugged and beautiful as the Appalachians are, they also hold an abundance of natural resources that you would think would create an abundance of wealth for its inhabitants. The area is rich in timber, natural gas, and coal, as well as other natural resources. The methods used to extract these resources made others outside the region rich and left the Appalachians an environmental disaster area. The bottom line is, the natural resources, or those easily obtained, are gone, along with the wealth it generated. Much of the area has been destroyed through the strip mining of coal, and the clear cutting of timber, which left those who remain without a job, without natural resources, seemingly without hope, and their once beautiful mountains destroyed.

Bibliography

Hillbilly Elegy Bibliography for Additional Reading

  1. Billings, Dwight B., and Kathleen M. Blee. The Road to Poverty: the Making of Wealth and Hardship in Appalachia. Cambridge University Press, 2000. Library call number HC107.A127 B55 2000.
  2. Caudill, Harry M. Night Comes to the Cumberlands: a Biography of a Depressed Area. First ed., Little, Brown, 1963. Library call number HC107.K4 C3.
  3. Dilger, Robert Jay. Welfare Reform in West Virginia. First ed., West Virginia University Press, 2004. Library call number HV98.W4 W46 2004.
  4. Eller, Ronald D. Uneven Ground: Appalachia since 1945. University Press of Kentucky, 2008. Library call number HN79.A127 E55 2008.
  5. Evening Star Productions, et al. The Appalachians: Fight for Land and Work. Films Media Group, 2006.
  6. Films for the Humanities & Sciences, and Films Media Group. Born with a Wooden Spoon: Welcome to Poverty U.S.A. Films Media Group, 2007.
  7. Isenberg, Nancy. White Trash: The 400-year Untold History of Class in America. Viking, 2016. Library call number HN90.S6 I84 2016.
  8. Kephart, Horace. Our Southern Highlanders; a Narrative of Adventure in the Southern Appalachians and a Study of the Life among the Mountaineers. New and enlarged ed., New York, The Macmillan Company, 1949. Library call number F210 .K3 1922.
  9. Lewis, Ronald L., et al. Culture, Class, and Politics in Modern Appalachia: Essays in Honor of Ronald L. Lewis. First ed., West Virginia University Press, 2009. Library call number HD9547.A127 C85 2009.

Other articles about Hillbilly Elegy

  1. Eppard, Lawrence. “Hillbilly Elegy.” Sociation Today, vol. 14, no. 2, 2016, p. 1.
  2. Hutton, T. R. C. "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance (review)." Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, vol. 115 no. 3, 2017, pp. 415-417. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/khs.2017.0055
  3. Mead, Walter. “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.” Foreign Affairs, vol. 95, no. 6, 2016, pp. 179–180.

Video Links

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Hillbilly Elegy book cover

J.D. Vance has written a compelling memoir of his early life in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky and Middletown, Ohio. Vance describes an upbringing filled with poverty, low-paying jobs, family violence, verbal abuse, but a life also centered on loyalty to family and patriotism. Alcoholism and drug abuse were never far away in his early life. Vance was able to break free from these problems, with the help of his grandmother, and go to college and then to law school.

People from both the left and the right of the political spectrum have praised and condemned the book and its author. Hillbilly Elegy stayed on the New York Times Best Sellers list for over ten weeks and has been reviewed widely.

Many have credited the book with providing an understanding into the lives of those struggling with economic decline. Others have criticized it for what they see as a simplistic view of poverty and personal responsibility, with too little discussion of the larger economic and social forces that led to the personal problems described in the book. The book raises questions about “hillbilly culture,” government anti-poverty programs, personal responsibility, and the declining work ethic among white working class Southern Americans. Needless to say, Hillbilly Elegy will generate a great deal of thought and a lot of discussion for those who attend the reading group.

J.D. Vance

J.D. Vance grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served in Iraq. A graduate of the Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he has contributed to the National Review and is a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm. Vance lives in San Francisco with his wife and two dogs.

“...I didn't write this book because I've accomplished something extraordinary. I wrote this book because I’ve achieved something quite ordinary, which doesn’t happen to most kids who grew up like me.” -J.D. Vance (Hillbilly Elegy, p. 1)