Saturday, July 28, 2018
What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte
There are 25 million people in Appalachia, a region stretching for about 700,000 square miles of the eastern United States. The region begins in Alabama, ends in New York, and includes portions of thirteen states, yet we persist in viewing all the residents of "Appalachia" as poor white hillbillies who vote against their own interests. Catte points out that this stereotype suits the interests of politicians and businessmen, and has been used successfully to remove people from their homes, defeat unions, and destroy the environment.
In relating the story of the myth of the "Scot-Irish" working people, the coal miners, Catte introduces some of the people who have fought for workers' rights. She also tells of photographers and writers who were sent to the area to find people who would fit the stereotypical expectations. She's angry enough at Vance's portrayal of the area and its people that she says, in contrast, she'll provide readers with her own version.
What you Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia is a small book with an extensive list of suggested resources. Despite its size, it's not an easy book to read because there is so much to absorb. I did not read Hillbilly Elegy. As a memoir, it certainly represents Vance's truth about his own life. But, does he represent an entire region of the country? Years ago, my father said, "Paper will sit still for anything to be written on it." It's still an excellent reminder to evaluate what you're reading, to put it in context, and look at the bigger picture. It's just my opinion, but I think Elizabeth Catte looks at the bigger picture.
Elizabeth Catte's website is https://elizabethcatte.com/
What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte. Belt Publishing, 2018. ISBN 9780998904146 (hardcover), 146p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I bought a copy of the book.