Author of “What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia” to speak at Wild Goose Creative
You read “Hillbilly Elegy: Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” right? Everyone did, after the 2016 election, trying to figure out what happened. So you read it, and decided that here was a reasoned, definitive take on Appalachia from someone who seemed to have a legit, first-hand understanding of the region.
Except it's wrong. J.D. Vance was wrong. And you are, too. And so, the title of author and historian Elizabeth Catte's book, “What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia,” is directed at you. OK, so maybe Catte's beef with you isn't so much that you're wrong as that you're letting someone else be wrong for you, without investigating the issue more fully.
“People wanted a stable narrative … neat, tidy and satisfying,” Catte said in a phone interview. “People read the book and said, ‘I get it now.' They never ask what they should read next, which is alarming to me as a historian.”
Catte, a native of East Tennessee (her family home for eight generations) and a current resident of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, is also concerned that Vance's co-opting of a particular narrative about Appalachia is the latest in a long pattern
“[My book] is a work that I want to attach to talking about how power works in Appalachia … not only what J.D. Vance gets wrong, but why and how we came to have a system of power that allows one person to be a spokesperson for an entire region,” Catte said. “People think we don't deserve more than one voice or spokesperson at a time. ... This was meant to be simply an interruption to a conversation that has been taking place above our heads for a very long time.”
None of this should give you the impression that Catte's issues aren't also with Vance himself, and with “Hillbilly Elegy.”
“It's a version of Appalachia with no history, with no cohesiveness, no coherent story,” Catte said. “It's a portrait of the region through the eyes of one particular person, which is especially problematic when you're talking about a lot of power capital surrounding this one point of view.”
The Flyover Library at Wild Goose Creative will present “An Afternoon with Elizabeth Catte” on Sunday, April 8, from 3-5 p.m. It's the first program sponsored by the library, which was created as a collection of books by Midwestern authors or about the Midwest.
“There are a lot of people native to Appalachia who come to live in Columbus,” said Amanda Page, who coordinates the library for Wild Goose. “This is a good first for our library programming. I hope people come with a lot of questions — personal and political.”