Get up, stand up: a quick update from the long-haul

I spent the inauguration eve alone in a hotel during a business trip listening to Florence Reece. Many people understandably spent last weekend thinking about their children and the world they will inherit, but my mind was on women like Florence. History remembers Florence Reece as the spirit of the 1931 Harlan miners’ strike whose folk song “Which Side Are You On?” transcended as a modern civil rights anthem. To me, Florence is a woman from Sharps Chapel, Tennessee – born thirty years before my grandmother into the same community. I held Florence close not only because of her strength, but because she went home. She died in Knoxville at the age of eighty-six at the hospital where my grandmother worked, their paths only ever crossing in my imagination.

Saturday we learned that thousands of individuals across Appalachia participated in national Women’s March activities: Pikeville, Roanoke, Jonesborough, Knoxville, Charleston, Morganton, Lexington, Asheville, Chattanooga – we saw you. We also saw our friends in the Rust Belt and across the Plains take to their communities and in the process challenged divisive narratives about who or what is “Trump Country.” Thank you to all and especially to those who marched in Knoxville. I’m sure Dolly approved.

Speaking of challenging narratives, I’m happy to announce that I’m partnering with Belt Publishing to write a new book about America’s recent fascination with the people and problems of Appalachia. Yes, this is where I come for Hillbilly Elegy. This partnership is a good reminder that regional publishers are just as frustrated with local myth-making as writers and related creatives. One form of resistance is elevating voices and perspectives from our regions as opposed to about our regions, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of just that.

This means that I might write a little less here for the next few months, but feel free to reach out to me at elizabeth.catte [at] gmail.com if you’d like to connect. Of all the many things that the election means, for my family it’s confirmation that we can do our best work from within the region and we can’t wait to get back home. If you have a project or cause you’d like to discuss that might benefit from the help of a couple of historians and policy wonks, do get in touch.

For now, take good care.

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4 thoughts on “Get up, stand up: a quick update from the long-haul

  1. Glad to hear you are writing a response to Hillbilly Elegy. I live just north of Vance’s hometown (my home county, Preble, is mentioned in passing a few times in the book). Although I think the book offers a peak inside the mindset of some ‘hillbillies’ it most certainly does not speak for all. Its heavy-handed implication of ‘pull yourself up and out of this,’ overlooks all the systems in place — including the lack of livable wage jobs — that keeps many ‘hillbillies’ trapped. Even Vance’s own story tells how many escape poverty — regardless of the community they grew up in — they leave. For someone like myself, committed to staying within my community, I’m looking for writers, thinkers and policy makers that bypass the telling (or re-telling) of myths and address our problems head on. I look forward to reading your book.

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    1. You know, when Vance officially announced that he planned to create a non-profit in Ohio, he told reporters his first order of business would be to spend time in the region to learn about how folks ‘on the ground’ were combating the issues he raises in his book. This sort of blew my mind – you’re going to get involved in the region and educate yourself about its advocates AFTER you write a bestseller about the moral failures of its people? Not only is that a little odd and self-serving, it fits squarely in the pattern of folks attempting mission-based work in the region without understanding the history behind its economic and social issues. As a historian first and foremost, that’s exactly what I hope to do. I’m glad you’re committed to staying – we need people like you.

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