Ap­palachian Reck­on­ing: A Re­gion Re­sponds to Hill­billy El­egy

An­thony Harkins (Ed­i­tor) Mered­ith Mc­car­roll (Ed­i­tor)

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Nonfiction - LETI­TIA MONT­GOMERY-RODGERS

West Vir­ginia Univer­sity Press (MARCH) Soft­cover $28.99 (432pp), 978-1-946684-79-0

In 2016, J. D. Vance’s Hill­billy El­egy de­fined Ap­palachia for many, but for Ap­palachi­ans, the book has been much more trou­bling and com­plex. Ap­palachian Reck­on­ing, edited by An­thony Harkins and Mered­ith Mc­car­roll, crit­i­cally sit­u­ates Vance’s book and the re­cep­tion thereof while re­dress­ing the cur­rent and his­tor­i­cal com­plex­ity of Ap­palachian ex­pe­ri­ence(s), which have al­ways been plu­ral rather than mono­lithic.

The con­trib­u­tors share Ap­palachian her­itage, and their per­spec­tives demon­strate the scope of Ap­palachian ex­pe­ri­ences and iden­tity, cov­er­ing a range of po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sions, so­cioe­co­nomic back­grounds, racial iden­ti­ties, and sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions, among oth­ers. Their ap­proaches are also mul­ti­fac­eted. Di­vided into di­rect com­men­tary (mostly schol­arly) and per­sonal, artis­tic, and au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal re­flec­tions on Vance’s work, each con­tri­bu­tion earnestly wres­tles with Hill­billy El­egy‘s jug­ger­naut, whether it’s from a per­spec­tive of dis­sent, ap­pre­ci­a­tion, or rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

Stun­ning in its in­tel­lec­tual and cre­ative riches, Ap­palachian Reck­on­ing ex­cels in hold­ing the per­sonal in ten­sion with the po­lit­i­cal, the past with the present. In es­say af­ter es­say, cen­turies-old pop­u­lar stereo­types are un­packed, while po­etry and pho­to­graphs add al­ter­nate cul­tural vi­sions.

Wil­liam H. Turner hon­ors the rich his­tory of black Ap­palachian com­mu­ni­ties. Allen John­son uses re­search on ad­verse child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences as a rubric for un­der­stand­ing Vance’s per­spec­tive.

Ap­palachian Reck­on­ing “at­tempts to speak for no one and to give voice to many,” even as it chal­lenges the no­tion that any sin­gle book, in­clud­ing it­self, could sum­ma­rize Ap­palachia and what it means to be Ap­palachian. Rather than an el­egy re­count­ing what’s been left for dead, th­ese voices’ melo­di­ous ca­coph­ony echo the de­mands and com­plex­ity of a liv­ing cul­ture.

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