Tony Harkins

Appalachian Reckoning:

A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy

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, this book makes clear Appalachia’s intellectual vitality, spiritual richness, and progressive possibilities.

Tony Harkins
Anthony Harkins is Professor of History at Western Kentucky University. He is the author of Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon (Oxford University Press, 2004), “Colonels, Hillbillies and Fightin’: Twentieth-century Kentucky in the National Imagination,” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, (v. 113, Spring/Summer 2015), and co-editor, with Douglas Reichert Powell and Katherine Ledford, of the “Media” section of the Encyclopedia of Appalachia (University of Tennessee Press, 2006).

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