Writer/historian Elizabeth Catte has her own interpretation of what’s going on in Appalachia today and it’s far different from the total gloom perspective laid out by J.D. Vance in his book, “Hillbilly Elegy.” iHeartRadio’s Scott Widemeyer interviewed Catte on her 2018 book “What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia,” a region that is bigger than Alaska, running from New York State to Mississippi, and is inhabited by 25 million residents.
In the interview, Catte explained why she was driven to write the book, which was a pushback to Vance’s novel. Catte said instead of writing it as a memoir of his family, Vance wrote it as a memoir of the region, which Catte believes perpetuates the preconceived stereotypes the rest of the country has about Appalachia.
Catte also said that when it comes to talking about politics in Appalachia, no one should assume the region will continue along the same path it has been on in recent years and that people should remain optimistic. She reminded Widmeyer that coal country was one of the last Democratic strongholds in Appalachia up until a few years ago, with some parts of the region even voting for Obama in the 2008 election. The 2018 West Virginia’s teachers’ strike, she said, is a reason to remain hopeful.
Not only does she believe the teachers’ strike will have an impact on elections in the region, but she also sees opposition to pipeline construction and other environmental issues playing an important role. Catte said she feels these movements are especially notable because the people at the forefront are women.
“Working class women are stepping forward to lead the movement that are helping to create the space between the political establishment and people on the ground that don’t think they are being represented,” Catte said.
Widemeyer and Catte also discussed the highly contested Congressional race in southern West Virginia between Democratic state Senator Richard Ojeda and Republican House of Delegates memberCarol Miller. Catte said she is anxious to see if his alliance to the teachers during the strike will work out in his favor. She also mentioned races in Virginia where candidates are anti-pipeline and are forcing Democratic primaries in districts that have never had one. She believes this is increasing civic engagement and sparking a desire to vote.
As Widemeyer said at the end of the interview, Catte’s book “is not your grandmother’s or your grandfather’s Appalachia, and it’s not J.D. Vance’s Appalachia. Listen to the interview below.
This interview was originally published by iHeartRadio.