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Hillbilly Elegy: Questions for Discussion

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

Questions for Discussion

This section of the LibGuide contains questions designed to start discussions and act as a springboard for even better questions and more critical conversations. These may be used as is or modified in any way to fit specific needs. The center column contains questions, many of which contain orange links that lead back to sections within the LibGuide. The left column is all about brainstorming ideas and presenting questions that prompt the creation of even better questions. The right column presents questions that foster connections and call for brainstorming through experiential processes, whether for an informal conversation or a planning a formal presentation.

These are just some of the many ways this section might be used. Feel free to explore, expand, and discover more possibilities within this page! 

Brainstorming Session

As you watch the talk above, think about the discussion on how others view Appalachia (the "leave" strategy) and how the speaker's students view their own environment. Try to identify issues Vance discusses in the book that might touch on these same issues. What issues do you agree or disagree with in this video? Now, Imagine you have been asked to come speak to this class. How would you address some of their issues? What questions do you think they might ask you? What questions would you have for them?



The video above might give some insight into the economic hardship found in the Appalachia region through the perspective of business and community leaders. Imagine that you are in the audience at this conference. What key points stand out to you? What questions would you have for specific speakers? Can you brainstorm ways to link what you have learned from the video, the book, and your coursework to approach some of these problems?

Questions for Discussion

Questions for Discussion

Describe a moment in Hillbilly Elegy that demonstrated persistence, resilience, and/or grit.  How might these terms apply to you own identity, both personally and academically?

J.D Vance makes it clear in the introduction that Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir. How do you think this affects the text? (Listen here)

Vance spent time in both Middletown, Ohio and Jackson, Kentucky. In what ways might these two regions of Appalachia be similar and different? Do you agree or disagree with Vance’s description of these locations?

The LibGuide includes a number of reviews on Hillbilly Elegy. Having read the book yourself, which one of these stood out the most to you and why?

Vance has given many interviews since the release of Hillbilly Elegy.  What did you find most interesting about what Vance had to say?

After reading the book and taking a look at some of the interviews on the LibGuide, what questions would you like to ask Vance if given the opportunity?

Hillbilly Elegy has been both praised and criticized as a text draws attention to poor Whites living in Appalachia. What do you make of Appalachia’s demographics?

Think about how the book approaches Hillbilly culture and take a moment to view Vance’s viewpoint.  Explain how you either agree or disagree with his definition of a hillbilly.

Take a look at some of the popular stereotypes of a hillbilly.  What elements of Appalachian culture are embellished or misleading?

View a few of Kamau Bell’s clips on the LibGuide. How do these either reinforce or change your viewpoint on Appalachians? Do you agree or disagree with Bell’s interviewees? How might these compare or contrast with the book?

Art and Music serve as important cultural elements in Appalachian culture. What are some of the different types of Appalachian music and how do they speak to the culture?

What are some of the major themes found in Appalachian music?  How might these give some insight into Appalachian history and culture?

Vance clearly has a close connection to his Mamaw. How would you describe her in your own words? Do you have a Mamaw-like figure in your family?

What is an elegy? Why do you think Vance chose to use that term in the title of the book?

What would you say are some of the causes of poverty in Appalachia? Can you think of other places that might have the same sort of issues?

Questions that connect

This short video demonstrates the connections between music, culture, and personal experience. Vance makes connections between Musgraves' lyrics and the way of life he lays out in Hillbilly Elegy. Between Musgraves' and Vance's personal stories, they develop a common thread of understanding with one another. Can you think of other songs, movies, writings, or other mediums that complement Vance's book? Alternatively, you might choose a classmate, friend, teacher, or anyone else of interest to have a conversation with in the way Musgraves and Vance do. What common threads arose out of this conversation and what did you learn?


Vance touches on the subject of "social economy, upward mobility, brain drain, and knowledge economy." What do these terms mean to you and how would you describe these in terms of business, community, and self? Which of these terms are most important to you and why? How would you map these terms to your own life? If you had to give your own presentation on one of these issues, what key points and examples would you use to better inform your audience?