Campus News

UW-Madison panel will tackle hotly debated Go Big Read book

Three UW-Madison experts will sit on a panel to discuss the themes of J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy.”

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

UW-Madison will host a panel of three experts to discuss its 2017-’18 Go Big Read book, J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy.”

The Go Big Read Keynote Event will take place Monday, Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. at Memorial Union’s Shannon Hall. While the author is unavailable due to unexpected scheduling conflicts, professors Kathy Cramer, Katherine Magnuson and Aleksandra Zgierska will be joining as panelists.

In the New York Times bestseller, Vance explores the economic disparities in region and class following World War II, starting with his grandparents’ move from Appalachian Kentucky to Ohio as they aim to escape poverty.

“In the genre of memoir, this book contains the most robust list of complex contemporary themes I’ve seen in my many years of reviewing titles for the program,” Go Big Read Program Lead Sheila Stoeckel said in the release. “It’s been fascinating to hear from many readers who are reflecting on their lived experiences related to themes in the book.”

All of the panelists have specific expertise on an aspect or theme of Vance’s book. In researching her book, “The Politics of Resentment,” Cramer traveled around Wisconsin talking to people about politics, education and other topics and studying the culture of the white working class. She said “Hillbilly Elegy” gives readers “a very personal view of the cultural context in which J.D. Vance grew up.”

“I’m looking forward to talking about how his observations fit with broader cultural and political trends in the United States, and will offer some alternative ways of looking at the white working class,” Cramer said.

Despite being lauded by critics, some readers and experts believe the memoir’s take on poverty is crude and claim it continually blames the Appalachian people for their impoverished state, while disregarding other social and economic factors.

“I think that people can emerge from this book with a very inaccurate portrayal of Appalachian families — that they all struggle with addiction, that the all struggle with commitment, that they all struggle with anger, that they are all inadequate parents,” Amy Hanauer, the president of the organization Policy Matters Ohio, told The Daily Cardinal.

With the event coming up this Monday, the panelists will be able to discuss childhood poverty, politics and opioids. It will be moderated by professor Russ Castronovo, who said “the hope is that people might use the book’s insights — and also its shortcomings — to work toward a more complex and nuanced understanding of education and social class in the U.S.”

The Go Big Read Program was instituted by of the Office of the Chancellor and began in 2009. 

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