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Chatting Up A Storm - Claudia Cragg


Mar 12, 2018

Claudia Cragg (@KGNUClaudia) speaks here for @KGNU with Elizabeth Catte (@ElizabethCatte), public historian. 

Her work, What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, is a short, compelling read, steeped in history, and serves as a wonderfully intelligent antidote to the untruths of our political moment. It could also be transformative.

Appalachia is more than just a region in the eastern United States. For some Americans, it’s an important element in the story about why we have the president that we do. A case and point: Hillbilly Elegy, the 2016 bestselling memoir set in Appalachia and allegedly soon to become a movie directed by Ron Howard, was proclaimed by the New York Times as one of “6 Books to Help Understand Trump’s Win.”

But for Elizabeth Catte, a public historian and activist from Appalachia, it’s a place that many people just get wrong. The popular image of Appalachia as a home to a backwards, white population that’s trapped in a culture of poverty is a falsehood that people believe to avoid taking responsibility for social problems, she says. “I think it’s a basic kind of psychological desire that there is a place where everything that’s toxic and not progressive can be compartmentalized.”

Catte grew up in East Tennessee, and writes about an Appalachia that we outsiders don’t hear much about in the news. It’s a place rich in diversity, with communities whose members include LGBTQ and people of color, and where the working class is not just made up of white male coal miners. Catte knows the region has problems, but says they are only made worse by false views of Appalachia that have a long history rooted in racism. And when Hillbilly Elegy, a book that Catte argues only perpetuates these dangerous stereotypes, became a national bestseller, she decided to write her own book to correct the record. public historian and activist from Appalachia, it’s a place that many people just get wrong. The popular image of Appalachia as a home to a backwards, white population that’s trapped in a culture of poverty is a falsehood that people believe to avoid taking responsibility for social problems, she says. “I think it’s a basic kind of psychological desire that there is a place where everything that’s toxic and not progressive can be compartmentalized.”