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Hillbilly Elegy: Project Ideas

The resource guide for the 2017-18 Common Experience book selection, J.D. Vance's "Hillbilly Elegy"

Project Ideas

Creation Station

This is a space where you can explore tools, find resources, and explore possible projects connected to the Common Reading. Feel free to look through the material as a way to find what is useful for your projects. Use them as they currently exist, modify them, re-engineer them, or even consider them as a springboard for bigger and better projects! 

The main purpose of this page is to get you thinking about the many possibilities the Common Reading presents for projects that enhance your experience with the book and the common theme of persistence, resilience, and grit.


This box contains several tools with free to use options. Click on the image to explore.

Spaces for Creating and Learning

Need assistance with a project? A new technology? Finding books, articles, and other research materials? Looking for productive place to work and study spaces? Click on the following images to explore some of these spaces located right here at BGSU.

The Suggestion Box

The Informed Suggestion and Sharing Box

After reading Hillbilly Elegy, you may have many thoughts, ideas, or opinions about several of the themes in the book. Imagine that J.D Vance has dropped off a suggestion box to gather productive feedback. Try some of the following:

  • Write Vance a short letter describing what spoke most to you about the book and why
  • Present a thoughtful question about some difficult area to understand in the book
  • Pose a question that a panel might ask J.D Vance when he comes to visit campus
  • Offer a suggestion about how to better approach or read Hillbilly Elegy
  • Offer a suggestion about a really good Hillbilly Elegy activity

Imagination and Simulation Zone

Simulating, Creating, and Collaborating

Here is a link to the ARC

Take a look at the Appalachian Regional Commission's goals, grants, projects, strategic plans, and legislation and regulations. As one of several activities or projects, you might do the following:

  • Create goals, projects, and plans designed for your community
  • Imagine the ARC hired you as a consultant to develop a plan to achieve one or all of their goals
  • Imagine you have adopted a state or city in Appalachia. Develop a plan for some aspect of that state or community
  • Write a strategic plan for your education, career, future business, or life
  • Form a simulated commission of your own. What might that look like?

Book Review Project

Crafting Reviews

Reviews can be a wonderful way to share information, ideas, and perceptions of material. Many people rely on reviews to determine if they might want to read a book, watch a film, or participate in an event, and often the review helps people learn about how to approach the material. Certainly, this LibGuide contains many examples of reviews. Try to do one of the following:

  • Write or record your own review of Hillbilly Elegy or another book
  • Create a class set of reviews (physical or digital) of a course reading to pass on to other students who will take the course the following semester
  • Write or record a chapter review of Hillbilly Elegy


Make Your Own Elegy

Think about why Vance might have chosen the title, Hillbilly Elegy. What if you were tasked to write an elegy? Take some time to think about a thoughtful title that reflects you in some way. Now, write or record your own elegy with a refection about your choices in writing this elegy.

Need help learning about elegies? Click here


Viewpoints: Taking a Stand

Hillbilly Elegy presents a great number of talking points including culture, geography, poverty, education, family, and many other issues. As a possible project, read both of these articles. Vance discusses bringing money, programs, and treatments to impact the opioid problem in Middletown, Ohio. Alternatively, the second article discusses a councilman from Middletown, Ohio who proposes that the city should stop funding opioid treatment.

J.D. Vance talks Ohio’s opioid epidemic

As Opioid Overdoses Bleed City's Budget, Councilman Proposes Stopping Treatment

Where do you stand on the subject after reading both of these articles? How could you work these into one of the following:

  • Essay 
  • Speech 
  • Program Plan 
  • Panel Discussion
  • Research Project  

What other issues exist in the book? Can you find articles with opposing viewpoints?

What's your recipe?

Breaking Bread

As explored in the food section of the LibGuide, and perhaps in your own discussions, food often offers a valuable way to gain insights into cultural identity. Narrowing this notion of identity even further, many people have old family recipes that are passed down through the generations--each carrying story with them that draws upon familial identity, traditional skills, trusted knowledge (a.k.a the secret recipe) or even a moral.

Try one of the following:

1. Write down a family recipe that means something to you. After listing the ingredients and directions, write a reflection of the story behind this recipe, how you came to learn about it, what it means for you to learn the recipe, and how you hope to continue the tradition.

2. Start a new family recipe. Maybe there is a recipe you like or would like to develop. List the ingredients and instructions, then begin a story of what this recipe means to you. For example, you might make this dish when you feel certain emotions, when certain events occur like a holiday or ceremony, or maybe you create the dish to teach something about cultural, spiritual, or moral beliefs. Feel free to explore even more possibilities, but once you have the reason for the dish, write a reflection on the dish that you would pass down to future generations of your family. What would you want them to know about the dish in relation to your identity, your thoughts and experiences, and your values?