On Thursday, December 3, 2020, at 7 PM, the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition together with Downbound Books and the West Virginia University Press will be hosting an online event called “Don’t Cry for Us, J.D. Vance: A Virtual Reading by Ohio Appalachian Authors.” This event was planned to coincide with the release of the film version of Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy, in order to expand our community’s knowledge of Appalachia’s many stories and authors.
There has been no shortage of controversy and no small amount of outrage that has attended this book. In order to get a sense of how scholars, writers, artists, and others are responding to Vance’s book and the release of the film, this event will provide a forum for some Ohio Appalachian voices, both urban and rural, to read from and discuss their work as it relates to the strengths and challenges of Appalachian communities. Readers are Omope Carter Daboiku, Kari Gunter-Seymour, Richard Hague, Pauletta Hansel, Michael Henson, Michael Maloney, Dale Marie Prenatt, Bonnie Proudfoot, and Sherry Cook Stanforth. More information about the readers and links to their books can be found here.
Downbound Books, located in Cincinnati’s Northside neighborhood, is a small independent bookstore—something of a rarity these days. Greg Kornbluh opened the bookstore in October of 2019. His motivation was fairly simple: “I just love independent bookstores.” About the store, he continued, “I wasn’t interested in being another place to sell the latest bestseller. I wanted to open a bookstore where you could buy the book you weren’t necessarily looking for.” Ultimately, he wanted his bookstore to be a place for browsing and discovery. I had a chance to talk to Greg about the upcoming event and the bookstore itself.
Greg Kornbluh is originally from Cincinnati. He grew up in Mt. Auburn. But it was out east that he learned the book trade. After completing his graduate work in American Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, he spent several years working in publishing. I asked him about that time: “It was at Harvard University Press that I was introduced to the world of academic publishing. I spent some years working in that field before returning to Cincinnati.” It was upon his return that he decided to open a small bookstore. Greg explained that things have been a little rough during the pandemic, but they are keeping things going with online sales.
Obviously, much of our conversation was focused on the online event. I asked Greg to elaborate on how “Don’t Cry for Us, J.D. Vance” came about. Greg explained, “For some time I’ve wanted to do some community curated events, something that would focus on a person who knew a lot about a subject and would be willing to give a reading in the bookstore.” As it happens, Greg Kornbluh has a long history with UACC core member Pauletta Hansel. She was his Montessori pre-school teacher. Pauletta said that when Greg talked to her about being a community curator at Downbound Books, “I eagerly agreed, and then upped the ante on him.” Pauletta suggested doing an Appalachian focus and to time this for the release of the film version of Hillbilly Elegy. With this, the process was begun. Pauletta said, “I brought the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition into the mix, and Greg brought colleagues at West Virginia University Press, publisher of Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy, on as a co-sponsor as well.”
Greg Kornbluh’s background in American Studies naturally lends itself to a reading and discussion of this kind. Pauletta told me that what makes Greg Kornbluh a natural for this event is his “knowledge of and commitment to literature as a means to community education of the important issues affecting our society.” This reading and the many responses to J.D. Vance’s book will bring multiple perspectives to a book that has been extremely popular and just as problematic. Greg Kornbluh elaborated on the status of the book: “A lot of people read the book and had it resonate as a story about a family. But many of these same readers did not see the book as necessarily damaging.”
“Don’t Cry for Us, J.D. Vance: A Virtual Reading by Ohio Appalachian Authors” will shed some much-needed light on Hillbilly Elegy that was perhaps not apparent to some readers. As Pauletta Hansel said, “The problem, or at least one problem, with Hillbilly Elegy is that one story filtered through the author’s limited perspective and knowledge-base, has been accepted as the story of Appalachian people.” A community curated event that includes as many people as possible is one step toward creating a more legitimate understanding of Appalachia and Appalachian people. Again, to quote Pauletta Hansel: “Our hope is that we will be able to open up our audience to a wide range of Appalachian stories, urban and rural, thus increasing community understanding and appreciation of Appalachia and its people.” Pauletta also notes that “nearly 600 people have now registered for the event! Clearly this program is meeting a community need to learn more about who and what Appalachia is.”
“Don’t Cry for Us, J.D. Vance: A Virtual Reading by Ohio Appalachian Authors” will take place on Thursday, December 3 at 7 PM, this event is a partnership between the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition, Downbound Books and West Virginia University Press. Registration is required. You can also learn more about the event by tuning into a discussion with organizers Greg Kornbluh and Pauletta Hansel, and readers Omope Carter Daboiku and Kari Gunter-Seymour on WVXU’s Cincinnati Edition on Tuesday, December 2 during the noon hour.
Everyone involved is grateful to Greg Kornbluh at Downbound Books for their support of this event. Pauletta Hansel is emphatic when she points out that “We are all so fortunate to have Downbound Books in our city. I urge folks to check it out online—especially their great collection of Appalachian books—and to browse the store itself when bookstore browsing is safe again.”
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.